What is Registry? The Basic Concepts

We all want to customize our Personal Computers and keep them organised in our own convenient way. But there is always some kind of limitation to what can be done directly in the world, and you always have to dig down deeper to get the desired result. But to dig down deeper you need to have some kind of  tool in your hand to fulfill the purpose and on the other hand have the knowledge about the tool to get the better results. Now, when it comes to windows, Registry editor is that tool and i will tell you about the usage of the same in this series.

There are a lot of small problems in your PC come up from time to time and you have absolutely no idea how to deal with them or there are some little tweaks that you want to carry out in your PC showing a lot of software shortcuts but you do not know how to do it like  getting your pen drive write protected or cleaning your messed up context menu. Well, practically speaking you can solve 80% of those small problems just by editing your registry if you just know how to do it. In this series I will tell you how to do it and later will keep you posted with the direct steps.

Is it getting boring? Ok, even if it isn't still enough of introduction and lets cut to the chase.

What is Windows Registry and its use?

Basically, Registry is the collective name for various database files located within the Windows Installation Directory. In simple terms, Windows Registry is the database that holds all the settings and options for the Microsoft windows in their hierarchical order. It is used to store settings and options for Windows software applications, user preferences, operating system, hardware devices,etc. It holds even the tiniest bit of information about your computer. A lot of people also call it the DNA for Windows Operating System which is quite true as it builds up the base for the operating system. Any change that you make to a program, hardware or system configuration is stored in the Registry.

Basic Elements and Structure

Basically, a registry contains of two basic elements:
  • Keys 
  • Values
  • Hives

Keys - The registry keys are similar to folders, each key can contain a value and numerous subkeys which in turn may contain subkeys and so on. Each subkey is mandatory to have a name since with the help of names keys can be accessed from the levels of hierarchy.The origin of hierarchy can be traced back to the a root key handle. Registry keys may be restricted in windows depending on the user privileges, security method of applications or by system security policy (It may be predefined in system ir configured by administrator). There are 7 Predefined Root keys, named according to their handles(conatant values) which will be explained later in hives. 

Values - Now, we learned in keys that each key contains some value (they may or may-not be defined). Registry value is the data stored within the keys. It is located in the right hand side part of the registry editor. A value can store data in various formats. In Registry editor, first we enter the format of value then we enter the value. Formats in which value can store data are given below(You can skip the formats):

Value Format Table
Hives - A hive is a logical group of keys, subkeys and value in the registry. A hive begins with a HKEY at the top of the hierarchy. All hives have a different purpose and role in the Computer and hence different type of data is stored in different hives.
Lets know about the different hives and their functions :

-->> HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT - This key contains information about registered applications and contain file extention associations. It acts like a classification bridge between the file aplication and file extention. For example: when we open a .txt file it opens in the notepad because of some subkey in this key

-->>HKEY_CURRENT_USER - This key contains the information and settings for the user that is logged on. Each time the user logs on this key is created in such a way that some profile information is copied from HKEY_USERS to this key. This key cannot be edited.

-->>HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE - This key stores the general settings for all the users on the computer. The key is actually not located in the disk but in the system memory. It consists of 5 parts.

  1. Hardware: It stores settings for device drivers, etc.
  2. Security accounts manager(SAM): It stores the universal security settings for the Computer.
  3. Security: It stores the local security settings for the Computer such as password policies, user rights,etc.
  4. Software: It contains default windows settings. It is modified by other applications installed( i.e outside applications).
  5. System: It contains settings and values to boot the system.  
[Note: Hardware, SAM, System keys cannot be modified]

-->>HKEY_USERS - This key contains the default user settings that are used to open HKEY_CURRENT_USER plus it also stores the information and settings of all the users who have logged in to the computer.

-->>HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG - This key stores information that is currently in use at runtime. It is not permanently stored on disk and is initiated at boot time.

Registry Keys values and hives

I now hope that you have understood the Concept, Purpose and basics of Windows registry. And after reading this you must be aware of what level of customizations can be done using the Registry. 

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