How to Safely Use the Windows Registry Editor (Regedit) in Windows 10

We have various guides that make use of the Windows registry editor (Regedit), from disabling the recent files list to enabling/disabling prefetch. Windows 10 Regedit makes some improvements over previous versions, but it’s still a mysterious and scary tool to many. We’re going to show you how to use the Windows Registry Editor safely so you can customize various aspects of your PC.

What is the Windows registry?

The Windows registry sounds complex, but it’s just a database in its base form. It stores all of the low-level settings for the operating system – ones that aren’t available via the usual settings menus because Microsoft prefers you not to change them. Installed programs, the Start Menu, and more all have registry entries in a standardized form for easy understanding and editing if required.

Registry data is stored in ‘Trees’, a hierarchical structure that makes for easier organization and navigation. Much like the Windows file system, it can have folders (known as keys) and subfolders. Its file name, the data within the key, is called a value.

Though many will remember the warnings in Windows XP that “making incorrect changes can damage your system”, Microsoft has evolved a lot since then. With so many recovery and backup tools available, using the Windows registry editor isn’t quite so dangerous, especially if you follow some basic principles.

How to edit the Windows 10 registry safely

There are a few things to keep in mind when using Windows 10 Regedit to ensure you don’t cause damage to your OS. The first is to always make a backup, either via a System Restore point or Regedit’s export function for the specific key you’re going to change.

You should never perform registry edits that aren’t from a trusted source. Random comments on the internet could be trying to damage your PC, or may just have no effect. You shouldn’t be changing the registry unless you know exactly what the change will result in.

Don’t make multiple changes to the registry at once. If there are multiple methods and the first doesn’t work, roll it back before you try another. Taking it step-by-step means that if something goes wrong, you’ll know the culprit immediately. Finally, familiarize yourself with the various data types and root keys for a better understanding. More education means fewer mistakes:

Data Type Description
REG_DWORD A Double word can hold up to 32 bits but is usually displayed in decimal or hexadecimal value. They’re used primarily as 1 (for enabled) and 0 (for disabled).
REG_BINARY Binary data in any form, usually in hexadecimal notation.
REG_SZ A string, eg. a sequence of characters. Usually text.

 

Keys Description Abbreviation
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE System-related info HKLM
HKEY_CURRENT_USER Data related to the logged-in account HKCU
HKEY_USERS Information regarding all accounts HKU
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT File association and COM registration HKCR
HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG Machine profile information HKCC

With that covered, we can move into the Windows registry tutorial, including how to navigate, create keys and values, and make a backup.

How to Use Regedit in Windows 10

Time needed: 5 minutes.

The Windows registry editor interface is quite easy to navigate once you know where everything is.

  1. Open registry editor


    Press the Windows key and type “registry” click the “Registry Editor” search result.

    Windows 10 - Search - Registry Editor

  2. Navigate to a key via the search bar


    In the registry editor search bar, paste the directory of the key you’d wish to edit or navigate to it using the folder structure. We’re going to be using the Activation Broker key as an example in this tutorial. Paste Computer\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\ActivationBroker to follow along.

    Windows 10 - Registry Editor - Navigation

  3. Search for a key, value, or data


    If you don’t know the location of a key, value, or data, you can use Windows 10 regedit’s in-built find function. Press “Edit > Find…” or use the hotkey “CTRL + F”. Search for whatever you want to find, in our case the Windows Defender key. Press “Find Next”. If you’re looking for something with two words, you can tick “Match whole string only” for better results.

    Windows 10 - Registry Editor - Search
    You can press F3 to move through the different results until you find Computer\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows Defender.

  4. Open the registry value editor


    Double-click any entry in the Windows Defender key/folder to see the value and the options for editing. For example, double-clicking the “IsServiceRunning” DWORD will allow you to edit the value data, in Hexadecimal or Decimal. Entering zero would toggle the entry off. Examine each type in the table above. Don’t make any changes for now and click “Cancel”.

    Windows 10 - Registry Editor - Create Types

  5. Create a new Key or Value


    You can create a new key or value by right-clicking in the blank space and selecting “New > Key” or one of the aforementioned value options. If it’s a key, you’ll want to name it correctly. For values, you should consult a guide.

    Windows 10 - Registry Editor - Create Data Types

  6. Export / Import a key for outside use


    At times you may require a way to quickly make registry changes on another PC or perform it again after a reinstall. You can export a registry key by clicking on it and pressing “File > Export” in the top bar and import it from there via “File > Import”.

    Windows 10 - Registry Editor - Export Data Types
    Name the file something memorable (in our case, DisableAntiSpyware), tick “Selected branch”, and press “Save”. Conveniently, this is also how you make a backup. You can also tick “All” if you want to back up your entire registry.

  7. Import/ Merge a registry key directly from a .reg-file


    Exporting a registry key saves the entire folder, not just changes to a specific value. As a result, when you restore a registry key, you merge/ add to the existing keys. Essentially, anything extra you added to the registry in the meantime will not be removed. For this reason, a system restore point can be a better backup solution.

    To merge, either double-click the previously saved .reg file or right-click and hit “Merge”. It’s best to get into the habit of the latter to better avoid mistakes.

    Windows 10 - Registry Editor - Import Data Types