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Windows Registry Tutorial

This article explains how to use the Windows Registry.  The Registry is the central storehouse for all settings for the Windows operating systems.  This includes hardware configuration, file associations, and control panel settings.  Many other programs will also store settings in the registry.

Accessing the Registry

To examine and modify the registry, use the regedit.exe program that is located in the operating system directory.

To open regedit.exe, follow this procedure:
  1. Open the Start Menu.
  2. Choose "Run".
  3. Enter "regedit" and press Enter.

Structure

The registry is made up of "Keys".  Each key is like the branch of a tree.  Each key has one parent key, and zero or more child keys.  Each key can contain zero or more "Values", each of which contains a single piece of data.

To make navigating the registry a bit easier, you can think of the registry's construction like your hard drives.

Hard drive <-> Registry
Folders <-> Keys
Files <-> Values

The registry contains 6 main keys:

  • HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT ---- Contains information on file types, including which programs are used to open a particular file type.
  • HKEY_CURRENT_USER ---- Contains user-specific settings that are built from information in the HKEY_USERS key during the logon process.
  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE ---- Contains computer specific information including installed hardware and software. This is the one users tend to spend the most time in.
  • HKEY_USERS ---- Contains information about all of the users who log on to the computer.  This includes settings for programs, desktop configurations, and so on.  This key contains one subkey for each user.
  • HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG ---- Contains information about the computer's hardware configuration .

Backing-Up the Registry

Windows does not allow the user to directly copy the registry files.  To perform a backup, you should use System Restore.  A backup is referred to as a "Restore Point".  Windows will automatically create Restore Points at a regular interval.  To manually create a Restore Point, follow this procedure:
  • Start Menu > Control Panel
  • Choose "System"
  • Click on "System Protection"
  • Click the "Create" button
  • Enter a name for the Restore Point
  • Click the "Create" button

To recover a Restore Point, follow this procedure:
  • Start Menu > Run
  • Type "rstrui.exe" and click OK
  • Cick Next
  • Check the "Show More Restore Points" box
  • Choose an appropriate Restore Point and click Next

Searching the Registry

You can search the Registry by choosing "Find" from the Edit menu, or pressing Ctrl+F.

Searching the registry
It is quite easy to search the Registry for items that might apply to a particular aspect of Windows or your installed software that you want to change.  However, it can be misleading, since you may not be sure what the references you find in the Registry actually do, so be cautious.

In the "Find What" field, type in what you're looking for and, in the "Look At" section, check off whether you want to search the Keys, Value Names, or Value Data, or any combination of these.  If it finds an instance, you may want to check to see if there are any further references.  Under the File menu, select Find Next, or just hit the F3 key.

Editing the Registry

Modifying the registry can potentially make Windows unbootable.  Be careful!  Always make a backup of the registry before making changes.

To edit a registry value, first navigate the tree until the value is displayed.  Usually, you will know where you are going.  If not, use the Find tool (described above).

In this example, we have navigated to the registry value that controls the delay before a menu pops up.

Editing the registry
To edit a value, double click on its name.  If you are following this example, go ahead and change the MenuShowDelay value from 100 to 0.  After making this change, like most changes made in the registry, you will need to reboot.  After rebooting, all menus should pop up noticeably faster.


Removing Entries

  • Navigate to the key or value that you wish to delete.
  • Make sure the key or value is selected.
  • Right-click on the name of the key or value, then select Delete.  Or, press the Delete key.

Deleting registry keys

Adding to the Registry

  • Navigate to the parent key where you wish to add a value.
  • Right click on the key name, and open the "New" submenu.  Choose the type of data you wish to add.
  • Enter the name of the value.
  • Edit the value by double clicking on its name.
  • It may be necessary to reboot to make the change take effect.