How to Restore the Windows Registry

Undo changes if you have a backup

What to Know

  • Double-click backup REG file > select Yes > OK > restart.
  • Alternatively, open Registry Editor > Yes > File > Import > select REG file > Open > OK > restart.
  • The keys and values contained in the REG file will be reflected in the registry. Other items remain unaffected.

This article explains how to restore a registry backup in Windows 11, 10, 8, 7, Vista, and XP.

How to Restore the Registry in Windows

If you've backed up the registry in Windows—either a specific key, maybe an entire hive, or even the whole registry itself—you'll be happy to know that restoring that backup is very easy.

Maybe you're seeing problems after a registry value or a registry key change you've made, or the issue you were trying to correct wasn't fixed by your recent Windows Registry edit. Either way, you were proactive and backed up the registry just in case something happened. Now you're being rewarded for thinking ahead!

Changes made to keys and values that aren't included in the backup will not be affected during the restoration process. There's more on this at the bottom of the page.

Time Required: Restoring previously backed up registry data in Windows usually only takes a few minutes.

  1. Locate the backup file that you made before making whatever changes to the Windows Registry that you now want to reverse.

    Having trouble locating the backup file? Assuming you actually did export some data from the registry, look for a file ending in the REG file extension. Check your Desktop or Documents, and in the root folder of your C: drive. It might also help to know that a REG file icon looks like a broken Rubik's cube in front of a piece of paper. If you still can't find it, try searching for *.reg files with Everything.

  2. Double-click or double-tap the REG file to open it.

    Depending on how you have Windows configured, you could see a User Account Control dialog box appear next. You'll need to confirm that you want to open Registry Editor, which you never actually see because it only runs in the background as part of the registry restore process.

  3. Choose Yes on the message prompt. The text differs between operating systems but will be one of these two:

    • Adding information can unintentionally change or delete values and cause components to stop working correctly. If you do not trust the source of this information in [REG file], do not add it to the registry. Are you sure you want to continue?
    • Are you sure you want to add the information in [REG file] to the registry?
    Registry Editor are you sure you want to continue prompt

    This isn't a message to be taken lightly. If you're importing a REG file that you didn't create yourself, or one you downloaded from a source you can't trust, please know that depending on what the REG file will change, you could cause considerable damage to Windows. If you're not sure whether that REG file is the right one, right-click it or tap-and-hold it to find the edit option, and then read through the text to make sure it looks right.

  4. Assuming the registry key(s) import was successful, you should receive a message like one of these that you can select OK on:

    • The keys and values contained in [REG file] have been successfully added to the registry.
    • Information in [REG file] has been successfully entered into the registry.

    At this point, the registry keys contained in the REG file have now been restored or added to the Windows Registry. If you know where the registry keys were located, you can open Registry Editor and verify that the changes were made as you expected.

    The backed up REG file will remain on your computer until you delete it. Just because the file still exists after you've imported it doesn't necessarily mean that the restore didn't work. You're welcome to delete this file if you don't need it anymore.

  5. Restart your computer. Depending on the changes that were made restoring the registry keys, you may need to restart to see them take effect in Windows, or whatever program(s) the keys and values that were restored pertains to.

Alternative Registry Restore Method

Instead of Steps 1 & 2 above, you could instead open Registry Editor first and then locate the REG file you want to use to restore the registry from within the program.

This method might be easier if you already have Registry Editor open for another reason.

  1. Open Registry Editor. Choose Yes to any User Account Control warnings.

  2. Go to File > Import.

    When importing a REG file, Registry Editor reads the contents of the file to know what it needs to do. Therefore, it doesn't matter if your mouse is currently selecting a different key than what the REG file is dealing with, or if you're inside a registry key doing something else.

  3. Locate the REG file you want to restore to the registry and then choose Open.

    Screenshot showing how to open a REG file from within Registry Editor in Windows 10
  4. Continue with Step 4 in the instructions above.

Important Facts About Restoring the Registry

This restoration process will re-add whatever keys and values are stored in the REG file. However, registry items not in the backup will not be affected, such as keys or values that were created after the backup was made.

For example, say you backed up the whole registry, and then five minutes later, you made two changes: you created a new value (let's call it Value A) that was not in the registry at the time of the backup, and you also edited a value (called Value B) that was included in the backup.

When you restore the REG file, Value A will not change. It will not be edited, deleted, or overwritten because the backup has no idea that you made that change. However, since Value B did exist in the backup, the change you made will be reverted to whatever the registry file says the value should be.

A simple way to understand what's going on when you import a REG file is to think of something really specific. If you backed up just one key that contains just one value, then that's the only thing the REG file understands. Its only purpose is to import that same key and value. Therefore, if you edit something else entirely after the backup, then restoring that REG file will not influence any other area in the registry but the value and key contained within the backup.

The only way to restore the entire Windows Registry back to its default state is to reinstall Windows, which you can do with Reset this PC.

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