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What you need to know about the Windows Registry

This is the first of a two-part series on the Windows Registry. Today I’ll walk you through what it is and how it works. Wednesday I’ll walk you through saving a copy, accessing it and modifying it safely. The Windows registry is a huge subject and one we aren’t going to be able to cover in two blog posts. However, this should provide a high level overview of how it works.

Usually we suggest leaving things like the Windows registry alone unless you know what you’re doing. There is a lot that can go wrong if you change the wrong thing or accidentally delete an entry you didn’t mean to. However, you have to strike the balance between leaving well enough alone and exploring a little to learn new things. I think this is one of those times to explore.

First, we can take a backup of the registry to be able to recover any changes you make. Second, we here at Dave’s Computers in New Jersey are always on hand to help you should you not be able to recover your computer yourself. As long as you back up any important data before you begin, everything should be fine!

Why do you need to know about the Windows registry?

You don’t need to know about the Windows registry at all to use your computer. It all happens behind the scenes and you don’t need to worry about it at all. These tutorials are for the curious. For those who want to know more about how their computer works. If that’s you, read on.

What is the Windows registry?

The Windows registry is a collection of databases that Windows uses to store all the configuration settings for your computer. It includes Windows settings, program settings, app and device settings and anything else you might add to your computer.

Each user with an account on your computer will have their own registry database. It will include your desktop settings, where your icons are placed, what programs you have set up as favorites and all that kind of stuff. User registry databases are stored at C:\Windows\Users.

The registry is made up of hives like HKEY_CURRENT_USER, HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG, HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT, HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE and HKEY_USERS. Each manages settings for different parts of your computer. For example, user settings are managed in HKEY_CURRENT_USER and systemwide settings from HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE.

A practical example would be a couple of mouse settings as defined in the Windows registry. A more in-depth breakdown of registry values can be found here.

The registry contains strings, keys and values that define your settings. A registry string is a plain English setting that may say something like ‘HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Mouse\DoubleClickSpeed’. It will have a number beside it. Increase the number to increase the mouse click speed, reduce the number to reduce it.

A key is a configuration setting and a value is the number given to that key. For example, a key could be ‘SwapMouseButtons’ and the value, in Boolean, will be either ‘1’ for yes or ‘0’ for no.

You could go to the Windows Control Panel and adjust your mouse using the GUI from there. Most people do, it’s easier and shows you exactly what’s going on. That GUI simply changes the registry setting once you save your changes in order for that preference to be available when you reboot your PC.

There are registry entries for every aspect of your computer. It tells Windows how to handle different hardware and software and configures the preferences you have set for each.

That’s it for the first post on the Windows registry. Join us on Wednesday for the second instalment!

If you have any issues with the Windows registry, bring your computer to the computer repair guys at Dave’s Computers in New Jersey. We can help with any computer or networking issue you may have!