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I encountered this comment while browsing questions on Super User:

"Remember to always be careful with the registry!": Such a notice should be added, because newbies can mess up! Also, instructions for a registry backup are useful, in case something goes wrong with the .regs. – Έρικ Κωνσταντόπουλος

The answer's timeline indicates that the answer was edited to add a warning in response to the comment.

Should we add a warning to back up the registry (like the one added to said answer) to every answer that involves editing the registry?

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No, I don't think this should be enforced. There are several reasons:

  • "The registry" isn't some mythical beast, and any changes there are really no more dangerous than changing arbitrary (system?) files on any mainstream OS. Are we really going to add a warning to every answer? That's rather extreme.

    • There are many areas that have nothing to do with the system itself - e.g. programs like PuTTY will store user configs there, where it's really indistinguishable from editing (and messing up) configs in any other format.

    • There is the potential issue of users not knowing this and just assuming registry changes are always safe... this is one point in favour of having a warning. "System32" invokes more wariness than "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE", I suppose.

  • The conventional "backup" method people seem to use is exporting certain keys to import them again later. This is not a reliable backup, and will fail to revert many cases of damage - especially those that may cause failure to boot. The correct backup method is rather more involved (backing up the actual registry hive files, which have special ACLs and are hard to access) and is really a subcase of having a proper backup of the entire system.

    • As a more concrete example: the export functionality does not create a .reg that will delete/clear existing keys. This means a newly added subkey or value will not be removed by the "restore"/import...

    • Another example: depending on ACLs on the keys themselves, the export can fail. Worse, the import can fail after a successful export if any keys are read-only. I've had this happen. False sense of security, anyone?

  • Most of the critical areas are already backed up anyway! System Restore and Last Known Good Configuration takes care of most issues that may cause boot failure (or other errors, with a manual restore).


We generally do not require any specific answering style. I do not believe this is a big enough issue to be a special case.

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    Its worth pointing out the registry is changed countless times when you do any number of changes to your computer, including installing a browser, so the warning would have to be added to virtually every answer on Superuser. Like Bob points out, the registry is not a magically beast, how it works is actually very simply. – Ramhound Sep 7 '16 at 7:44
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    @Ramhound I think the proposal here is only for answers that involve manually editing the registry, which is far narrower than "any registry change at all". The manual editing is the case my answer was intended to address. – Bob Sep 7 '16 at 7:48
  • I was just pointing out, that's it's more likely for a program to cause damage, then a manual edit. Seen a great deal of problem programs. – Ramhound Sep 7 '16 at 7:54
  • @Ramhound Ah, yea. Usually along the vein of "registry cleaners". I mean, if you don't go around deleting random files from C:\Windows\ , why do it from the registry? – Bob Sep 7 '16 at 8:00
  • ask the multi-million dollar registry cleaner industry lol – Ramhound Sep 7 '16 at 8:26
  • Thank you for mentioning the correct way to back up the Registry. I would say that attempting to restore from .reg files is actively harmful, as those files don't preserve the ACL information. Also, what looks like one coherent whole (e.g. HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE) is actually split across several hive files, so you're basically hosed if you want to restore a .reg offline. – Ben N Sep 7 '16 at 14:46
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Its much like 'backup before you do any disk resizing' or 'backup before you update'

Many of the fixes people suggest involve just enough knowledge to be dangerous to yourself. And well, we'd end up with notices everywhere. Many repairs are dangerous and the OP owes it to himself to exercise proper common sense.

Personally I feel a comment would be enough. OP saw the comment, edited as necessary and the system, worked as designed with users commenting something that needed to be commented, and the poster editing it as needed.

  • It's actually much less risky than something like disk resize (complete data loss is worse than failure to boot, in my book) so, if anything, those should have more warnings. – Bob Sep 7 '16 at 3:45
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When we give walking directions to a grown-up person, do we include warnings to "Always look both ways before crossing the street?". No we do not, even though adults sometimes get run over due to their own carelessness. Neither should we include such nanny-warnings when imparting information about file and Registry edits.

  • I don't disagree, but if you're giving those instructions to a group of people that includes young children, you might include the nanny instructions for their benefit. As a general rule, I agree that it isn't needed. However, I wouldn't preclude it. If the OP gives the impression that they don't know enough to be cognizant of the danger, it can't hurt to throw in a warning. If nothing else, it may ease the answerer's worries that their advice might lead to someone hosing their system. – fixer1234 Sep 7 '16 at 23:04
  • If you give walking directions that include a shortcut through a high-crime area (or, say, an area where drivers notoriously drive too fast and jump the curb, hitting pedestrians) and you don’t include a warning, you’re being irresponsible. If you give walking directions to an adult, it’s safe to assume that they have some experience with walking in an urban environment. But everybody runs regedit for a first time. As we all know, editing the registry can be dangerous — but somebody reading an answer here might not know. – Scott Aug 26 '18 at 16:18

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