Chapter 4. Using RegEdit

In the first three chapters, you learned what the Registry is, how it functions, and how to safeguard it against accidental damage or loss. Now that you’ve absorbed this basic knowledge, the real fun starts: now you learn how to modify the Registry’s contents. In later chapters, you’ll learn how to use the powerful RegEdt32 application, as well as how to write your own programs that find, store, and modify Registry data. As a departure point, though, let’s start with RegEdit, a simple, easy-to-use tool that will help you get familiar with the mechanics of navigating and editing the Registry.

Know Your Limitations

The RegEdit included with Windows 2000 is a direct descendant of the first version, which shipped with Windows 3.1. That first RegEdit couldn’t do much because there was so little in the Registry. In the intervening years, Microsoft has added a great deal of data to the Registry, but RegEdit itself hasn’t progressed too much beyond its original capabilities. Sure, it uses the Win32 common controls, so it looks like a modern application, and it’s been rewritten as a 32-bit application for Win9x and NT/2000--but overall, it’s still the flat-blade screwdriver of Registry editing tools: ubiquitous but of limited capability.

Let me start by pointing out the useful and desirable things RegEdit doesn’t do:

  • It has no undo or journaling capability, so there’s no easy way to back out of an unwanted change or keep an auditable record of changes made.

  • It is completely innocent of any understanding of Windows 2000’s security features, so you can’t view or change permissions or ownership settings for keys.

  • You can only create and edit binary, string, and DWORD values. When you view other data types, they’re displayed as binary data.

While this list may seem like a harsh assessment, remember how valuable a flat-blade screwdriver can be. It can be a punch, a prybar, a chisel, a spacer, a mallet (albeit a small one), plus it can drive screws. Likewise, RegEdit can do some very valuable things: it allows you to search the Registry for a value or key, and these searches can be local or remote. It provides a nicely unified display of all the root keys, allowing you to quickly browse and compare values in different roots. Finally, its limited functionality makes it easy to understand and use.

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