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Using Advanced System Management Tools : Editing the Registry (part 2) - Backing Up Before You Edit & Browsing and Editing with Registry Editor

3/18/2011 6:10:14 PM

5. Backing Up Before You Edit

One relatively safe way to edit your registry is to back up the section you're interested in before you make any changes to it. If something goes wrong, you can usually use your backup file to restore the registry to the state it was in when you backed up.

Registry Editor can save all or portions of your registry in any of the four different formats described here:

  • Registration Files The Registration Files option creates a .reg file, a text file that can be read and edited in Notepad or another similar program. A .reg file can be merged into the registry of a system running Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, or Windows 2000. When you merge a .reg file, its keys and values replace the corresponding keys and values in the registry. Using .reg files allows you to edit your registry "off line" and add your changes to the registry without even opening Registry Editor. You can also use .reg files as an easy way to share registry settings and copy them to other computers.

  • Registry Hive Files The registry hive format saves a binary image of a selected portion of the registry. You won't be able to read the resulting file (choose one of the text-file options if that's what you need to do), but if you need to restore the keys you've worked on, you can be confident that this format will do the job correctly.

    Registry hive file is the format of choice if you want to create a backup before working in Registry Editor. That's because when you import a registry hive file, it restores the entire hive to exactly the way it was when you saved it. (The .reg file types, when merged, restore all the saved keys and values to their original locations, which repairs all deletions and edits. But the process does not remove any keys or values that you added.) Note, however, that a registry hive file has the potential to do the greatest damage if you import it to the wrong key; see the caution in the following section.

  • Win9x/NT4 Registration Files The Win9x/NT4 Registration Files option also generates a .reg file, but one in an older format used by earlier versions of Windows. The principal difference between the two formats is that the current format uses Unicode and the older format does not. Use the Win9x/NT4 Registration Files option only if you need to replicate a section of your registry in the registry of an older system.

  • Text Files The Text Files option, like the Registration Files option, creates a file that can be read in Notepad or another text editor. The principal advantage of this format is that it cannot accidentally (or intentionally) be merged into the registry. Thus, it's a good way to create a record of your registry's state at a particular time. Its disadvantage, relative to the .]reg file format, is its size. Text files are considerably larger than corresponding .reg files, and they take longer to create.

To export a registry hive, select a key in the left pane, and then on the File menu, click Export. (Easier yet: right-click a key and click Export.) In the Save As Type list in the Export Registry File dialog box, select one of the four file types. Under Export Range, select Selected Branch. The resulting file includes the selected key and all its subkeys and values.

5.1. Restoring the Registry from an Exported Hive

If you need to restore the exported hive from a registry hive file, select the same key in the left pane of the Registry Editor window, click Import on the File menu, and specify the file. You'll see a confirmation prompt letting you know that your action will overwrite (replace) the current key and all its subkeys. This is your last chance to make sure you're importing the hive into the right location, so take a moment to make sure you've selected the correct key before you click Yes.


Importing a registry hive file replaces the entire content of the selected key with the contents of the file—regardless of its original source. That is, it wipes out everything in the selected key and then adds the keys and values from the file. When you import, be absolutely certain that you've selected the correct key.

If you saved your backup as a .reg file, you use the same process to import it. (As an alternative, you can double-click the .reg file in Windows Explorer without opening Registry Editor.) Unlike the registry hive file, however, the complete path to each key and value is stored as part of the file and it always restores to the same location. This approach for recovering from registry editing mishaps is fine if you did not add new values or subkeys to the section of the registry you're working with; it returns existing data to its former state but doesn't alter the data you've added.


You mistakenly deleted data from the HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet hive

As those dire warnings pointed out, improper changes to the registry can prevent your computer from operating properly or even booting. This is particularly true for changes to the HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet hive. Because keys in that hive are so essential, Windows maintains a backup, which you can restore when necessary. To do that, begin by shutting down your computer. Start your computer and, during the boot process, press F8. Use the arrow keys to select Last Known Good Configuration and then press Enter.

5.2. Using System Protection to Save the Registry's State

The System Protection utility takes snapshots of your system's state, at prescribed time intervals or on demand, and allows you to roll your system back to an earlier state (called a restore point) if you experience problems. Most of the registry is included in the restore point. Creating a restore point before you begin working in the registry is an excellent way to protect yourself against mishaps.

6. Browsing and Editing with Registry Editor

Because of the registry's size, looking for a particular key, value, or data item can be daunting. In Registry Editor, the Find command (on the Edit menu; also available by pressing Ctrl+F) works in the forward direction only and does not wrap around when it gets to the end of the registry. If you're not sure where the item you need is located, select the highest level in the left pane before issuing the command. If you have an approximate idea where the item you want is located, you can save time by starting at a node closer to (but still above) the target.

After you have located an item of interest, you can put it on the Favorites list to simplify a return visit. Open the Favorites menu, click Add To Favorites, and supply a friendly name (or accept the default). If you're about to close Registry Editor and know you'll be returning to the same key the next time you open the editor, you can skip the Favorites step, because Registry Editor always remembers your last position and returns to that position in the next session.

Registry Editor includes a number of time-saving keyboard shortcuts for navigating the registry. To move to the next subkey that starts with a particular letter, simply type that letter when the focus is in the left pane; in the right pane, use the same trick to jump to the next value that begins with that letter. To open a key (revealing its subkeys), press Right Arrow. To move up one level in the subkey hierarchy, press Left Arrow; a second press collapses the subkeys of the current key. To move to the top of the hierarchy, press Home. To quickly move between the left and right panes, use the Tab key. In the right pane, press F2 to rename a value, and press Enter to open that value and edit its data. Once you get the hang of using these keyboard shortcuts, you'll find it's usually easier to zip through the \subkey hierarchy with a combination of arrow keys and letter keys than it is to open outline controls with the mouse.

6.1. Changing Data

You can change the data associated with a value by selecting a value in the right pane and pressing Enter or by double-clicking the value. Registry Editor pops up an edit window appropriate for the value's data type.

6.2. Adding or Deleting Keys

To add a key, select the new key's parent in the left pane, open the Edit menu, point to New, and click Key. The new key arrives as a generically named outline entry, exactly the way a new folder does in Windows Explorer. Type a new name. To delete a key, select it and then press Delete.

6.3. Adding or Deleting Values

To add a value, select the parent key; open the Edit menu, and point to New. On the submenu that appears, click the type of value you want to add. A value of the type you select appears in the right pane with a generic name. Type over the generic name, press Enter twice, enter your data, and press Enter once more. To delete a value, select it and press Delete.

irmation prompt.
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