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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.
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.
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.
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.
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