[HOWTO] Backing Up The Registry
Hopefully you know the importance of making backup copies of critical files. In the case of files whose contents change frequently, frequent backups are necessary. That Great American Novel you’re working on should be auto-saved every five to ten minutes. Your Windows system registry also needs frequent backup because it changes every second. But do you know how? Read on for the answer...
How to Back Up Your Windows Registry
I'm fond of jesting that the Windows Registry is a complex ball of string, rubber bands, duct tape and bailing wire that's supposed to keep track of your Windows system settings. The registry is actually a collection of databases that record the state of your Windows installation, hardware configuration, user preferences, file associations, system policies, and installed software.
There are millions of records in the typical registry, defining everything from the PC’s name to the options that appear on a context menu when you right-click on an icon. The records are called “keys” and the data stored in them are called “values.” Records are organized hierarchically in “hives" and “trees.” If your eyes are starting to glaze over, focus on that mental image of the rubber band ball, and keep reading. What comes next is important.
You cannot backup and restore a registry file like any other file. Much of it cannot be modified manually, and the files cannot be replaced or copied over while Windows is running. But there are ways to backup the entire registry, and restore it later if needed. You can also save a copy of the tree branch you plan to modify, and restore it if your modification goes wrong.
Here is a screenshot of a section of a registry tree that can be called Computer\HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\*\shellex\ContextMenuHandlers or just “Handlers” for short. Beneath the “Handlers” key are many subkeys, some of which I plan to modify. But first, I am going to make a backup copy of the key “Handlers” and everything beneath it.
After locating this key in your registry, click “File,” then “Export.” Then enter a name for your backup copy, whose extension will be .reg. That’s it; I can now mess around with keys and values beneath “Handlers” to my heart’s content.
Restoring everything to the way it was is even easier. Just double-click on that .reg file to add its contents to the registry right where those contents came from.
Why Mess With the Registry?
You may have seen registry “hacks” that use this technique to distribute useful modifications of the registry. Clicking on a .reg file is a lot safer than re-typing a long list of keys and values, not to mention faster and more accurate.
In my related article Don’t Be Afraid To Edit Your Registry you'll find another way to make a backup of the entire registry. I also give some examples of registry hacks, including how to make OneDrive disappear from File Explorer’s sidebar in Windows 10, and how to open ANY file with Notepad. In [HOWTO] Gain Full Control of Your Computer I describe another registry hack to help you delete stubborn files that don't want to go away.
But even with the extra security of a .reg file, it is possible for a registry hack to go wrong. That is why most articles describing a registry hack include a base key like the long one I call “Handlers” above. You can navigate to that key in Regedit, and export everything below it to a backup .reg file. Do this before running the registry hack and you can restore your registry to it original state.
To back up the entire registry, create a System Restore point. It will take some time but it will make a complete copy of the registry that can be restored later using the System Restore feature.
Don't stop your backup routine with just the registry! I recommend regular, automated full system backups to protect ALL your files. See my article Why Backup? Here Are NINE Good Reasons to learn the WHY and the HOW of making backups easy.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 6 Nov 2018
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- [HOWTO] Backing Up The Registry (Posted: 6 Nov 2018)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved