Figuring out what changes occur to the Windows registry is difficult. This Classic Tip shows how you could do so in Windows NT by exporting to text files. It worked in 1999, and it still works today.


The Windows Registry has been the bane of Windows users since Microsoft first introduced it with Windows 3.11. The Registry stores all sorts of information about the hardware, software, and user configurations on the system for all modern Windows operating systems. Although it was a good idea to relieve the problem of multiple configuration files that plagued Windows 3.x, it has created its own set of problems.

Among the problems is the way that applications modify the registry and the results thereof. Applications don’t just make one change to the registry. They can add, change, and delete dozens of keys at a time. These key changes can cause all sorts of unexpected things to happen.

But at the same time there’s no easy way to tell exactly what changes are happening because the Registry doesn’t track the changes that are made. That’s where today’s Classic Tip comes in.

From the TechMail archives

This tip comes from TechRepublic’s Windows NT TechMail dated November 29, 1999:


Windows NT doesn’t keep track of registry changes for you. So, if you really want to find out what’s going on, you’ll have to use some roundabout methods.

Our technique involves dumping the contents of the registry to a text file. Once you’ve done so, you can just install a new program and repeat the process. When you’ve got two text files, you can compare them for differences.

Open the Registry Editor by typing REGEDIT in the Run dialog box. When

the Registry Editor opens, select Export Registry File from the Registry menu. You’ll see the Export Registry File dialog box.

At this point, enter a path and filename for the text file. Next, select All in the Export Range section and click OK. (You shouldn’t try to export the registry to a floppy disk because the text file can be several MB in size.) If you find a problem, you can also use the first text file to repair your computer if the new program causes problems–simply use the Import Registry File option.

As for comparing the two files, you can use any file compare utility that you want. We recommend using the WINDIFF utility from the Windows NT Resource Kit.

Fast forward to today

This tip works just as well for Windows Server 2003/2008 today as it did for Windows NT back then. The WinDiff utility no longer is a separate download from the Windows NT Resource Kit. Instead you’ll find a copy of it in the SupportTools folder on your original Windows Server CD. You can find out more information about it on Microsoft’s Support Web site.

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