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Windows Registry Structure

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

What is the Structure of a Windows Registry?

The Windows Registry is organized much like the Windows file system that is viewable in Explorer. At the top of the hierarchy are the main branches of the Registry, and each of these categories is called a Hive. Hives are composed of Keys which can contain other Keys, as well as Values.

Registry Keys are distinguished depending on their position in the hierarchy, with those at the top being Root Keys, and those below being Sub Keys.

Registry Values are at the very bottom of the hierarchy and contain the actual information that is being stored and referenced in the Registry.

Each of the main branches (or Hives/Root Keys) contain a specific portion of the information stored in the Registry. The are differentiated by the follow characteristics:

  • HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT – This branch contains file association mappings, shortcut destinations, object linking and embedding (OLE) information, and core aspects of the Windows user interface.
  • HKEY_CURRENT_USER – This branch is user-specific, and links to a section within HKEY_USERS depending on the user that is currently logged onto the PC, which contains information such as logon names, desktop settings, and Start menu settings.
  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE – This branch contains machine-wide information about the specific type of hardware, software, and other preferences on a given PC, and is available to every user who logs onto the computer.
  • HKEY_USERS – This contains different Sub Keys for each user and their individual preferences.
  • HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG – This branch links to a specific section in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE depending on the current hardware configuration.

Each Registry value is stored as one of five data types:

  • REG_SZ – This type is a standard string, used to represent human readable text values.
  • REG_BINARY – This type is typically used by hardware components, which store information as raw binary data: 0’s and 1’s.
  • REG_MULTI_SZ – This data type is a multiple string used to represent values that contain lists or multiple values, with each entry separated by a NULL character.
  • REG_DWORD – This data type is a Double Word, or a 32-bit numeric value, and can hold any number from 0 to 232.
  • REG_EXPAND_SZ – This type is an expandable string that contains a variable that is replaced when called by an application. For example, a value containing the string “%SystemRoot%” will be replaced by the location of the directory containing system files.

For more information, see: Windows Registry and Windows Registry Errors.

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