What Is the Windows Registry and How Do I Edit It?

What Is the Windows Registry and How Do I Edit It?

The Windows Registry is a scary place at first glance. The Windows Registry is an application where users can change Windows settings not exposed elsewhere. When you search for how to change or fix something in Windows, you’ll often find articles telling you to edit the Windows Registry.

If you need to edit the registry, don’t worry. Making a registry tweak is easy so long as you know what setting you’re modifying. However, you must be careful when editing the Windows Registry, as you can create unintended issues.

What Is the Windows Registry?

The Windows Registry is a database that stores numerous configuration settings. Nearly all configuration settings included with Windows are stored here. Third-party programs can also use the registry to store their settings, although they can also store settings in configuration files—the choice is up to each program.

Many options exposed in the Windows Registry are not available elsewhere in Windows.

You’ll find various advanced settings you cannot change without editing the registry. Some of these settings are available through Windows Group Policy, but the Windows Group Policy Editor is only available to Professional versions of Windows (but there are ways to access Windows Group Policy Editor on Windows Home).

If you are using a non-Professional version of Windows, editing the Windows Registry is likely the only way to edit some of these settings.

In the Windows Registry, you’ll find:

  • Registry Hives, which are the folders that categorize all the data in the registry;
  • Registry Keys, which are another type of subfolder relating to a specific data set, and;
  • Registry Values, which contain data that affect how your apps, programs, operating system, and other areas of your computer work.

The Windows Registry Editor is a GUI for the Windows Registry that allows you to view and edit its contents. Before editing the Windows Registry, we strongly advise backing up the Windows Registry, so you have a known good version to return to if something goes wrong.

How to Open the Windows Registry

Before proceeding, please note that editing and deleting Windows Registry entries and values can have unintended consequences. The Windows Registry guides online will direct you to specific entries, but you shouldn’t jump into the Registry Editor and start deleting whatever you want. Don’t change registry entries without knowing exactly what you’re about to edit. If you know what you are doing and carefully edit only the correct values, you shouldn’t have any problems.

However, if you start deleting, editing, and tweaking registry keys, you could damage your Windows installation beyond repair. A Windows Registry backup file might restore your system, but in some cases, only a full reinstall will recover your system, and you could lose a lot of data in the process. It is also important to note that it is possible to reset your Windows Registry, but it may depend on the damage done.

To open the Registry Editor, type regedit in your Start Menu search bar, then select the Best Match.

windows registry editor in start menu search bar options

How to Edit the Windows Registry

If you know a specific value you want to change, you can navigate through the Windows Registry tree structure.

Click the arrows to open the next branch of folders until you find what you’re looking for. For example, if I want to edit the “Add to VLC Playlist” right-click context menu option, I would browse to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Directory\shell\AddToPlaylistVLC, unfurling each folder branch until you reach the destination value.

windows registry editor search for entry

Alternatively, you can use the Registry Editor search function. Press CTRL + F to open Find. Then you can type in the key, value, or data string you’re looking for. Unfortunately, the Registry Editor Find function doesn’t always return what you’re looking for. If it returns no values, head back to the manual search. Alternatively, check out how to open the Windows Registry to any key without searching or copy and paste the registry key into the Windows Registry address bar.

To edit the value, right-click the name and select Modify. Change the Value Data to whatever is appropriate and press OK.

How to Create a New Windows Registry Value

At times, you may need to create a new registry value. For instance, if the registry value for a setting you want to edit doesn’t exist, you can create it. However, you must ensure you are in the corresponding registry folder for a new value to work. There is no use in placing a new registry value in any old folder; at best, it’ll do nothing, and at worst, it’ll break something.

First, make sure you are in the correct Registry Editor location. Then right-click the right pane and select New > [registry value type]. Type the name of the value, assign it whatever attributes it needs, and hit OK. Sounds vague? That’s because you will only create new registry values on a case-by-case basis, and there are several different registry value types. By and large, you will create a DWORD (32-bit) Value. But that isn’t always the case.

windows registry create new 32bit dword

If a key or folder you need doesn’t exist, create the correct folder structure by creating new subkeys in each folder. For example, if you need to change a value in Foo\Bar, create the “Foo” key if it doesn’t exist, then create the “Bar” key inside it.

How to Export and Import Windows Registry Files

The Registry Editor also supports the import and export of .reg files.


You can create your own .reg files to back up specific registry keys. Taking a backup is a great idea if you are about to edit the registry. You can back up individual keys and values or the entire registry. Although backing up the entire registry sounds time-consuming, it isn’t. For most people, the registry will amount to hundreds of megabytes. For instance, my entire Windows Registry weighs in at 550MB, as you can see below:

windows registry backup size windows 10 march 2023

However, I will add that that size has drastically increased since 2021, from a couple of hundred megabytes to half a gigabyte. Anyway, back to the exporting. Right-click the registry key (in the left panel), and select Export. The contents of the key will save to a .reg file on your computer.

save registry edit backup windows


Double-clicking a .reg file will add its contents to your registry. Adding a .reg file to your registry simplifies the process of performing registry hacks. Instead of manually creating or editing each value, double-clicking the .reg adds every value, placing them in your registry without error. For many registry hacks or alterations, you will have to restart your system before the change takes effect.

registry editor warning window

You will come across .reg files online. However, you shouldn’t download and run any old .reg file. A malicious Windows Registry file could wreck your system settings with a single file or even be the basis for a malware installation. Before running the .reg file, right-click it and select Edit. The registry file contents will open in Notepad (or an alternative text editor), showing you exactly what will install should you double-click.

Understandably, you won’t figure out what each entry is for. I can’t, either. When you are unsure, complete an internet search for the registry key in question to figure out if it is benign.

Three Useful Registry Hacks to Try

There are loads of handy registry hacks and tweaks you can make. Here are three to get you started.

1. Open the Last Active Window from the Taskbar

Ever click an icon on your Taskbar and wish it would open the last active Window of that program? We did, so found this registry tweak that “fixes” the problem.

Open the Registry Editor and navigate to:


Then right-click in the right panel, select New > DWORD (32-bit) Value. Name it LastActiveClick, change the Value Data to 1, and hit OK.

lastactiveclick registry entry in the windows registry editor

2. Remove the OneDrive Button from the File Explorer

Something else that drives me mad is the persistence of the OneDrive button. Don’t use OneDrive? You can use a registry tweak to remove the button from File Explorer.

Open the Registry Editor and navigate to:


Double-click System.IsPinnedToNameSpaceTree, set the Value Data to 0, and hit OK.

If you’re using 64-bit Windows, you’ll need to make an additional tweak. Head to:


Double-click System.IsPinnedToNameSpaceTree, set the Value Data to 0, and hit OK.

3. Change Desktop Icon Spacing

Ever wanted to change the space between your desktop icons? You can use a Windows Registry tweak for that!

Open the Registry Editor and navigate to:

  HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics 

There are two spacing measurements you need to edit. In the left panel, find the WindowMetrics key. In the left panel, find the values for IconSpacing and IconVerticalSpacing. The former controls the horizontal spacing, while the latter controls the vertical.

Is Editing the Windows Registry Easy?

Editing the Windows Registry is easy—so long as you move slowly. That means don’t add random registry files without checking, don’t mess with registry values you don’t understand, and always take a backup before making registry tweaks.

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