Safely edit the Windows Registry with these five tips.

The Windows registry is a powerful tool, but one wrong edit can render a Windows machine unusable or worse – unbootable. And there’s nothing worse for an IT pro than making the problem worse while trying to fix an end user’s machine.

The first tip should be self-evident, but too many end users and IT pros don’t follow it. And that’s to back up the registry before making any edits. No matter what you are about to do in the registry, you should back it up. There are plenty of tools that can help you do this or you can do it with Regedit. But no matter how you do it, make sure you create a backup any time you’re about to make change. To back up the registry, open Regedit, select the root key, which is the one that contains the subkeys, click File then Export, and provide a name and a location to save the file.

The second tip on our list is to use Regedit’s Export/Import tool to export specific keys or branches. One of the best ways you can play it safe is to always export a particular key (or branch) before you make any edits. This is similar to backing up your registry, but by exporting a single branch, you can then open it in Notepad to examine its contents.  Make your changes to that registry branch and then import it back into the registry. Even more important, exporting branches from the registry allows you to become familiar with how registry keys work WITHOUT making changes to the working registry.

Like tip number two, the next tip on our list should go without saying. And that’s to take your time and pay attention to what you’re doing.  Now, I know you’re pressed for time. The end user is breathing down your neck to fix their machine. You have new machines that need to be imaged and deploy. And there’s the email migration project you’ve been putting off.  But when editing the registry, take your time and make sure the key you’re about to edit or delete is the right one.  Don’t jump into editing the registry all cavalier and haphazard. Take your time and pay attention to detail. As I said before, a mistake when editing the registry can turn a five-minute fix into and an all-day nightmare.

Tip number four is to know and use the Regedit Find function.  Some subkeys are buried deep within the bowels of the registry, and they can be a challenge to find. And when you need to make sure every entry of a certain item is deleted, you don’t want to have to waste time manually searching through the registry for them. This is where Regedit’s Find function can help.  Now, using it is much like using Find other applications, like your word processor or Web browser. From within Regedit, you can open the Find tool by pressing [Ctrl][F]. Now, just enter your search string, tell Regedit what it should look at, and click Find Next. Once Find has located the first item, you can use F3 to find the next the match if one exists.

The last tip on our list isn’t so much about safety, but more about giving you options when editing the Registry.  If you don’t want to bother with using Regedit to delete a key (or if, for some reason, Windows graphical mode will not come up) you can use the Reg command, to add, delete, or modify registry keys and values.  If you wanted to add a new key and value, you would use a command that looks something like this:

The information right after the command is the keyname, followed by the switch /v the value name /t for the data type and /d for the actual data.

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