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why does windows use the registry?

post #1 of 46
Thread Starter 
I've heard so much about problems with the windows registry. As near as I can tell it is simply a variant on a preference file. If it causes so much grief why do people use it? Simply because it is there? Is there actually some useful aspect to it? I heard of at least one product that eschews the registry and uses .ini files.

This week alone I've had five customers with software problems involving the registry on their windows machines. I support customers with our application and use of the product but I hand off this sort of issue to the service techs.
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post #2 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by neutrino23
I've heard so much about problems with the windows registry. As near as I can tell it is simply a variant on a preference file. If it causes so much grief why do people use it? Simply because it is there? Is there actually some useful aspect to it? I heard of at least one product that eschews the registry and uses .ini files.

This week alone I've had five customers with software problems involving the registry on their windows machines. I support customers with our application and use of the product but I hand off this sort of issue to the service techs.

Many in the industry would simplify the argument down to this :flat files VS database based configs. The registry does more than store prefs. Its also similar to NetInfo in some ways. Im not an expert, but I see both good and bad in the Registry.
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post #3 of 46
The registry itself is just fine, it's just a database of your preferences that actually works better in many ways. Upside: faster access, Downside: needs a registry editor to modify manually.

The idea isn't bad, but windows and other users of the registry end up making the registry very cryptic and hard to deal with.

Moreover, when you need to modify something, it can be a scary process due to the fact that you usually can't find what you're looking for unless someone fills you in. Given time, you can figure out it's whacky organizational process, but when you first start out it can be very annoying.

The registry also allows you to modify settings not meant to be modified. Sort of like a "Game Genie", it can replace hex within a program on runtime without modifying the .exe itself, making the process more safe (all you have to do is remove the entry, or "Game Genie code" when you want).

It's an extremely powerful tool, but it's fairly complex to use. I almost wish Apple had something like it.
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post #4 of 46
Because it's a great tool.
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post #5 of 46
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by groverat
Because it's a great tool.

Then why is it so fragile? Listening to our own customers and listening to the PC call in program on Saturday morning it seems to rank near the top in problems with windows. Could it be made more robust? Could they build better tools to let non-experts pare away damaged sections?
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post #6 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by neutrino23
Then why is it so fragile?

I really don't understand what you mean by that.
In what way is it "fragile"?
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post #7 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by neutrino23
Then why is it so fragile? Listening to our own customers and listening to the PC call in program on Saturday morning it seems to rank near the top in problems with windows. Could it be made more robust? Could they build better tools to let non-experts pare away damaged sections?

It's not fragile.

Programs just change stuff, just like programs can change stuff in OS X.

Poorly coded programs screw up the registry.

It's kind of like OS X and permissions: bad programs screw them up.
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post #8 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by slughead
It's not fragile.

Programs just change stuff, just like programs can change stuff in OS X.

Poorly coded programs screw up the registry.

It's kind of like OS X and permissions: bad programs screw them up.

Yes, but repairing permitions is easier than repairing a windows registry.
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post #9 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by a_greer
Yes, but repairing permitions is easier than repairing a windows registry.


No it's not. Get Registry Mechanic and it will do it for you. Just like Disk Utility.
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post #10 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by Gene Clean
No it's not. Get Registry Mechanic and it will do it for you. Just like Disk Utility.

I have found that reg cleaners actually break more than they fix, so I avoid them for the most part.
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post #11 of 46
Registry Mechanic has been great for me.

I really have no idea why permissions screw up on me sometimes (a limited account not allowed to access the printer utility can still open it from inside an app... wtf?) but I don't take that as a sign that OSX sucks, only that I don't know how to use it properly.

I really wish Mac users would understand that sometimes the problem with their Windows setup is the user, not the software.
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post #12 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by groverat
I really wish Mac users would understand that sometimes the problem with their Windows setup is the user, not the software.

I really wish that sometimes mac users would understand that it's the software, not the user.

Rosnya from unsanity told me about the problems with installers and occasionally, OS X itself.

