The Windows registry is a fundamental component of all Microsoft operating systems, since it completely controls the operation of a PC , its appearance, the execution of applications, the behavior of the hardware or the access to all its functions. A tool of enormous power, but not easy to use.
And it is that since its premiere in Windows 98 to replace the text-based .ini files that were used in the configuration files of MS-DOS and Windows 3.x, this function has changed very little. Perhaps aware of the not always positive results of touching the registry (if you don’t know what you’re doing), Microsoft hasn’t tried to make it easy to use.
Why is the Windows registry so important?
Some of you may remember the Autoexec.bat and Config.sys files that were used for the initial setup of MS-DOS and Windows 3.x. For Windows 98 and later, Microsoft had to find a more efficient method. And it is that today it would be impossible to include the management of a system like Windows 11 in them, taking into account the immensity of its software/hardware ecosystem.
In this way, the Windows registry is a hierarchical database (in the form of a tree) made up of groups of keys, subkeys and finally registry values of different types. As you will see in the image, it consists of five large groups:
- HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT: The information stored here makes sure that the correct program is opened when opening a file using Windows Explorer.
- HKEY_CURRENT_USER: This information is associated with the user’s profile and contains the root configuration information for the currently logged on user, user folders, screen colors, or Control Panel settings.
- HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE: This group stores the specific parameters of the common computer for all its users.
- HKEY_USERS: Contains all user profiles actively loaded on the computer.
- HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG: Stores information about the hardware profile used by the local computer at system startup.
It must be said that this file contains information that Windows continually refers to during its operation , such as the profiles of each user, the applications installed on the computer, the types of documents that each one can create, the configuration of the property sheet for folders and application icons, the hardware that exists in the system, the ports that are used and a very long etcetera.
That is why the Windows 10 registry increases in size with the mere use of the operating system , the installation / uninstallation of applications or any hardware component that we add or replace. It is not unusual for all this to slow down the use of the equipment or to leave traces of defective or corrupt entries and inconsistencies that impair the user experience and cause from small errors to serious failures that can reach the dreaded “death screens”.
RegScanner, a step beyond Regedit
Microsoft offers an internal application for registry management. It is called regedit and allows you to view the registry file, make the pertinent changes to it or enter new keys. In addition, it allows you to export all its content or that of a certain branch in a file with its .reg extension in case an error occurs to be able to restore it. The System Backup utility also allows you to save the entire registry, plus boot files and personal data.
A very powerful tool, true, but it lacks usability . One of the biggest headaches when working with the Windows registry is finding the keys and values we want. You can use the Find function, but it doesn’t always work if you don’t know the exact value name.
This is where RegScanner enters the scene , a small and free utility, which has its strong point in searching for keys and values using different variables . It is available in portable, installable and another 64-bit version, which works from Windows XP to Windows 11. It also has a Spanish version with a small .ini file that can be downloaded separately on the same web page.
When you open RegScanner you will see two separate screens, the search screen and the results screen . The first allows you to search by the exact name of the value you want to find, examining values, data, or keys. You can also search for its “exact match”, by string, by binary value, DWORD or others.
The search can also be refined by date if we know, for example, when we installed a piece of software, and it can search in the five big groups of the registry or in any of them if it is known.
Once the desired search is found, it can be easily exported as a REG file (which once executed overwrites the corresponding value in the registry) that can be used later, shared or exported to another computer.
You can also save keys and values as a text file or double-click an entry to access the corresponding one in the registry.
A useful tool is RegScanner that does what its name says, search the Windows registry more efficiently than Regedit. Of course, its use, like that of the registry itself, is far from being so intuitive and its use is intended for administrators and advanced users.
To learn more, Microsoft offers documents to learn more about the Windows registry. And if what you need is a more powerful application than regedit , there are other alternative registry editors to the official one such as Registry Explorer . It’s available on GitHub, it’s free and open source, and it’s meant to make editing easier and offer more features than the internal Windows tool.