Windows Registry

What does the average user need to know about the Registry?

The majority of home PC users probably have either never heard of the Registry or think of it as something to avoid. It is true that editing or making direct changes to the Registry is not typically an activity of most users but it is important to at least know how to back up the Registry and how to restore a damaged or corrupted Registry. A little learning here can save big headaches with computer problems. The backup and restore process is neither difficult nor lengthy and is easily mastered by the greenest of neophytes. Also, just a little knowledge will make the Registry seem less like some cabalistic ritual of Druid priests and will remove some of the fear and loathing from the subject. The Registry is so essential to the functioning of a Windows PC that anyone who uses a PC regularly should at least have a general idea of what the Registry does.

What is the Registry?

The Windows Registry is a central database containing all the varied assortment of information needed for the computer to run both the hardware and the software. The Registry is in constant use and almost anything that you do on a Windows PC will access the Registry for information. The information is divided among a number of hidden system binary files. Very few PC users will ever need to access these files directly. If desired, viewing the contents of the Registry is done with the Registry Editor accessory, which combines the various components and displays them in a readable unified text form. Using the Registry Editor (regedit) is described on another page. More about the structure of the Registry is here.

Isn't it dangerous to do anything with the Registry?

Because it is involved in everything, damage to the Registry can stop a PC from functioning. For that reason Microsoft has gone out of its way to make the Registry mysterious and fearsome sounding. It is reasonable that Microsoft does not want to have to deal with service calls from ignorant people who have tried to edit the Registry but I think the constant warnings about the Registry that you see everywhere on the Internet are overdone. They are a form of CYA arising in part from our overly litigious society. Yes, you can create a lot of problems if you mess up the Registry but you can also cause problems if you go around deleting things from the Windows or Program folders. You can do stupid things with almost anything. And yes, mistakes do occur. I once misplaced a comma while editing a Windows 95 Registry and found that my computer wouldn't boot. But I had a backup and it took only a minute or two to fix the problem. Actually, the Windows XP Registry is much more robust and it's much harder to make it unbootable. If you follow the iron-clad rule to make a backup first and know how to restore it, informed editing of the Registry is not such a precarious undertaking as it is made out to be.

Although directly editing the Registry is not recommended for less advanced PC users, there is no reason for most PC users to forego the nice system tweaks that can be provided by the many useful scripts that are available. (More about scripts is on this page.) The only caveat is that the user of any script should back up the Registry first and should know how to undo the action of any script by restoring the backup. As already mentioned, this is an easy enough process for anybody. Actually, some scripts even have an undo function in case you don't like the results of employing the script. The details of backing up the Registry are given on another page.

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