In today’s edition of Geek School, we’re going to teach you how to use the Registry Editor, what some of these keys actually mean, and generally help you understand it a little better.
Over the years, we have looked at many ways to hack the registry, and while most people can work through step-by-step instructions for making registry changes or double-clicking a .reg file to insert it into the registry, you will be much better served with a solid knowledge of what is registry and how it works.
The most important thing to know about the registry is that you probably shouldn’t just sit back and delete or change things for no reason. Removing a large portion of the registry will never make your computer run faster, nor will there be a registry hack that will speed up your computer or give you some important new features that don’t exist.
Almost all registry hacks involve either tweaking the behavior of certain components in Windows, or disabling a behavior you don’t like. For example, if you want to completely disable SkyDrive/OneDrive from Windows, you can use a registry hack to do so. If you’re sick of having to force restart your Windows Update, you can hack the registry to stop it.
What is a registry?
The Windows Registry is a hierarchical database that contains all the configurations and settings used by components, services, applications, and just about everything in Windows.
A registry must take into account two basic concepts: keys and values. Registry keys are objects that are basically folders and even look like folders in the interface. Values are a bit like files in folders, and they contain the actual settings.
When you first open Registry Editor, you will see a tree view on the left pane that contains all the keys and the values on the right side. It’s as simple as the interface.
The root level keys you see on the left side of the screenshot are important. Each one contains a different set of information, so depending on what you’re trying to do, you’ll need to know which section to jump to.
Interestingly, what most people don’t know is that three of the five elements at the root level are actually missing… they’re just linked to the elements below in one of the other keys.
On Windows, this section is used to manage file type associations, and it is usually abbreviated to HKCR when mentioned in documentation. This key is really just a link to HKLM\Software\Classes.
You can also use this section if you want to customize the context menu for a specific file type.
Contains user settings for the currently logged on user and is usually abbreviated to HKCU. It’s really just a reference to HKEY_USERS\
All system-wide settings are stored here and are usually abbreviated as HKLM. Basically you will use the HKLM\Software key to check the settings on the whole machine.
Stores all settings for all users in the system. You will normally use HKCU instead, but if you need to check another user’s settings on your machine, you can use it.
Stores all information about the current hardware configuration. This one is not used very often and is just a link to HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Hardware Profiles\Current.
Creating New Keys and Values
Right-clicking on any key on the left side of the window will give you a set of options, most of which are fairly simple and straightforward.
You can create a new key that will be displayed as a folder on the left side, or a new value that will be displayed on the right side. These values can be a bit confusing, but in reality only a couple of values are used regularly.
- String Value (REG_SZ) — contains everything that will fit in a regular string. In most cases, you can edit human-readable strings without breaking anything.
- Binary value (REG_BINARY) — This value contains arbitrary binary data, and you almost never want to try to edit one of these keys.
- DWORD (32-bit) value (REG_DWORD) — they are almost always used for a regular integer value, whether it be 0 or 1, or a number from 0 to 4,294,967,295.
- QWORD (64-bit) value (REG_QWORD) — they are not very often used for registry hacking, but mostly it is a 64-bit integer value.
- Multi-String Value (REG_MULTI_SZ) — these values are quite unusual, but they work basically like a notepad window. You can enter multi-line text information in such a field.
- Expandable String Value (REG_EXPAND_SZ) — these variables have a string that can contain environment variables and is often used for system paths. So the string could be %SystemDrive%\Windows and would expand to C:\Windows. This means that when you find a value in the registry that is set to this type, you can change or insert environment variables and they will be «expanded» before using the string.
Fun fact: DWORD is short for «double word» because «word» is the term for the default unit of data used by the processor, and when Windows was created it was 16 bits. So a «word» is 16 bits, and a «double word» is 32 bits. While all modern processors are 64-bit, the registry still uses the older format for compatibility.
One really useful feature that no one seems to notice is the Favorites menu, which is great for checking the registry location regularly. What’s really interesting is that you can export your favorites list and use it again on another computer without going through the keys and adding them to the favorites menu.
It’s also a great way to bookmark the registry if you’re browsing multiple locations, so you can easily go back to the last place you were.
Export registry files
You can export registry keys and all values contained under them by right-clicking on the key and selecting Export. This is really important if you are going to make changes to your system.
Once you have the exported registry file, you can double-click it to enter the information back into the registry, or select Edit to view the contents in Notepad.
The registry hack file format is quite simple — the value names are on the left and the actual values are on the right.
RELATED: How to Make Your Own Windows Registry Hack