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It is very dangerous to be deleting or changing things in the Windows registry. That's why it requires special permissions.

Why does Windows 7 prevent me from deleting third-party registry entries? What can I do to circumvent this problem?

In this excerpt from Answercast #45, I strongly recommend that you leave the registry alone. But if you really know what you're doing, there are steps to gain access.

Windows 7 registry

First, I want you to be absolutely positively sure that you want to circumvent this problem!

Depending on the registry keys you're talking about deleting, you could in the worst case damage your system so that it won't even boot! So obviously, if you're going to go down this path:

  • Start with a clean and full backup of your machine.

Registry protection

Now, "Why does Windows prevent you from deleting arbitrary registry keys like this?"

It's protecting you from what I just described! It is possible to severely hurt your machine by deleting the wrong registry keys.

It doesn't matter that it's a third-party application or whether it's Windows itself. Applications themselves, when they install registry keys, can set permissions so that individuals can't just randomly delete the keys.

Administrative privileges

What most people don't realize about the registry is that it has a very similar permissions model to the file system. In other words, in the file system, you can mark files as being read-only so only certain accounts can access them; only certain accounts can delete them and so forth. The same is actually true for individual keys in the Windows registry.

Now, how do we go about forcing our way through?

  1. We absolutely know what we're doing!

  2. We know that what we are about to delete will not hurt anything.

  3. We just want to get it gone.

The way to do that is to actually run the Registry Editor as the administrator. My guess is that you're simply running Registry Editor from the Run command on the Start menu. That's not enough.

What I would recommend you do is to find the Registry Editor (regedit.exe, I believe is what you'll find probably in Windows/System32). Right-click on that and then "Run as administrator." That should give you all of the permissions you need to basically say, "I know what I'm doing. Don't prevent me from deleting anything. It really needs to be gone."

  • Like I said, I hope you're starting with a full backup!

Leave the registry alone

I hope that you know what you're doing. Those kinds of permissions are there for a reason.

  • In general, if you've uninstalled third-party software, and there are a few leftover keys,

  • It doesn't really hurt anything to just leave them be.

So, ultimately that's my strongest recommendation. That you probably not do what it is you're trying to do. But if you must:

  • Then running Registry Editor as administrator;

  • After having done a full backup is the way to go.

Article C5713 - August 20, 2012 « »

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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1 Comment
August 21, 2012 11:43 AM

I've edited the registry a fair bit. This allows you to customize windows in your own way. For instance, you can use the policy editor in a Windows Pro machine to decide what you want to change, then create an inf file to enter the changes into a Windows Home Premium copy of windows. Or you can lock out the settings dialog in your connection settings, for instance, if you wanted to set a proxy and didn't want the user to delete the proxy settings and bypass them.

So registry editing can be useful and convenient. But I agree, it isn't for the faint hearted or those who don't understand what they are doing.

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