Is the Windows registry a good idea?

Compared to Unix config files, and even to Windows 3.1 ‘ini’ files is the windows registry a good idea? This was the question that presented itself in my mind this weekend.

First, what is the windows registry? Windows registry is a Hierarchical database that stores configuration settings for Windows, and for the software installed on your machine.

Now, coming back to the original question I feel while at the core, the registry is a good idea – keeping every setting in a centralised place – it encourages non-portable software. If you install, say, CorelDraw at a certain location on your harddisk, and want to move it to a different location, you need to uninstall it and then reinstall again. Ditto for moving from one computer to another. A time-consuming process – especially if you use multiple computers – one at work, one at home, and another at a cafe.

Why is it that I say the registry, per se, encourages non-portable software? The reason is, when you had config files, and you moved software, the files moved with it too. With registry this doesn’t happen. Note however, either way its possible to write portable or non-portable software. Just that, when a programmer writes code without portability as a key focus, and uses config files, the end product is more likely to be portable.

What can be done about it? When a software program runs, it needs to check if the keys it needs are present or not. If not, it should try to default the parameters, and add them to the registry.

One current approach to writing portable software, is to use config files and provide an update program: if you move the software, you run the update program. This program will detect the file-paths and update those in the config files. The same can be used for registry.


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