If you read almost any article in the Microsoft Knowledge Base that suggests editing the Windows registry, you will see this:
WARNING: Using Registry Editor incorrectly can cause serious problems that may require you to reinstall your operating system. Microsoft cannot guarantee that problems resulting from the incorrect use of Registry Editor can be solved. Use Registry Editor at your own risk.
That often stops new users from reading any further. The Windows registry is a subject to which entire websites are devoted, so I won't be giving too much detail of its workings here. This page is simply to teach you the very basics you need to know in order to edit the registry manually. The only tools you need are already on your computer: Notepad and Regedit, the registry editor built into Windows.
Before proceeding, you must know how to backup and restore the registry. Click Start | Run, and type "regedit" (without the quotes), then click OK. Now click Help | Help Topics. The choices you see differ slightly depending on which version of Windows you have. If you have Windows95, you must backup the registry manually, as explained in the Help file. Windows98 and WindowsME automatically save backup copies of the last 5 working registries, or you can and should create a backup on demand before you make any changes to the registry. Click Start | Run, and type "scanregw" without quotes, then click OK. If you receive a warning that the registry has already been backed up today, answer "Yes" to make a newer backup.
All versions of Regedit Help contain instructions for restoring a registry. You should print those instructions now for you won't be able to access them if Windows cannot start.
You will also see help topics for editing values and keys. I strongly urge you to read the entire Help file, which is quite short, before you start experimenting.
Using Regedit, it is very easy to backup and restore any key in the registry to a text file with the extension *.reg. Such registry files can be edited in Notepad if necessary.
Before making any change in Regedit, you should be sure to export the key you are about to change. If the change you made causes unexpected problems, you can easily restore the previous key.
- In the left-hand pane of Regedit, click on the key you wish to backup.
- Click Registry| Export Registry File
- Save the selected branch to a safe location as type *.reg. That *.reg file is now a backup of the key.
- To restore a key after you have changed it, simply double-click the saved *.reg file.
Certain values stored in the registry will not be exported. For example, Outlook Express stores the passwords for email and news accounts in the registry, but in encrypted form. Encrypted entries will never be exported to a *.reg file. It is therefore vital that you keep a written record of all your account passwords, and not rely on saved registry files.