I myself have never had registry problems in windows, btw.. even after 6 years of using it (started with ME beta -> Win98 -> Win2k).
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post #13 of 46
I did a little test on my XP Professional PC system I have at home sitting there in the corner so alone... and this is what I got:




Notice the number of errors in the left-hand corner by the "Windows Fonts" category. 11950. Simply amazing!
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post #14 of 46
The registry is like a mix of netinfo and the defaults etc (do a defaults read from the terminal and see all the .plist stuff thats there and more).

The registry should be modified by someone who knows what they are doing ie, the person that can also fix it when they break it! This is the same for netinfo and you defaults entries.

Dobby.
post #15 of 46
Oh my god, what the hell did you do to your fonts?

I got 0 font errors. 560 total.
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post #16 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by groverat
Oh my god, what the hell did you do to your fonts?

I got 0 font errors. 560 total.

Nothing! I don't even use it! I use Linux most of the time, but I was shocked at the number of errors...

I installed/uninstalled A LOT of Adobe apps, the ones that mess with your fonts folder and that may have made a mess in my Fonts folder. I fixed them and it's running fine now. But I'll tell you, I was SHOCKED. I know this is not normal for an XP system, as the blame lays elsewhere, but it was funny too...
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post #17 of 46
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by groverat
I really don't understand what you mean by that.
In what way is it "fragile"?

Nearly all of the support issues I deal with turn out to be registry problems. We don't see corrupted directories or other kinds of issues. We nearly always see registry problems. One guy turned on the computer one morning and none of his short cuts would work. Turned out to be some kind of corruption in the registry.

I wrote scientific software for about 12 years so I'm familiar with the general ideas of software code, I've just never written for windows. I'm trying to understand why the registry seems to be a magnet for troubles.

From what I've been able to gather it comes down to two things.

1. The items in the registry are quite important. If they are corrupted then the software will likely not run. This may partly be a software issue. If the software was smart enough to check registry data before using it and not use illegal values there might be fewer problems (assuming the software has the opportunity to see things before using them).

2. The registry is difficult to edit. This is a subjective call. It may be easy for someone who does this all day long but it is not the kind of thing I'd like to try to talk my mom through on the phone. As a subset of this it seems that there can be a huge number of registry entries for one program. Our tech told me there was at least one for each .dll we use. If we have to clean that out it is much more tedious than deleting one preference file.

Further questions: Is there just one registry for all users? If one user installs something can that screw up registry entries for another user's software? Is it possible for one program to screw up the whole registry? Could we backup the whole registry from time to time and fall back to that instead of trying to edit the registry?
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post #18 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by neutrino23
Nearly all of the support issues I deal with turn out to be registry problems. We don't see corrupted directories or other kinds of issues. We nearly always see registry problems. One guy turned on the computer one morning and none of his short cuts would work. Turned out to be some kind of corruption in the registry.

I wrote scientific software for about 12 years so I'm familiar with the general ideas of software code, I've just never written for windows. I'm trying to understand why the registry seems to be a magnet for troubles.

From what I've been able to gather it comes down to two things.

1. The items in the registry are quite important. If they are corrupted then the software will likely not run. This may partly be a software issue. If the software was smart enough to check registry data before using it and not use illegal values there might be fewer problems (assuming the software has the opportunity to see things before using them).

2. The registry is difficult to edit. This is a subjective call. It may be easy for someone who does this all day long but it is not the kind of thing I'd like to try to talk my mom through on the phone. As a subset of this it seems that there can be a huge number of registry entries for one program. Our tech told me there was at least one for each .dll we use. If we have to clean that out it is much more tedious than deleting one preference file.

Further questions: Is there just one registry for all users? If one user installs something can that screw up registry entries for another user's software? Is it possible for one program to screw up the whole registry? Could we backup the whole registry from time to time and fall back to that instead of trying to edit the registry?

