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Windows System Registry: Why YOU Should Back-up and Restore

By KarlM
06-03-2009
The Windows Registry is an integral component of the Microsoft Windows OS. It comprises the necessary data that renders your computer functional. The registry is composed of a couple of hidden files in the directory, which are user.dat and system.dat. The system.dat file has Hardware-specific computer information and the user.dat file has the user-specific system data. Every bit of information pertaining to the system setup, hardware and software configuration, and user preferences are stored in the registry. Simply put, the registry is an intricate database that has, within it, almost all hardware, software, and system settings. Suffice to say that Windows will not initiate without this component.

The Windows Vista Registry, for example, can be accessed through the following steps:

• Go to ‘Start’ on your computer’s desktop, and then click on ‘Run’.
• Enter the command ‘regedit’ within the search box.

The branching folder structure will appear on your screen. This is the window for the Registry Editor.

How the Windows Registry Works

Upon installation of the operating system, the Windows Registry structure has the vital data that the Vista-enabled computer needs to operate. After even a short period of working using the system and executing a few (seemingly) simple tasks, such as browsing through the Internet, downloading and/or saving folders and files, installing new programs, and modifying the system configuration; the primary information is removed from or added to the Windows registry. Eventually, the registry size increases.

After the accumulation of a considerable amount of the aforementioned data (especially if this information is unnecessary, dated, or even corrupted) the registry can build up drastically and become a real concern. In this case, the hefty registry can affect the rate at which a system accesses data, thus resulting in slowly deteriorating computer performance – this may very well lead to chronic system freezes or crashing. This also affects the registry itself, as the database can easily get fragmented or damaged. This issue can snowball further as a buildup of erroneous or invalid entries can cause continuous system errors.

Since all of the important information is stored in a central ‘hub’, any user can easily change the settings or modify any configuration data. The registry allows any user a great deal of control over most of the OS and resolve many Windows issues. On the other hand, this ease of access gives the system an Achilles’ heel – as one wrong move in amending any registry contents can basically ‘kill’ your computer. Marginal registry errors may cause simple applications to crash, a system to function erratically, or (worst case, again) render your computer inoperable.

Why back up the Windows Registry?

Under these disorderly conditions, your registry will most likely fail and cause your computer to become unbootable. Here lies the importance of backing up your Windows Registry. If a backed-up registry crashes under any circumstances, you can resolve these issues by restoring the associated files and re-establish your system.

It is important to remember that a provision such as backing up the registry has to be implemented before any of the following occur:
• undertaking any changes to the system configuration
• creating direct edits (through Registry Editor) to the registry
• making major installs or uninstals to vital applications, and
• performing (with a registry cleaner) registry scans and repairs

Basic Windows Registry Backup Methods

Direct access and software-based editing are a couple of ways of working with your Windows Registry. What is the basic logic behind each method?

The general consensus seems to point towards the software-based procedure as safer; though any errant software that can potentially butcher the registry can prove otherwise. Virtually all computer users have encountered this method of changing the registry. Simply using the ‘Control Panel’ feature of the operating system is a good example of this. Altering any of the settings within the Control Panel almost always equals a change in the contents of registry. The Control Panel simply shields the user from what actually happens to the registry.

Direct access to the Windows Registry is the riskier choice between the two methods. Regedit and regedt32 were two earlier versions of the Registry Editor. Windows XP has integrated the two in Version 5.1 of the Registry Editor. Entering either command into the entry box will activate Version 5.1. With this version, the only apparent pitfall in the discontinuation of regedt32 is the inavailability of the read-only feature – which implies that a user has to tread carefully while looking through the registry (so as not to make any inadvertent changes.

Creating a valid back-up and restore point is also key. If anything goes wrong during the editing process, you can replace the existing registry version with any created backup.
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