Windows NT 101: Get an overview of the registry

If you work with computers running Windows NT or any other Microsoft Windows systems, it's imperative that you're familiar with the registry. Feel like you need a refresher course? Check out this quick review.

Any administrator who has worked with computers running Windows NT or any other Microsoft Windows systems should be familiar with the registry. Microsoft defines the registry as "a unified database that stores configuration data in a hierarchical form."

In fact, the registry stores almost all system settings and data. Control Panel and other utilities are actually nothing more than a graphical front-end to the registry.

Of course, you can directly edit the settings in the registry without using the Windows NT tools. However, as we've reminded you more than once, this is potentially quite dangerous.

Unfortunately, there are times when you have no other options. In these situations, make sure you have a verified backup of the registry before you begin making any changes.

To back up the entire registry, you can use the Windows NT Backup tool (Ntbackup.exe) and use the option to back up the registry. (You must have a supported tape drive to use this option.) Or, you can also enter the rdisk /s command at the command line.

Because the registry is a vital part of Windows NT, you should perform regular backups—don't just back it up when you're editing it. The best way to do this is to include the registry in your normal backup routine.

Editing the registry is the process of physically modifying the files stored on the hard drive that create this memory construct. The registry includes five root files (or keys):

  • HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT: This key contains information about file extensions.
  • HKEY_CURRENT_USER: This key contains profile information about the currently logged-in user, including the user's folders, screen colors, and Control Panel settings.
  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE: This key contains information about all of the hardware and software installed on the system. It includes five subkeys: Hardware, Security Accounts Manager (SAM), Security, Software, and System.
  • HKEY_USERS: This key contains information about all of the system's user accounts, including the default profile.
  • HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG: This key contains copies of the information from all of the other root keys that pertain to the currently running session.

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