There’s nothing more mysterious on a Windows PC than the Registry, and today we’ll
explain exactly what it is, how it works, and whether you should bother cleaning it. We’ll
also go about debunking a few widespread registry myths along the way.
As I said, the registry has always been a mysterious—if not entirely
misunderstood—component of the Windows operating system. Today I’ve set out to
explain in detail what the registry is all about. If you already have a working
understanding of the registry, skip down to the mythbusting section for a little clarity
regarding the usefulness of the many registry cleaners out there.
What Is the Registry?
The Windows Registry is a hierarchical database that stores settings for virtually
everything on a Windows PC—from application settings, user passwords, device driver
info, Windows settings, and pretty much everything else.
Application settings used to be stored in text-based configuration files (and with some
applications, still are), with a separate file for every application. The Windows Registry
is meant to solve that problem by providing a single place for all settings across all
In addition to consolidating system settings, storing all of these settings in a single place
and in a database format means that accessing values in the registry is much faster
than parsing a text configuration file—so the registry can be used for more than just
settings. In fact, most or all of the registry is read into memory each time the system
boots, so accessing the registry is nearly instant.