How Not to Accidentally Mess Up the Windows Registry

Brad Jones 26-11-2015

The Windows registry is something of a mysterious subject for most PC users. It’s obviously an essential part of the system — but most of us would rather avoid it altogether for fear of messing up our computer.


It’s true that wading into the registry Using Registry Cleaner: Does Is It Really Make a Difference? Advertisements for registry cleaners are all over the Web. There’s an entire industry out there bent on convincing inexperienced computer users that their registry needs fixing, and that, for ten easy payments of $29.95, their... Read More without knowing what you’re doing can be a direct path to a broken PC. That being said, if you take the time to educate yourself on the subject, you might find that you can nip in and out without causing any lasting damage.

Follow these tips and you should have an idea on what you should strive to avoid when working with the registry. With any luck, you should be able to fix your issue without causing an even worse problem.

Registry Maintenance

It’s not unusual to find computer advice on the Internet that recommends diving into the registry to “fix” it — but there are certain scenarios where you risk doing further damage by fiddling around. Instead, it’s best to get into good habits when carrying out processes that can affect the registry, so there’s no need to fix it later on.

Errors like orphaned entries, duplicate keys and a fragmented registry How to Fix Windows Registry Errors (And When Not to Bother) Fiddling with the Windows Registry can be harmful to your PC. Here's how to fix registry problems and when to not bother at all. Read More might sound serious, but in reality they’re unlikely to cause problems, unless they accumulate in great numbers. To avoid this, make sure you’re using trusted, professional software because freeware and sloppily programmed applications are more liable to leave potentially dangerous remnants of their code on your computer.

Properly uninstalling applications is another good practice. In Windows 10, you can do so by accessing the Settings menu and navigating to System > Apps & features. Click on the desired program and select Uninstall to remove it from your computer for good.


uninstall program


It’s also worth trying to cut down on system shutdown errors as much as possible. If you’re using a laptop, this might simply mean ensuring that it doesn’t shut down due to a lack of power on a regular basis — you can also make a quick tweak to your settings One Easy Tweak for Laptops with Poorly-Placed Power Buttons If your laptop has a poorly-placed power button, you've probably hit it by accident a few times. Here's how to get around that frustration. Read More  to prevent a poorly placed power button from shutting down the system erroneously.

Making a Typo

Make a typo in Microsoft Word, and you’ll be able to fix the problem with little more than a simple spellcheck Stop For A Grammar Check: 4 Areas Where You Can Improve Your Spelling & Grammar Being a freelance writer or journalist isn't easy, particularly if you write in a language that isn't your mother tongue. Yet, many foreign speakers are tempted to write in English because it promises a greater... Read More . However, a typo while editing registry files can cause some serious issues that aren’t so easy to respond to.



The best way to cover yourself in this scenario is to keep a close eye on every change you make; check your work more than once. Everything from installing new software to opening an application refers to the information contained in the registry, so you can quickly affect a great deal of processes with a relatively minor slip.

Deleting a Key

One method of dealing with malware and other viruses is by deleting the registry key associated with the problem. However, this solution can actually cause far worse problems than the initial complaint without the proper precautions.

Registry keys — particularly those higher up the hierarchy — can wreak havoc on your system if they go missing. The absence of a crucial registry key can turn your PC into a paperweight quickly if you’re not careful, so it’s best to double-check what you’re doing any time you access the registry editor What Is the Windows Registry and How Do I Edit It? If you need to edit the Windows registry, making a few quick changes is easy. Let's learn how to work with the registry. Read More .


Remember that the miscreants creating computer viruses want to make it as difficult as possible for you to remove the unwanted code. If there’s a key in the registry associated with the virus, make sure that it isn’t connected to any legitimate content or functionality that might render your system useless if it’s deleted in error.

Removing Malware

It can be a great weight off to remove malware 10 Steps To Take When You Discover Malware On Your Computer We would like to think that the Internet is a safe place to spend our time (cough), but we all know there are risks around every corner. Email, social media, malicious websites that have worked... Read More from your computer — but, in some cases, the damage might already have been done. A tool that removes spyware, trojans or other unscrupulous code can easily damage your computer’s registry if the offending files have taken root there.


The best way to avoid this problem is not to end up with malware on your computer, as it’s often far more difficult to remove than to avoid. These are some good habits to get into:


However, if the worst happens then there are still methods of safely removing malware without damaging the registry. Make sure that the method you’re using for malware removal 5 Videos That Teach You How to Spot and Delete Malware Malware removal can be frustrating and time consuming. And not all security suites are made equal. This article will help you spot malware activity on your PC and employ the right tactics to remove it. Read More is up to par, as slipping up here is a quick way of causing lasting damage.

Failing to Back It Up

It’s easier than you might think to cause registry problems, if you’re editing or deleting a key 3 Tools To Monitor & Examine The Windows Registry The Windows registry is one of the most poorly understood parts of the Windows operating system. We show you tools that can simplify the registry and help you identify issues. Read More . However, you’re better prepared to fix these problems, if you have a working copy of the particular key that you’ve amended stowed away, so knowing how to back up these files is a must.

To get started, open up the Registry Editor — you will likely need administrator privileges to gain access to the tool. Find the key that you’re going to be working with and click on it. Then, navigate to File > Export.

backup registry key

Choose a sensible name and location for the file to be saved in, and then transfer a copy to a flash drive — this will ensure you’re covered in case there are problems with accessing your computer’s hard disk. Now you can edit the key with the knowledge that you can replace it by double-clicking he backup if necessary, although caution is still recommended Things You Should Know About Redundancy and Backups Redundancy is frequently confused with backups. Indeed, the concepts are relatively similar, albeit with some important differences. Read More whenever you’re making changes to these files.

While a single backup is better than nothing, particularly meticulous users might want to set up a regularly scheduled backup 4 Boring Tasks You Can Automate With the Windows Task Scheduler Your time is too valuable to be wasted with repetitive tasks. Let us show you how to automate and schedule tasks. We have a few great examples, too. Read More  using Windows Task Scheduler. To do so, first open up the application and choose Create Basic Task from the Actions menu on the right hand side of the screen.

create basic task

Give the task a sensible name and a brief description if necessary and continue through the wizard. A monthly trigger is likely as regular as you would ever need to make this kind of backup, but the choice is yours. Choose Start a program on the Action page and then select your preferred backup software in the Program/script field on the next step.

task wizrd

Check your setup on the final screen and, if everything is in order, click Finish to put your scheduled backup reminder into action. If you’re more comfortable with Windows Task Scheduler, you can even set up the program to open and run your backup automatically.

Do you have a tip on the best practices for working with the Windows registry? Have you had registry issues in the past and managed to resolve them? Do tell us how you did it in the comments section below!

Image Credits:computers in a trash bin by denisgo via Shutterstock

Related topics: Computer Maintenance, Windows Registry.

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