Modifying and Repairing the Windows Registry

Accessing the Windows Registry manually isn't for everyone, but if you're dead-set on taking matters in to your own hands, read on for step-by-step instructions on how to safely edit the registry. Just a warning, though - if you screw it up, don't come crying to us!

Accessing and Navigating the Windows Registry to Remove Registry Errors

Microsoft provides a tool for you to use to directly modify and repair the Windows Registry. "Registry Editor", or, more colloquially, RegEdit, should be the first tool you reach for when you need to do manual registry repairs to fix registry errors. To access RegEdit, choose "Start", then "Run", and type in "regedit". Clicking "OK" will bring up the Registry Editor. The Registry Editor presents you with a navigation panel for exploring the different aspects of the Windows Registry, as well as basic functions for manipulating it. Perhaps the most important function is the ability to import and export registry copies. Exporting your registry on a regular basis and storing them to a safe location is a great way of preventing your computer from crashing by allowing you to recover from a critical registry error. You can access the Import and Export function under the "File" menu of the Windows Registry Editor. Equally important is the "Find" function under the "Edit" menu. If you know the name of the registry key that is causing your registry errors, you can search for the entry and attempt to repair it manually.

Understanding the Windows Registry

The Windows Registry is divided in to five different parts, namely:

Each part of the registry database has specific limitations and permissions for information stored within it. For instance, a modification to a key in the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE folder will affect all users, whereas a modification to HKEY_CURRENT_USER will only affect the account you are currently using.

HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT, or HKCR, is the part of the Windows Registry database that stores application-specific information such as file associations. If you are having file association errors, such as error messages that say things like "Windows cannot open file", or "There is no program associated with this file type", you are experiencing a registry error related to the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT part of the Windows Registry.

The HLEY_CURRENT_USER part of the registry, or HKCU, stores settings and options that are specific for whichever user account is currently logged in. If you have programs that work under one user account, but not another, you are probably experiencing a registry error related to the HKEY_CURRENT_USER section of the Windows Registry.

Applications that wish to save options or settings that affect all users of a particular computer store their information in the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE, or HKLM, section of the Windows Registry. If you have strange Windows Registry errors that all of the users on your computer experience, you should search through the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE section of the Windows Registry for incomplete or malformed registry keys.

The HKEY_USERS, or HKU, section of the Windows Registry stores information relating the current user to the rest of the registry for all users registered on a particular machine.

HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG, or HKCC, serves as a temporary holding tank for registry keys that your computer needs on a frequent basis. This section of the registry is never actually saved and is rebuilt every time your computer is turned on. Registry errors are almost never caused by problems with the HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG section.

Editing and modifying the Windows Registry to repair Windows Registry errors

Editing the Windows Registry with RegEdit can be necessary for fixing many Windows Registry errors, including invalid application keys, file associations, and directory mismatches. To edit the Windows Registry to fix registry errors, access RegEdit by choosing "Start", then "Run", and typing "regedit" before pressing "OK". Use the "Find" feature under the "Edit" menu to locate the key in question by typing in the name of the application that is crashing due to registry errors. Double-clicking on the registry key in the right-side of the RegEdit window will allow you to edit the key. Keys have different formats, some of which are human-readable (such as String and DWORD). Editing these keys will allow you to manually reset an application's options, which could repair certain types of registry errors. Make sure to back up the registry using the "Export" function before performing any modifications.

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