The Windows Registry from the July 2000 Actrix Newsletter

By Jeremy Fairbrass (the Boy Wonder - and we do wonder about the boy... -Ed)

If you've ever heard of the Windows Registry and wondered what on earth it was, you're about to find out!

The Registry is a critical part of Windows that stores almost all of the settings and configurations that various programs, including Windows itself, need to operate. This includes such things as what screensaver and wallpaper you are using, what homepage you have in Internet Explorer, your Word or Office settings, and literally thousands of other settings.

The Registry as we know it has been incorporated into Windows since Windows 95 was created, and it's remained basically unchanged ever since. With Windows 95 and 98, the Registry is made up of two files - SYSTEM.DAT and USER.DAT. These files are both kept in the Windows directory on your hard drive. If you have multiple Windows logins, then each user will have their own USER.DAT file, which will be kept in the Profiles subdirectory (inside the Windows directory). Settings that relate to the entire computer, such as Control Panel settings for example, are stored in the SYSTEM.DAT file. And settings that just relate to particular users, such as the colour scheme used, are stored in the USER.DAT file. Windows NT and Windows 2000 stores its Registry in files with different names, but the basic idea is the same.

These files can't be edited in a text editor of any kind, because they are encoded - if you opened one of them into Wordpad, all you'd see is a whole lot of garbage. Windows comes with a special utility called the Registry Editor, which allows you to edit the Registry properly. However, this is a very dangerous thing to do, if you've never done it before! The Registry Editor doesn't have an "undo" function, so once you've changed or deleted information from the Registry, it's final! As such, if you deleted or changed the wrong information, you could potentially disable a program, or even render Windows itself unusable to some degree - possibly resulting in the need to completely reinstall Windows!

Because of this, I won't give instructions on how to find or use the Registry Editor program. This program should only be used by "Power Users", or people who know a lot about the ins and outs of Windows. These people will already know how to find and use the Registry Editor! As a rule of thumb, if the information I'm writing about is completely new to you, you'd be well advised to avoid meddling with the Registry unless you had a "computer geek" (like myself) to help you. :-) However if you are wanting to learn more about the Registry, to further develop your knowledge, I'd suggest doing a bit of a search on the internet on the topic - there is a wealth of information out there that will help you learn how it works and how to safely edit the Registry.