The Windows registry is a directory which stores settings and options for the operating system for Microsoft Windows 32-bit versions, 64-bit versions, and Windows Mobile. It contains information and settings for all the hardware, operating system software, most non-operating system software, users, preferences of the PC, etc. Whenever a user makes changes to Control Panel settings, file associations, system policies, or most installed software, the changes are reflected and stored in the registry. The registry also provides a window into the operation of the kernel, exposing runtime information such as performance counters and currently active hardware.
Keys and values
The registry contains two basic elements: keys and values
The Registry is split into a number of logical sections, or “hives”. Hives are generally named by their Windows API definitions, which all begin “HKEY”. They are abbreviated to a three- or four-letter short name starting with “HK” (e.g. HKCU and HKLM).
The HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE and HKEY_CURRENT_USER nodes have a similar structure to each other; applications typically look up their settings by first checking for them in “HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Vendor’s name\Application’s name\Version\Setting name”, and if the setting is not found look instead in the same location under the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE key. When writing settings back, the reverse approach is used — HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE is written first, but if that cannot be written to (which is usually the case if the logged-in user is not an administrator), the setting is stored in HKEY_CURRENT_USER instead.
Abbreviated HKCR, HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT stores information about registered applications, such as file associations and OLE Object Class IDs tying them to the applications used to handle these items. On Windows 2000 and above, HKCR is a compilation of HKCU\Software\Classes and HKLM\Software\Classes. If a given value exists in both of the subkeys above, the one in HKCU\Software\Classes is used.
Abbreviated HKCU, HKEY_CURRENT_USER stores settings that are specific to the currently logged-in user. The HKCU key is a link to the subkey of HKEY_USERS that corresponds to the user; the same information is reflected in both locations. On Windows-NT based systems, each user’s settings are stored in their own files called NTUSER.DAT and USRCLASS.DAT inside their own Documents and Settings subfolder (or their own Users subfolder in Windows Vista). Settings in this hive follow users with a roaming profile from machine to machine.
Abbreviated HKLM, HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE stores settings that are general to all users on the computer. On NT-based versions of Windows, HKLM contains four subkeys, SAM, SECURITY, SOFTWARE and SYSTEM, that are found within their respective files located in the %SystemRoot%\System32\Config folder. A fifth subkey, HARDWARE, is volatile and is created dynamically, and as such is not stored in a file. Information about system hardware drivers and services are located under the SYSTEM subkey, while the SOFTWARE subkey contains software and Windows settings.
HKEY_USERS (HKU): Abbreviated HKU, HKEY_USERS contains subkeys corresponding to the HKEY_CURRENT_USER keys for each user profile actively loaded on the machine, though user hives are usually only loaded for currently logged-in users.
HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG: Abbreviated HKCC, HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG contains information gathered at runtime; information stored in this key is not permanently stored on disk, but rather regenerated at the boot time.