Yes there is one registry system wide, user info is one fork in the tree

There is a 3rd major problem, things like web plugins can alter the registry, this problem is amplafied by the activex controls in IE, and god help you if someone is aiming malware-VB script your way.


the fourth problem is ignorant users, a perfect example of this was on the local Fox news in Indy last night, a lady telling her sob story that went something like this "The guy in Nigeria said I get 5% of the huge wire transfer if I send him some front money and my bank account number, he was to take care of the rest but he lied!" people like this should not be allowed to touch computers, their ignorance is far more dangorous than the intelligent of Kevin Mitnik.
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post #19 of 46
First of all...
Quote:
The registry is difficult to edit.

It should be difficult to edit.

You can back up your registry. This is a big part of the System Restore functionality built right in to every consumer Windows release since ME.

Past that, there are myriad apps out there that protect the registry from intrusion, including Microsoft AntiSpyware which will hopefully be rolled into Security Center one day when the software is out of beta.
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post #20 of 46
The Windows Registry - the single worst thing ever created in the history of computing.
post #21 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by neutrino23
Nearly all of the support issues I deal with turn out to be registry problems. We don't see corrupted directories or other kinds of issues. We nearly always see registry problems. One guy turned on the computer one morning and none of his short cuts would work. Turned out to be some kind of corruption in the registry.

I wrote scientific software for about 12 years so I'm familiar with the general ideas of software code, I've just never written for windows. I'm trying to understand why the registry seems to be a magnet for troubles.

From what I've been able to gather it comes down to two things.

1. The items in the registry are quite important. If they are corrupted then the software will likely not run. This may partly be a software issue. If the software was smart enough to check registry data before using it and not use illegal values there might be fewer problems (assuming the software has the opportunity to see things before using them).

2. The registry is difficult to edit. This is a subjective call. It may be easy for someone who does this all day long but it is not the kind of thing I'd like to try to talk my mom through on the phone. As a subset of this it seems that there can be a huge number of registry entries for one program. Our tech told me there was at least one for each .dll we use. If we have to clean that out it is much more tedious than deleting one preference file.

Further questions: Is there just one registry for all users? If one user installs something can that screw up registry entries for another user's software? Is it possible for one program to screw up the whole registry? Could we backup the whole registry from time to time and fall back to that instead of trying to edit the registry?

As far as your question goes...

The Windows Registry is very different to many other databases. It is composed of two files:

SYSTEM.DAT, which lives in the Windows installation folder (C\WINDOWS on Win95/98/ME/XP; C\WINNT on WinNT/2K). This file contains the system-wide portion of the registry.
USER.DAT, which lives in each user's profile folder. This file contains the user-specific portion of the registry.

The Registry Editor application merges these two files (using the USER.DAT for the currently logged in user) to show you the entire registry.
post #22 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by a_greer
the fourth problem is ignorant users, a perfect example of this was on the local Fox news in Indy last night, a lady telling her sob story that went something like this "The guy in Nigeria said I get 5% of the huge wire transfer if I send him some front money and my bank account number, he was to take care of the rest but he lied!" people like this should not be allowed to touch computers, their ignorance is far more dangorous than the intelligent of Kevin Mitnik.

Yeah, there should be a test to owning computers, or at least for getting online. Kinda like how we have tests for owning guns. Except that so far nobody's actually died from someone being stupid on a computer. I'm pretty sure it's just a matter of time though.
post #23 of 46
Thread Starter 
Would it be reasonable to say we could, at the time we install our software, backup our section of the registry and then restore that when we run into trouble? That sounds easier than spending hours going through the registry manually. Perhaps the restore would not remove unwanted or duplicate entries? I'm sure I'm not the first to wonder about this.
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post #24 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by neutrino23
Would it be reasonable to say we could, at the time we install our software, backup our section of the registry and then restore that when we run into trouble? That sounds easier than spending hours going through the registry manually. Perhaps the restore would not remove unwanted or duplicate entries? I'm sure I'm not the first to wonder about this.

This is fine as long as you take a backup every time you change your system (adding or removing software).
Don't use system snapshot as it generally gets out of date and won't work.
A good way is to use ntbackup.exe which saves the ntuser and other system stuff as well as the registry. The ntbackup is the newer version of the old rdisk program for nt4.
You could also just export it to a file.
If you load an out of date registry then you could/will get a corrupted system and will have to re-install.

