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"First backup the registry" is a common instruction when troubleshooting other problems. We look at three different ways to backup the registry.

In the numerous occasions where one is going to change something in the registry, often the advise is to backup up the registry. Using the backup program that comes with my Windows XP Professional, I see how to backup the "System State" using the backup utility. Is it easy to backup up just the registry? Or, is it best to just backup the System State? I guess I don't know how to back up just the registry.

There are a few approaches to backing up the registry. Each has its own set of pros and cons.

Old School

For many years, the recommended approach to backup your registry was to fire up registry editor (Start, Run, type in regedit and press OK). In the registry editor you'd then select the top "node" of the registry you wanted to back up, or the top node (My Computer) if you wanted it all and then click on File and then Export and export the entire contents of the registry to a file.

The problem with this approach is that while you did have a copy of your registry, restoring it could get complicated. One could import that same file, and presumably all the entries would revert to the settings reflected therein, but new entries wouldn't be deleted. I'd also expect various permissions problems as well.

But the exported text file remains a good, solid place to backup the registry if you know what you're doing come restoration time.

" As newer restore points are created, older ones are deleted to make room."

Microsoft's Recommendation

I'm not a huge fan of System Restore, because it doesn't save or restore everything you might think it does. But one of the things it does do well is backup and restore the registry. With a very easy UI (User Interface), simply creating a new restore point involves taking a snapshot of the registry, along with several other interesting things.

You can find Microsoft's instructions here: How to back up and restore the registry in Windows.

Come restore time, reverting is as easy as firing up the UI and selecting the restore point you want to go back to.

If it's still there.

And that's another of the concerns I have with System Restore: the number of restore points that Windows will keep for you depends on how much disk space is allocated. As newer restore points are created, older ones are deleted to make room. This makes it a reasonable approach for restoring to a point, say, an hour or a day ago, but not at all appropriate to revert to something a month or a year ago.

And, on top of that, I'm not aware of any approach to saving a restore point off-line. In other words, if you wanted to create a restore point, and then somehow save that to CD or DVD so that it's not impacted by automatic deletion, I know of no way to do so.

My Approach

I'm uncomfortable with both of the approaches above, for the reasons mentioned.

If I'm in a situation where I need to make a backup of my registry, it's very likely I'm in a situation where a lot more than the registry actually needs backing up.

So I back up not just the registry, I backup the machine.

Or, rather, depending on how far along in my day I am, I rely on my previous night's nightly backup to save me should I need to revert.

But if I don't have that nightly backup, or the amount of activity since that backup compared to the risk of whatever I'm about to do dictates it, I create a new backup.

Now, I know that many people will consider that overkill, and it may be. But in reality I don't do anything extra all that often. Having a daily backup already in place allows me to have a fall back point every day, no matter what goes wrong - registry or otherwise.

So if you don't have that, I naturally recommend it for many, many reasons.

But if you prefer not to go that route, or simply want something to do when instructions tell you to "backup the registry!" - then System Restore is a reasonable, quick and easy safety net as well.

Article C3437 - July 6, 2008 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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14 Comments
Richard
July 7, 2008 5:03 AM

I've found a program that acts like system restore, but only for the registry.
It works for Windows 2000, Xp Home/Pro and possibly Server 2003.
It may or may not work for Vista, the name of the program is EruNT.
The url for the program is: http://larshederer.homepage.t-online.de/erunt/
Some of the page is in German, hth.

Jose
July 8, 2008 9:57 AM

I recomend Erunt too. It saved my life many times.

Eli Coten
July 8, 2008 10:41 AM

It is also possible to find the registry hives - they are saved as regular files on the hard drive, some in buried in system32/config folder, others in the user profile folder. This is messy and really only an emergency measure as its complicated and awkward but it does work.

The catch is that restoring the registry from these hives usually requires that Windows is NOT running whilst you restore them. That means you need either a dual-boot system or to boot from a CD/other removable device whilst restoring them.

Not the simplest or easiest way but it does work.

Luis
July 8, 2008 11:34 AM

Sorry folks I just use System Mechanic and it works the treat

Bob Conlin
July 8, 2008 6:34 PM

I don't understand where the MS backup of the Regestry, or anything else goes. If it goes on the C: drive, and the computer crashes, haven't you also lost the backup?

Ron
July 9, 2008 2:33 AM

Well I keep reading articles about: backup, disaster recovery, duplicate system/files and I still do not understand any of it!

Bob Bowen
July 9, 2008 2:45 AM

Hi Leo, That has always been my problem: if you back-up registry to your hard drive, if your system crashes, or if the HDD fails, you have lost your backup. Non comprehendo! Best wishes, Bob.

Terry Hollett
July 9, 2008 4:19 AM

I have to agree with The first comment posted by Richard. I installed a program that screwed up my system, Windows would only start up to the background screen - no icons or taskbar.

I pressed Alt-Ctrl-Delete to bring up the Task Manager, clicked on File>New Task(RUN)...typed explorer.exe - but it would only open Windows Explorer. So I navigated to the backup folder for EruNT which is C:\WINDOWS\ERDNT\AutoBackup - The folders are named by dates.

So I picked one for the day before, ran the ERDNT.EXE file from within the folder. I had to restart to finish restoring from backup, problem solved.

Just a note: this program creates a item in your Startup menu called ERUNT Autobackup - backs up your database every time you restart your computer. Reminds me of the registry backup in WinME and 98.

second note: this program doesn't delete old backups. You might want to do it manually over time. I currently have 7 backups taking 182MB of space.

http://www.geocities.com/terryhollett2003/

Ziggie
July 9, 2008 5:51 AM

Bob,

Ideally you'd then backup the files off your hard drive in case of a crash. Realistically though, if your hard drive does fail you'll be most likely installing Windows from scratch, thus negating the need of a Registry backup.

My 2 cents...

--Zigg

Snail
July 9, 2008 11:12 AM

In regards Ziggie's comment: If you have a backup on a disk or other tangible media or outside of your system, if your system's HDD were to crash and you needed to reinstall your OS on a new HDD, could you do an install to the settings had on the restore point?
At the time of reinstallation, could you install the OS on TWO partitions?

Ziggie
July 9, 2008 12:03 PM

Snail - you could definitely install the OS on two partitions, but I don't think you could get to your System Restore settings as it would be a new installation.

And installing the same OS on two partitions doesn't make a lot of sense, because if the drive goes, the drive goes, taking all partitions with it...

--zigg

David
July 10, 2008 1:23 AM

If people would partition their hd's with an 8 gb c: drive and the rest on a virtual d: or how ever many virtual drives they want, then use a program like acronis to image their c: they wouldn't have any use for system restore or registry backups, if something bad happened to their os it would take only minutes to be back normal again.
You can make d: your default "program files" folder with a simple registry hack and your default "my docs" folder with just a right clik on your "my docs" and move it to d:. My backup image for my c: is only 1.8 gb. You can actually put that on a dvd and never fear an os problem again.

Steven
December 31, 2009 12:08 PM

I Was given a hp omnibook 6100 laptop back in 2006.It seemed to work ok but it needed more RAM.It had 256 ram. I went to a guy that fixed used computers.I realley did not know much about them.He said i needed to buy windows XP because it had another persons XP soft ware.After i down loaded the software i lost the use of my DVD playier,It worked just fine before.This jurk said i can repair it for you for a fee.What can i do to fix the problem?All i needed was to add more ram to 1024mb.I want it to run from the original settings. Any one that can help me my address is [email address removed]Thanks

Charlie
March 17, 2010 12:37 PM

Ok real neophyte here. can you explain how to put "nightly backup" into place, please.

Charlie

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