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How to back up your Windows registry

Should I back up the entire registry, or just one key?

  • We recommend that if you edit the registry, you back up the entire registry. While this is the safest method, it can be more complex than backing up a single key.
  • Instead of backing up the entire registry, you can back up a specific key before changing it–but this has some risk. You must know exactly which key to back up. And, for Windows 2000/XP, you must be sure that none of the keys contain encrypted values.

WARNING: Do not double-click the backup file that was placed on the Windows desktop except to undo the changes that you made to the registry.

Backing up a single Windows 98/Me/XP registry key

This section tells how to back up a single registry key. Backing up a Windows 98/Me/XP registry key is known as “exporting.”

WARNING: Do not use this method to export the entire registry or an entire registry “hive.” (A “hive” is what the highest level of registry “folder” is called.)
The example below shows the entire registry; note that My Computer is at the top. The example has all the hive names enclosed by red boxes. If you want to back up any of the hives, close this part of the page, and read the section “How to back up the entire registry.”
Do not export from these levels:
Backup the Windows Registry

To back up a single Windows 98/Me/XP registry key

This section tells how to back up a single registry key. Backing up a Windows 98/Me/XP registry key is known as “exporting.”

Do not export from these levels:

To back up a single Windows 98/Me/XP registry key

  1. Click Start > Run.
  2. In the Run dialog box, type: regeditand then click OK
  3. In the Registry Editor, in the left pane, select the registry key that you were told to modify. (Registry keys use yellow folders for icons, as shown in the picture below.)
    You must back up the parent key (not the value that is displayed in the right pane) for any value that you are modifying or deleting.

    For example:
    You are removing a Trojan horse and must delete a particular value from the registry key:

    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run

    In this case, browse down to the \Run key and select it (see below):

  4. Once you select the registry key in step 3, do one of the following:

    • In Windows 98/Me, click Registry, and then click Export Registry File.
    • In Windows XP, click File, and then click Export.
  5. Do one of the following:

    • In Windows 98, in the Save in box, select Desktop.
    • In Windows Me/ XP, click the Desktop icon.
  6. In the File name box, enter a name that you will remember, such as registry backup.
  7. Click Save. The file is saved to your Windows desktop.
  8. Continue editing the registry as instructed.
  9. Keep the backup file for a week or so, until you are sure that the changes that you made have not caused any problems.

Backing up a single Windows 2000 registry key

As of this writing, Microsoft recommends that if you use Windows 2000, you use the older version of the Registry Editor, Regedt32.exe, to back up a registry key.

Read the instructions in the section “How to Export Registry Keys” in HOW TO: Backup, Edit, and Restore the Registry in Windows 2000 (Q322755).

Backing up the entire Windows 98/Me/2000/XP registry

If you backup the entire Windows registry, you can restore it if you want to reverse your edits. This is the recommended and safest method. Here are links to Microsoft documents that will help you do this:

Windows 98/Me – Follow the instructions in the Microsoft article How To Backup, Edit, and Restore the Registry in Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows Me, Article I.D. 322754

Windows 2000 – Follow the instructions in the Microsoft article How to back up, edit, and restore the registry in Windows 2000, Article I.D. 322755

Windows XP – Follow the instructions in the Microsoft article How to back up, edit, and restore the registry in Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, Article I.D. 322756

Restoring a backed up Windows 98/Me/XP registry key

If, after you make changes to the registry, you find that the changes were in error or that something no longer works correctly, you can undo the changes that you made by merging the backup file into the registry.

WARNINGS: This will undo all deletions or changes that you made within the part of the registry that is within the backup file.

  • It will not remove additions that you made–for example, if you created a new key or value.
  • If you installed new software or made other changes to the computer since you created the backup file, it is possible that merging the backup file into the registry could affect some of these changes.

To restore a backed up Windows 98/Me/XP registry key

  1. Locate the registry backup file that you created. It will have an icon similar to this:
  2. Double-click the icon. A message similar to the following displays:
  3. Click Yes. A confirmation displays.
  4. Click OK.
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