Dobby.
post #25 of 46
Thread Starter 
Thanks one and all for the detailed and useful information.
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post #26 of 46
Gnome uses a slightly similar construct named GConf.

I understand GConf's purpose is to simplify system administration and to allow them to set settings en masse to groups of users. GConf has some kind of XML interface which ensures there is always possibility of intelligent backups and using standard text/XML tools for manipulation.

I'd like to know what the motivation behind the Windows Registry is. I doubt it is defined as cleanly.

The thing that hurts Windows and causes the "decay" effect more than registry is the so-called "DLL hell". Windows does not control *at all* the installed libraries, and as a result installs of new software can overwrite libraries - that some other software is using - at will, often with older or newer incompatible versions.
post #27 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by groverat
Oh my god, what the hell did you do to your fonts?

I got 0 font errors. 560 total.

Yeah. Great tool. Has 560 errors in it from a user who's supposed to know what they're doing.

The registry is a tool to prevent piracy by making it close to impossible to ever fully remove a program. Unless you have a registry tracker installed, you'll never remove all the vestiges of a program once it's installed.

It's a piss poor implementation that is the cause of more Windows reinstalls than anything else. A Windows computer used by an end user as intended will suffer significant slowdowns due to registry rot/cruft over a three year period. It's basically a built-in Windows install obsolesence.

Just get your shiny new MSCE there groverat?
post #28 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by alcimedes
Yeah. Great tool. Has 560 errors in it from a user who's supposed to know what they're doing.

They were mostly homeless entries. Crap left behind when applications are removed. Happens in every OS.

Quote:
Just get your shiny new MSCE there groverat?

I'd rather jab myself in the eyes than take any kind of computer class. I'm a journalism guy, this computer stuff is just a hobby.
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post #29 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by groverat
They were mostly homeless entries. Crap left behind when applications are removed. Happens in every OS.

I think that is not a state of affairs we should just accept. There is no reason for things to be like that. And does it really happen in every OS? Not to the same degree, I'm sure.
post #30 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by Gon
And does it really happen in every OS? Not to the same degree, I'm sure.

I haven't used an OS that honestly removes every trace of every application installed when un-installing. They all leave it up to the software maker.

If I install a piece of software by dragging it into the Applications folder would it be logical for me to think that dragging it out of the Application folder would return my system to the exact state it was in before installation?
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post #31 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by groverat
I haven't used an OS that honestly removes every trace of every application installed when un-installing. They all leave it up to the software maker.

If I install a piece of software by dragging it into the Applications folder would it be logical for me to think that dragging it out of the Application folder would return my system to the exact state it was in before installation?

groverat.. i understand your point of view that the Registry in windows is designed for a purpose and there is a way of maintaining and cleaning it.

overall in practical day-to-day usage its just too susceptible to all sorts of errors, whether this is the fault of Microsoft or third-party software is of course a whole different debate \

in my experience trashing a .plist file on a Mac is way way way more easier then fooling around with windows registry, and uninstalling has virtually never ever worked properly and cleanly on windows, back from win95 to dare i say, winXP

i would use much stronger language but i have been a bit moody on the forums the past few days so i am trying to be nice today
post #32 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by sunilraman
groverat.. i understand your point of view that the Registry in windows is designed for a purpose and there is a way of maintaining and cleaning it.

overall in practical day-to-day usage its just too susceptible to all sorts of errors, whether this is the fault of Microsoft or third-party software is of course a whole different debate \

in my experience trashing a .plist file on a Mac is way way way more easier then fooling around with windows registry, and uninstalling has virtually never ever worked properly and cleanly on windows, back from win95 to dare i say, winXP

i would use much stronger language but i have been a bit moody on the forums the past few days so i am trying to be nice today

Oops, clicked "Edit" instead of "Reply" and got a permission denied message

Anyway...

