What Is the Windows Registry and how to Edit it?

The Windows Registry, also referred to as just the registry, is a database of configuration settings or information for the Microsoft Windows operating systems. In early Windows versions, configuration settings was stored in .ini files. The Windows Registry was the next evolutionary step in Windows configuration storage. However, many programs, especially portable programs still uses .ini (initialization) files to store configuration information.

What Is the Windows Registry Used For?

In short; the Windows registry is used for storing information and/or settings for software programs, hardware devices, Windows configurations and user preferences. In other words, it is almost like DNA for the Windows Operating System. It goes without saying that Windows will not function without it. So, it is a good idea to make a backup before changing anything.

Almost every time a new program or device driver is installed, new information may be added to the registry. For example; install location, uninstall information, configuration information, etc. As previously mentioned; not all programs use the registry for storing configuration information, some use ini files, while others use XML files.

How to access and edit the Windows Registry

To access and edit the Windows Registry we use a free utility shipped with every Windows version, called the Registry Editor or Regedit for short. To open the Registry Editor; on your keyboard, hold down the Windows key and then press R (Windows+R). This will open the Run dialog. In the Open textbox, type regedit and press Enter or click on the OK button. Furthermore, Regedit can also be run from the Command Prompt or executing the regedit.exe executable from the %Windows% directory.

Run regedit

Actually, the Windows Registry is the collective name for various database files located in the %SystemRoot%\System32\Config\ folder. In Windows XP through Windows 10, these are the SAM, SECURITY, SOFTWARE, SYSTEM, and DEFAULT registry files.

Regedit shows a visual representation of these files as values located within registry keys (folders) within registry hives.

Registry hives are like root folders, each representing certain configuration set. Windows Registry hives are named: HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT, HKEY_CURRENT_USER, HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE, HKEY_USERS and HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG. As a result, the registry is presented in a familiar hierarchical structure that makes it easy to find and edit stuff.

Windows registry editor

Editing a specific value is simple enough; go to the key containing the value you want to edit, and in the right panel double-click on the value to open the value edit dialog. You can also right-click on the value and choose Modify to open this dialog. In the Value textbox, type your the new value and press Enter on your keyboard.

Registry editor modify value

To remove a key or value; right-click on the entry and choose Delete or to rename a entry; choose Rename from the same context menu. Because the Registry is not probed for changes every second, you may need to restart your computer for any changes to take effect.

Registry editor delete rename

How to Backup the Windows Registry

As previously mentioned, it is important to backup the Windows Registry before making any changes. To backup the entire registry; open the Registry Editor, in the left panel, right-click on Computer (at the very top) and choose Export. Choose a location to store the backup file, give it a name (like, Full Registry Backup.reg) and press Save. The Windows Registry will be saved into that REG file.

To backup a specific key; follow the same instructions above, but drill down to the key you’re after and export that.

How to import (Restore) a Registry (REG) file

Restoring a Windows Registry Backup file (REG) file is pretty straight forward; Locate the REG (Backup) file on your computer and double-click it, answer Yes to import it. Remember: you may need to reboot your computer for the setting to take effect.

Run thmbnail border reg file


Hopefully this article gave you some insight into the Windows Registry. It is important to remember: Do not change anything you do not understand. You will render your computer useless if you break the Registry.

author avatar
Derick Payne
My name is Derick Payne. With a deep-seated passion for programming and an unwavering commitment to innovation, I've spent the past 23 years pushing the envelope of what's possible. As the founder of Rizonetech and Rizonesoft, I've had the unique opportunity to channel my love for technology into creating solutions that make a difference.
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