why does windows use the registry?

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2014
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.
«13

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 45
    dstranathandstranathan Posts: 1,717member
    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.
  • Reply 2 of 45
    slugheadslughead Posts: 1,169member
    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.
  • Reply 3 of 45
    groveratgroverat Posts: 10,872member
    Because it's a great tool.
  • Reply 4 of 45
    neutrino23neutrino23 Posts: 1,558member
    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?
  • Reply 5 of 45
    groveratgroverat Posts: 10,872member
    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"?
  • Reply 6 of 45
    slugheadslughead Posts: 1,169member
    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.
  • Reply 7 of 45
    a_greera_greer Posts: 4,594member
    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.
  • Reply 8 of 45
    gene cleangene clean Posts: 3,481member
    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.
  • Reply 9 of 45
    a_greera_greer Posts: 4,594member
    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.
  • Reply 10 of 45
    groveratgroverat Posts: 10,872member
    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.
  • Reply 11 of 45
    slugheadslughead Posts: 1,169member
    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).
  • Reply 12 of 45
    gene cleangene clean Posts: 3,481member
    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!
  • Reply 13 of 45
    dobbydobby Posts: 796member
    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.
  • Reply 14 of 45
    groveratgroverat Posts: 10,872member
    Oh my god, what the hell did you do to your fonts?



    I got 0 font errors. 560 total.
  • Reply 15 of 45
    gene cleangene clean Posts: 3,481member
    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...
  • Reply 16 of 45
    neutrino23neutrino23 Posts: 1,558member
    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?
  • Reply 17 of 45
    a_greera_greer Posts: 4,594member
    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.
  • Reply 18 of 45
    groveratgroverat Posts: 10,872member
    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.
  • Reply 19 of 45
    tuttletuttle Posts: 301member
    The Windows Registry - the single worst thing ever created in the history of computing.
  • Reply 20 of 45
    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.
Sign In or Register to comment.