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In Microsoft Windows, what is the registry?

Posted On 2007-05-03 by FortyPoundHead
Keywords: Windows Registry
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Warning: This document contains instructions for editing the registry. Editing the registry can cause Windows to fail or be unable to boot, requiring you to reinstall Windows. To quote Microsoft: "Use the Registry Editor at your own risk". Always back up the registry before making any changes. For information about how to edit the registry, view the "Changing Keys And Values" help topic in Regedit.exe or the "Add and Delete Information in the Registry" and "Edit Registry Data" help topics in Regedt32.exe. If you do not feel comfortable editing the registry, do not attempt this procedure. If you need to edit the registry on your computer but do not know how to do this safely, seek the help of a local computer repair facility.

The Windows registry is in by all current versions of Windows to keep track of the settings for the operating system and all installed programs. Windows 3.1 also has a registry, but it's less important to the functioning of the operating system than in the more recent versions of Windows. Windows 3.1 uses .ini files to perform most registry tasks.

While Windows 95, 98, and Me store the registry in two files (system.dat and user.dat), Windows NT, 2000, and XP store most registry information in files called hives. Hives are stored permanently on the hard drive and are not necessarily the same for different computers. Only administrators can access hive files or delegate the rights to access them. Hives are found in the system32 directory, within the Windows directory, which in turn is on the drive where Windows was installed. For example, if your computer has Windows NT or 2000 installed on drive C:, then you'll find hives in these directories:

 C:\WINNT\System32\Config (Windows NT, or 2000
upgraded from NT)
 C:\windows\system32\Config (Windows 2000)

Note: If Windows were installed on drive

D:, then the path would be
D:\windows\system32\Config or
D:\WINNT\System32\Config.

You can edit the registry from a command prompt by entering regedit (in all Windows versions) or regedt32 (Windows NT and 2000 only). The regedt32 program is the more powerful (in Windows XP regedit is equivalent to regedt32), as it can also search the registry on other computers on the network. Remember that it's always a good idea to back up the registry before you make any changes, regardless of which editor you use.

In Windows 95 and 98, you can also use the System Policy Editor (Poledit.exe). The System Policy Editor allows you either to create system policies or to edit the registry, depending on whether you are in Policy File mode or Registry mode. The System Policy Editor is easier to use than the Registry Editor, since it requires less knowledge of the registry structure or syntax. Nevertheless, the same precautions apply to using the System Policy Editor as apply to using the Registry Editor, though it is more difficult to make a mistake using the System Policy Editor, since it does not offer control of as many settings as does the Registry Editor. Using the appropriate CD, you can install the System Policy Editor from one of the following directories:
  • Using the Windows 98 CD, go to the following directory:

      tools\reskit\netadmin\poledit
  • Using the Windows 95 CD, go to the following directory:
      admin\apptools\poledit


For more information on the registry, see article 256986 in
Microsoft's knowledge base.

You can access Microsoft's knowledge base at:

  http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx


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