Microsoft Windows operating system stores configuration setting and options in form of a hierarchical database. This database is known as Windows Registry. All the setting for running applications of the platform and also the settings for low level operating system components are stored in it. It is deliberately used by kernel, SAM, services, user interface and third party applications.

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The two basic elements of Registry are keys and value. The keys are similar to folders and contain values and subkeys. The key can be referred via syntax similar to that of a folder using backslashes indication the levels of hierarchy. Values are the data pairs or names stored within the key. Though they can be referred using backslashes but such practice is avoided so as to keep them distinguished from the keys.

Registry Files

There are two types of window platforms on which all the versions of Windows are built. The newer windows versions such as Windows XP, Vista, Windows 2000, 2003 are built on Windows NT platform while the older versions such as Windows 95, SE, ME, Windows 98 are built upon Windows 95 platform. So as to read the registry files, one has to trigger the run window at the start button and enter RegEdit in there. To read the Registry files, one has to use RegEdit or Regedit32 or Kernel32 only as these files are databases. Window text editor or DOS prompt or even the recovery console cannot read these files.

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Windows NT Platform

In the newer version of Windows there are several Registry files unlike the older version that has only two. They are stored without the file extension. They are stored in the WindowsSystem 32Config folder. The Registry files are named as UserDiff, SAM, Security, Default, Software and System. Each one of them has different roles to play. For instance, Security file contains the information about security while SAM file is responsible for storing information about Security Account Manager service.

Windows 95 Platform

Other than Windows ME, all the older versions of Windows have only two registry files. They are  and . ME has three of them, the third one is . The window folder i.e. C:Windows is the storage location for the Registry files.

The information about the hardware, defaults, software, security and window settings are stored in  Registry file. While, the settings selected by the user are stored in  Registry file.

The Windows make a back up for each file. When ever the system is rebooted in Unsafe mode, the windows create the backup System.da0 and User.da0 in the windows folder.

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