A registry key functions similarly to a file folder, except it, only lives in the Windows Registry. Just as folders hold files, registry keys include registry values. Registry keys can also contain subkeys, which are registry keys that contain other registry keys.
In all versions of Windows, registry keys function the same way. There were some small modifications to how you collapse and extend registry keys, but they had no effect on their functionality.
Structure of the Windows Registry
The Windows Registry is organized in a hierarchy, with registry hives referring to the uppermost registry keys. These have specific restrictions linked to them, but in every other way, they’re registry keys.
The word “registry entry” can apply to any portion of the Windows Registry (such as a hive or value), although it’s most commonly used to refer to a registry key.
The registry’s items are organized as follows:
To better understand how registry keys function, consider the following example from Registry Editor:
The registry route above, as you can see, is divided into three portions, each separated by a backslash:
- HKEY LOCAL MACHINE
Each segment represents a single registry key, with the most recent one layered beneath the previous one, and so on. Consider this alternative: Each key is nested behind the one to the left, similar to how a path on your computer, such as C:WindowsSystem32Boot, works.
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HKEY LOCAL MACHINE is the first registry key on the path and is a registry hive. The SOFTWARE registry key is located under the HKEY LOCAL MACHINE. Another registry key nested under SOFTWARE is the Microsoft key.
“Registry keys are not case-sensitive, therefore it doesn’t matter if the letters are uppercase or lowercase; they can be written in either case and still work.”
Registry keys can be deeply nested. Here’s an example of a five-level one found in the HKEY CURRENT CONFIG hive of any Windows computer’s registry:
By adding, altering, and removing registry keys, you can alter how Windows works on a fundamental level. When messing with the registry, however, you must exercise extreme caution since you risk causing significant computer problems that could result in the loss of all data.
Backing Up and Restoring Registry Keys
Before making any changes to your registry, make a backup. With a copy of the keys you’re modifying in hand, you can rest assured that any modifications you make will not cause difficulties in your system. If you don’t want to back up the entire registry, you can merely back up the registry keys you’re working with.
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A REG file contains your backed-up registry keys. By opening the REG file and following the prompts, you may quickly restore a registry backup, regardless of which version of Windows you’re running.