ARCHIVED: In Windows, what is the registry?

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The Windows registry is the database most Windows-based operating systems use to keep track of the settings for the operating system and all installed programs.

Registry files

Windows NT-based operating systems (e.g., Vista and XP) store most registry information in files called "hives". Hives are stored permanently on the hard drive and are not necessarily the same from one computer to another. Only administrators can access hives or delegate the rights to access them. Hives for the "Machine" keys are typically found in the \System32\Config\ directory within the Windows directory, which is on the drive where Windows is installed. For example, if your computer has Windows Vista or Windows XP installed on drive C:, the hives will be in:


Hives for the "User" keys are found in the Documents and Settings folder, also on the drive where Windows was installed. The various User hives are scattered throughout different subfolders in the Documents and Settings folder (some in LocalService, some in the actual user folder, etc.).

For a definitive list of where your Windows computer stores its registry hives, open the Registry Editor and navigate to:


You will see a list of keys indicating the location of each specific hive. For example, for the Machine Security entries, you'll see something like:


The text of the above example refers to  C:\Windows\system32\config\SECURITY  (or  D:\Windows...  etc., if Windows is installed on the D: drive).

All hive file locations for your computer will appear in the above list.

Editing the registry

This contains instructions for editing the registry. If you make any error while editing the registry, you can potentially cause Windows to fail or be unable to boot, requiring you to reinstall Windows. Edit the registry at your own risk. Always back up the registry before making any changes. If you do not feel comfortable editing the registry, do not attempt these instructions. Instead, seek the help of a computing support provider.

In all versions of Windows, you can edit the registry from a command prompt by entering regedit.

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Last modified on 2018-01-18 12:14:36.