Saturday, November 21, 2009

How to backup and restore the Windows Registry

Windows stores just about everything it knows about in a file-based database called the Windows Registry. The registry contains all the configuration settings for the operating system and all programs. Everything from the size of the icons to the desktop background is stored there.
Since everything is stored in one place, it’s quite easy to adjust settings or edit configurations, but it’s also equally dangerous because one screw up in the registry and your computer is dead. The best part about it is that one simple change in the registry can lead to the operating system becoming unusable.
That’s why you should always make a backup of the registry before making any changes to it. I’ve written lots of article that require some kind of registry edit and I always mention that a backup should be performed in case something goes wrong.


Backup Registry in Windows XP and Vista

To backup the registry, you can use the built-in feature of Windows called System Restore. It allows you to create restore points that you can go revert back to in case you run into problems after making a change.
Each restore point is actually just a copy of the OS “system state”, which is basically the entire registry and some other OS related data. To create a restore point, follow the instructions below:
1. Click on Start, then All Programs, then Accessories, then System Tools, and click on System Restore.
system restore
2. Click on the Create a restore point radio button and click Next.
create a restore point
3. Type in a name for the restore point and click Create. Make sure to give a name that makes sense like “Before installing driver” or “Before updating program”, etc.
restore point
Click Create and you’re done! You have now backed up your Windows Registry. So how do you restore the registry? Well there are basically two ways and it depends on whether you can get into Windows or not.

Restore Registry in Windows

If you can still get into Windows itself, then you can restore by following the same procedure as above to open System Restore and then clicking on “Restore my computer to an earlier time” and clicking Next.
restore a restore point
All the dates in the calendar that are in bold have at least one restore point. Click on a bold date and then click on the restore point in the second box to the right. Note that if you have System Restore turned on and depending on how much space it is allowed to use, Windows will automatically create restore points every day. Those are the ones that show up as “System Checkpoint”.
Once you have found the one you want to restore too, click Next and then confirm the restore point selection. The computer will be restored and automatically restarted.
If you CANNOT get into Windows because the registry change was too major and it is now corrupted, you can press F8 when your computer is booting up to get the Advanced Boot Options screen.
advanced boot options
You are going to want to choose “Last Known Good Configuration” from the list of options. Last Known basically restores the registry to whatever it was the last time you logged onto your computer. So if you make an update to your computer, restart and Windows does not load, choose Last Known and it will revert back to the state it was in when you were logged in.
It DOES NOT revert back to the last System Restore point you created. In Windows Vista, you can actually go into the System Recovery options and choose a restore to a previous point that you created without needing to log into Windows. Windows XP sadly does not have this option!
system recovery options
So if you have Vista, just go to System Recovery Options and choose System Restore. Easy. If you have Windows XP, you need to hope and pray. You can also try to use the Recovery Console to copy the backed up registry file and replace the corrupted one.
I would write out the steps here, but there are some other sites that go into much more detail on how to recovery your registry in Windows XP, so I’ll point you in that direction.
http://www.aade.com/XPhint/XPrecovery.htm
The above-mentioned document goes though in great detail ALL the possible methods to recover the Windows registry. It starts off with the assumption that you can’t log into Windows and simply go to System Restore.
Any questions, issues, or problems you are having? Post a comment and I’ll try to help!

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