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The Windows Registry is one of the biggest targets for criticism from practically everywhere. It's not too hard to find disadvantages for its use, but MS has still kept it since Windows 95.

What is the philosophy behind having a centralized database for all settings instead of lots of readable INI files? What actual advantages does the registry have over folders and sub-folders of settings files?

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closed as not constructive by random Jan 4 '12 at 14:21

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Are there actually people out there who think that a million different INI files in random folders with ill-defined security and multi-app/user read/write race conditions are actually a good idea? Have a fun 1992 y'all! –  GAThrawn May 14 '10 at 22:51
/me raises hand. The linux approach of using /etc and /home for settings (with file locking to avoid race conditions) seems fine to me. The Windows registry is poorly understood and misused by both users and developers. –  RJFalconer Apr 28 '11 at 22:51

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted


  • Applications can use a standard API to access configuration information and don't need to incoporate parsing code to read their configuration. If an application needs to parse a text file to get configuration information, that parser needs to be included as part of the program and is something that can separately have bugs, security issues, etc.

  • The registry supports direct binary data which is stored more efficiently than text-based schemes. This was important around 1992 when hard drive sizes of 200-400MB weren't uncommon.

  • A database-style "log" file is used to record changes to the registry, so if a crash or power outage occurs changes can be rolled back.

  • Separating the interface from he underlying file system makes it possible to change the underlying "backing store" of the registry in the future. Perhaps the designers of Windows orginally eventually envisioned a possibility that part of the registry could reside somewhere other than the hard drive, such as maybe in ROM. or some parts purely in RAM, or some other crazy scheme.

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All the settings are editable within a single interface, it results in a lot fewer files being created, and (not on Windows) it can be used as an abstraction of other "real" stores.

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It supports several other data types apart from "text" as well. And not to forget that it's fast. Do a few thousand registry accesses and a few thousand file accesses and watch in awe ;-) –  Joey May 11 '10 at 13:37
@joey: That speed comes at the cost of loading and holding in memory (or swap) the configuration info for every program on the system. The advantage is real, but it is not free. –  dmckee Jun 11 '11 at 1:27
@dmckee: Sorry but you don't understand how the registry (or virtual memory) works. At no time is the registry read into memory in its entirety. Nor does it occupy pagefile space. It's paged in as required from the registry "hive" files, written back to the same files, and long-ago-accessed stuff is automatically dropped from memory. This requires far less disk access than would accessing the same info in separate files. –  Jamie Hanrahan Nov 19 '14 at 16:20

The Windows centralized Registry has a number of advantages over legacy INI files. This Wikipedia article explains the advantages.

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