Windows Registry FAQ

Facts about the Microsoft Windows Registry

In spite of the fact that the Registry is an essential part of the Windows operating system and is in constant use, most PC users have little knowledge of it. In fact, an aura of mystery has grown up around the Registry. In order to help average PC users understand the Registry better, here are some short answers to frequently asked questions. More details will be found on the other pages of this site.

What is the Windows Registry?

The Windows Registry is a central hierarchical database containing all the varied assortment of information needed for the computer to run both the hardware and the software.

Why does Windows need a Registry? Other operating systems don't have one.

All operating systems need a way to store information about the system. There is more than one way to do this and Apple and Linux have chosen a different method. Originally, Windows kept information in a large number of separate INI files scattered throughout the system. Then, beginning with Windows 95, Microsoft decided to centralize the information.

What do I need to know about the Registry?

Everyone should know how to back up and restore the Registry. More experienced PC users can learn how to make their system run better by maintaining and tweaking the Registry.

Is the Registry a file that I can look at?

The Registry is actually a number of binary files. They are not directly accessible. However, relevant parts are combined in a single hierarchical presentation that can be viewed with the Windows utility called the Registry Editor.

What do I see if i use the Registry editor?

Information in the Registry is arranged in a tree-like system akin to folders and files. In the Registry, the containers for information are called "keys". These are analogous to folders. Keys can have subkeys just as folders can have subfolders. The name of data that is contained in a key is called a "value". This is something analogous to a file name. The actual data can have several formats and may be a string, a number, or a series of numbers.

Isn't it dangerous to touch the Registry?

As long as the Registry is always backed up first, judicious editing of the Registry can be undertaken. Obviously, wholesale or random editing would not be advisable. Learn how to safely edit or tweak the Registry on this page.

I can't find the Registry Editor in the Programs menu. Where is it?

Like a number of Windows system utilities, the Registry Editor is not listed in the Programs menu. To open it, enter "regedit" in the Start-Run line or the Start search line.

What problems can the Registry have?

Because the Registry is in constant use and has entries from almost anything installed on Windows, it can gradually accumulate unnecessary, corrupted, or broken entries. This can cause decreased system performance. Malware infections also affect the Registry.

How do I avoid Registry problems?

Guard against spyware and adware. Avoid installing too many unneeded programs. Use thorough ways to uninstall discarded programs. Use methods described on this page to keep the Registry clean.

How do I fix or repair a Registry problem?

First, try using Windows System Restore to take the Registry back to a previous version. If you have an additional backup, try that.. As a last resort, use a Registry cleaner to try to fix the problem.

Why is the name "Registry" capitalized?

Microsoft likes it that way.


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