You can trash a .plist file on Mac OS X just as easily as the Registry in Windows - just open it in a text editor and edit stuff. You're far more likely to cause lasting damage in Windows since the Registry is system-wide and binary (as opposed to plists, which are program-specific and textual).
post #33 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by wrldwzrd89
Oops, clicked "Edit" instead of "Reply" and got a permission denied message

Anyway...

You can trash a .plist file on Mac OS X just as easily as the Registry in Windows - just open it in a text editor and edit stuff. You're far more likely to cause lasting damage in Windows since the Registry is system-wide and binary (as opposed to plists, which are program-specific and textual).

You could easily emulate the Windows's Registry on OS X if when the system detected a corrupt .plist file it poped up a dialog box asking you:

"Would you like to also trash every other .plist file on this machine?"

<Cancel> <Trash>
post #34 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by sunilraman
in my experience trashing a .plist file on a Mac is way way way more easier then fooling around with windows registry, and uninstalling has virtually never ever worked properly and cleanly on windows, back from win95 to dare i say, winXP

Trashing .plist files is easy if you know what they are and where they are. Which most users don't.

Let's say I drag Mozilla Firefox into the Applications folder. Use it for a while. Add some bookmarks. A few extensions. I decide I don't like it and drag it to the trash and empty the trash. How clean is that un-installation? And if that isn't clean, what is the alternative?
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post #35 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by Gon
I think that is not a state of affairs we should just accept. There is no reason for things to be like that. And does it really happen in every OS? Not to the same degree, I'm sure.

Uh yeah, imagine how many preference files you have and don't use.

And besides, do the homeless entries hurt anything? I don't think so.

With permissions problems, you might not be able to boot. Anyone remember the 10.2.8 fiasco? If this were a registry error, windows would automatically use the last known good configuration, if it were restricting the boot process.

A wise man once said, all operating systems suck, but some suck less in some ways than others.
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post #36 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by Whisper
Yeah, there should be a test to owning computers, or at least for getting online. Kinda like how we have tests for owning guns. Except that so far nobody's actually died from someone being stupid on a computer. I'm pretty sure it's just a matter of time though.

Umm, don't be so sure.
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post #37 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by midwinter
Umm, don't be so sure.

That's one of the most fucked up things I've ever read.

I think that's more along the lines of just being stupid. Computer accelerated his search for victims, but nobody did anything that really qualifies as a "stupid thing to do on a computer".
post #38 of 46
The concept of storing some of a computer's data in a system-wide database has unfortunately been tainted by microsoft's sloppy implementation of the registry and registry tools.

A database available to the OS and programs isn't such a bad idea. Yet the registry has been so troublesome that many users are willing to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Unfortunately, simply switching to file system based storage won't fix anything. It's the registry's maintainance and security model that is flawed.

Can the registry function trouble free? Certainly. But that isn't the experience of the vast majority of windows users. Most have learned, through their own bad experiences, to hate the registry with a passion. If the registry actually worked, 99% of users wouldn't even know it existed.
post #39 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by dfiler
The concept of storing some of a computer's data in a system-wide database has unfortunately been tainted by microsoft's sloppy implementation of the registry and registry tools.

A database available to the OS and programs isn't such a bad idea. Yet the registry has been so troublesome that many users are willing to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Unfortunately, simply switching to file system based storage won't fix anything. It's the registry's maintainance and security model that is flawed.

Can the registry function trouble free? Certainly. But that isn't the experience of the vast majority of windows users. Most have learned, through their own bad experiences, to hate the registry with a passion. If the registry actually worked, 99% of users wouldn't even know it existed.

Now this post is the voice of reason if I ever read anything about the subject of the windows registry.

Fellowship
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post #40 of 46
Quote:
Originally posted by Fellowship
Now this post is the voice of reason if I ever read anything about the subject of the windows registry.

Fellowship

*blatantly fishes for kudos* hey yeah that's kinda what i said (along the lines of dfiler) several posts above:

"groverat.. i understand your point of view that the Registry in windows is designed for a purpose and there is a way of maintaining and cleaning it. overall in practical day-to-day usage its just too susceptible to all sorts of errors, whether this is the fault of Microsoft or third-party software is of course a whole different debate"
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