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A Tale of Two Regeds

Tech support tells me to type 'regedt32' as opposed to 'regedit' to access the registry from the command line (Start > Run). I question the use of 'regedt32,' but he says to do it anyway. Whenever I use the registry editor, I recall this incident and never look up the tale of the two regs... until now.

Regedt32.exe is an alternative registry editor available with Windows NT/2000 with features of its own. Regedt32.exe does not support importing and exporting registration entries (.reg) files. Regedit has limitations of its own as quoted here:

You cannot set the security for registry keys. You cannot view, edit, or search the value data types REG_EXPAND_SZ and REG_MULTI_SZ. If you try to view a REG_EXPAND_SZ value, Regedit.exe displays it as a binary data type. If you try to edit either of these data types, Regedit.exe saves it as REG_SZ, and the data type no longer performs its intended function. You cannot save or restore keys as hive files.

Research indicates regedit has:

  • a better search tool
  • bookmarking of subkeys
  • opens to last edited subtree, export and import capabilities
  • all keys are visible from a window similar to Windows Explorer

Regedt32 (pre-WinXP) can:

  • run in read-only mode
  • allows you to edit values longer than 256 characters (who wants to do that???)
  • displays subtrees in their own windows
  • modify access permissions to subtrees, keys, and subkeys

In WinXP and Server 2003, the two have been replaced by a new version of regedit that has features from both. Try typing 'regedit' and 'regedt32' to see what happens. They're the same. To prove it, while in 'regedit,' select 'edit' and you'll see 'permissions.' This is a feature that was only available in the old 'regedt32' and not 'regedit.'

Technically, regedt32 is a small program that runs regedit. So when typing 'regedt32,' it takes you to 'regedit.' The destination is the same either way. So type whichever is easier for you to remember. Regedit is easier for me - I had to play with the spelling of the other version until I got it right.

Now I remember that tech support was checking to see if the permissions were properly set and that was why we used 'regedt32.' However, someone forgot to update the script or tell him that it didn't matter anymore when a user had WinXP. Tech support always asks what operating system at the beginning of the call, so he knew.

More registry editor resources: Microsoft has a knowledgebase article on the differences between the two. Windows IT Library has a feature comparison chart dated 2000, so it's way old, but it will satisfy curiosity. Here's a list of registry editor alternatives for those who wish to try something different. For tweaks, tricks, and hacks, check out WinGuides' Registry Guide for Windows.

Meryl K. Evans is the Content Maven behind meryl's notes, eNewsletter Journal, and The Remediator Security Digest. She is also a PC Today columnist and a tour guide at InformIT. She is geared to tackle your editing, writing, content, and process needs. The native Texan resides in Plano, Texas, a heartbeat north of Dallas, and doesn't wear a 10-gallon hat or cowboy boots.

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