Windows Registry 101 – Understanding the Registry Structure

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At first glance, the Windows registry can seem like a complicated and unwieldy beast, but with a little bit of knowledge PC owners will be able to decipher and understand what is going on in that vital system file.

The Windows registry uses a hierarchical structure, somewhat similar to the one users of Windows Explorer may be familiar with. Users gain access to the Windows registry using a program dubbed Regedit, and this utility is an integral part of the Windows operating system.

The structure of the registry is divided into five main parts, known to computer geeks everywhere as hives. These hives hold not bees and honey but hardware and software information, as well as user preferences, file associations and more. The five hives that make up the Windows registry are:

* HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT – This hive holds such things as file associations, shortcut data and OLE information.

* HKEY_CURRENT_USER – This hive provides information about the user who is currently logged on to the computer, including user preferences, settings and more.

* HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE – This hive contains information specific to the computer itself, including hardware and software settings. This hive also contains detailed information about all hardware and software on the system.

* HKEY_USERS – This hive is where information about all users who have ever logged on to the PC is stored. This information includes user preferences, settings and other vital information. Each user will have their own SID sub-key located right under the main user hive.

* HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG – This hive contains information related to the currently logged on configuration, including hardware and software settings.

By using these hives PC owners can drill down through the file structure to find the specific registry keys related to their individual hardware and software. Editing the registry manually is not something to be taken lightly, since the inadvertent deletion or alteration of a single registry key can cripple the performance of a software program, a vital piece of hardware or even the entire system. Users are advised to always export the registry to a backup location before making even the slightest change to one or more registry keys.

Fortunately the Registry Mechanic provides an easy way to make that backup copy. Users simply click on the File menu and choose Export. They can then export a specific key, or the entire registry, to a safe location for backup purposes. This backup copy allows users to recover the previous registry should a change cause problems.

Another way users can avoid problems is by regularly scanning and cleaning their registry files. Many Windows registry files contain excess registry keys left over from uninstalled programs, missing registry keys created by unsuccessful software installations and uninstalls and corrupted registry keys created by unexpected shutdowns, computer viruses and other problems. Regularly scanning the registry for problems and removing unneeded entries can help boost system performance and prevent big problems down the road.

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