Tiplord Windows 95 &Windows 98 Tips

Bookmark me Annoyances Boot Disks Customizing Device Manager
FAQ Hardware Networking Setup Switches Shortcuts
Software Help Updates Tip Ring Home

Get a Handle On Win95's Registry

By John Woram

Senior Contributing Editor Optimizing Windows Columnist
Copyright (c) 1996. CMP Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Ignore These Tips
Before you try any of these tips, make sure you back up your Registry. All Registry edits are effective immediately, and there's no such thing as an unedit option. Due to the obvious space limitations, not much explanation is given here about basic Registry editing techniques. Therefore, if you're not already comfortable with the Registry Editor, don't try to learn how it works by reading here. Instead, read the final tip in this section and then go on to some of the other tips in this issue.

Create a Registry
Registry If you've decided to ignore the previous tips, create a C:\Registry folder and then write a Desktop shortcut to the Registry Editor (REGEDIT.EXE). Open its Properties sheet and edit the Shortcut tab as follows:Start in: C:\RegistryShortcut key: Ctrl + Alt + R (or similar, if desired) The C:\Registry folder becomes a convenient central location for Registry files, and the Editor will now look there whenever you select the Import or Export option (see below).

The Emergency (No-)Recovery Utility
According to the ERU.TXT file that accompanies the Emergency Recovery Utility, "... the recommended [backup] location is a bootable floppy in drive A." But it doesn't point out that no diskette can possibly store all the files you need to save. To find out why, run the utility (ERU.EXE) and click on the custom button to display a list of files that will be backed up. In most cases, the critical SYSTEM.DAT file will be unchecked, because there's not enough room on the diskette for it. But you won't know this unless you remember to check the list. You may prefer to back up all the files to a folder on drive C:, then copy them to two diskettes. Or, for subsequent Registry recovery only, back up just the SYSTEM.DAT and USER.DAT files.

When in Doubt, Copy First
Before you edit a complex Data entry, create a duplicate entry for reference purposes. Double-click on any entry in the Name column, press Ctrl+C to copy the highlighted contents of the Value data box and click on the OK button. Then create a new value of the same type (string, binary or dword) and press Ctrl+V to paste the copied data into its Value data box. Now edit the original value as desired and, if the edit doesn't work out, reverse the procedure to restore the original value. When you're done, don't forget to delete the duplicate entry.

Get into the Import/Export Business
Before you edit a Registry key, highlight it and select Registry/Export Registry File. Enter a distinctive name in the File Name box and click on the Save button to copy that key into the C:\Registry (or other) folder. Now edit the key as desired. If the edit doesn't work, delete the edited key and import the original version back into the Registry. Note that Export really means Copy to a file, and Import means Paste from a file.

Unsure About a Subkey? Kill it
One sure way to learn what a Registry subkey does is to delete it and note the effect of its absence. But first, export the subkey so that you can make a graceful recovery once you discover the missing data was really important. As an experiment, look at any object's context menu, before and after you delete the appropriate ContextMenuHandlers subkey. Once you've noted the missing options, import the key back into the Registry to restore them.

Having Trouble? Get Real
Don't forget the Registry Editor has a Real mode too. If you can't resolve an editing misadventure or other problem while the Windows GUI is running, reboot or restart in MS-DOS mode and type REGEDIT /? at the command prompt to review the available command-line options. For example, REGEDIT filename.REG will import filename.REG into the existing Registry. As for the /C switch, be careful-REGEDIT /C filename.REG replaces the entire Registry with the contents of the filename.REG file.

Take Out Uninstall Insurance
If a well-behaved Win95 app's setup procedure modifies the Registry, that app will remove all traces of itself from the Registry when it's subsequently uninstalled. So much for theory. In practice, little Registry droppings are sometimes left behind, and although they may do no harm, they don't do much good either. Before you install any questionable new app, copy the SYSTEM.DAT and USER.DAT files into the C:\Registry folder, and rename both with a .000 extension. Next time, use a .001 extension, and so on. Maintain a README.TXT file in the same folder with a brief description of each file set. If you run into trouble, uninstall the problem application, rename the last-known good file set and copy it back into the C:\Windows folder. This removes all doubt about the Registry's post-uninstall condition.

Read a Good Book
Had enough? If not, head for your nearest bookstore and pick up a copy of my new book, The Windows 95 Registry: A Survival Guide for Users, from which most of these tips were swiped.