The Windows Registry

January 28, 2011

If you want to get Windows a gift, just go to the Windows Registry and you will find a list of gifts that Windows has already selected making your shopping easier. Wait. That’s a bridal registry. The Windows registry is something totally different.

The Windows Registry is where Windows stores everything it knows about what’s on your computer. It’s a database. It stores things like configuration settings, information about the programs installed on the computer, email information, devices, and loads of other stuff.

Any time you do anything in Windows, behind the scenes, the registry is beins accessed to find out how to do things and where to find things. Programs store information in the registry and often retrieve that information from the registry. You can’t do much in Windows without the registry being accessed.

Anyone who uses a Windows computer should be aware of the existence of the registry and should understand a few things about it.

Every time you install software on your computer, it adds information to the registry, thus making the registry bigger. When you uninstall that same software, it’s very likely that some, if not all of the information that was added to the registry when that program was installed will be left behind, thus cluttering up the registry. The more you install and uninstall programs, the bigger the registry gets and the more leftover, useless entries are in it.

Registry cleaners advertise that they will fix problems and speed up your computer. However, they rarely do either. In theory, a registry cleaner could remove all those leftover entries in the registry and could also detect errors in registry settings and could fix them. In practice, no registry cleaner is smart enough to fix entries. Although they do remove some bogus entries, they only remove some of them. Registry cleaners have to be very careful because of they remove something that was needed, it could seriously hose up your system. So they can only remove the most obvious junk. The result is that they don’t really remove enough to make much of a difference.

You see, the registry is complicated. When I program is installed, it doesn’t just put entries in the registry in one place, there are entries in multiple places. Programs can create their own type of entries too. When you uninstall a program, it may remove some of these entries. If you were to run a registry cleaner, it might remove a few more, but you would still be left with a lot of extra entries in the registry.

The bottom line is that registry cleaners generally don’t help much. If you were to search the internet for registry cleaner, most of what you would find would be infections for your computer. But even the legitimate registry cleaners can only make a small difference. The only way to really get a nice clean registry is to do what we call a wipe and load. This is the process of backing up your files, wiping your computer clean, installing windows, and installing only the programs you need. Then you restore your data and configure.

There are tools out there that monitor an installation and when you uninstall that same software, it will make sure that everything that installation did to the registry is undone when you uninstall it. The drawback to this is that, in order to really be effective, these utilities have to be installed before you install software. In addition, these utilities aren’t perfect either because over time, software gets updated and some of these utilities can’t handle that very well.

Another type of tool you will see is the uninstaller. This is software that you use to uninstall software instead of using the uninstall feature built-in to windows. Some of these tools can do a pretty good job, but you have to remember to use that tool instead of the standard uninstallation in Windows. If you are interested in this type of software, we recommend Revo Uninstaller Pro. However, it’s not free.

Another registry related tool you might hear about is a registry defragmentation program. Kind of like a hard drive can get fragmented, the contents of the registry can get fragmented as well. If you didn’t read our previous article on fragmentation, check it out at

Cleaning the registry with a registry cleaner and then defragging it can make a very small difference in performance, but it’s very small.

The registry can get corrupted and when that happens, your computer may not work right, or may not even boot up. Registry corruption can be cause by a number of things. Infections, failing hard drive, failing memory, or power failure.

To protect yourself from registry problems, make sure Windows is keeping backups of the registry. In Windows XP, this function is called System Restore. In Windows Vista and Windows 7, it’s called System Protection. These functions make backups of the registry automatically.

For information on how to turn system restore on or off in Windows XP, click on this link:

For information on how to turn system protection on or off in Windows Vista or Windows 7, click on this link:

Another tip for keeping a nice clean registry is to avoid installing and uninstalling a lot of programs.

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