Despite being ignored by many PC users, the registry is an important part of your computer. However, even if you understand its importance, you may be unsure of what it actually does.

Basically, every time you install a program, an entry is made in your registry. These entries tell your computer specific information about that program. They can speed up its use, save your individual settings, and store all other sorts of information.

If you understand how cookies work on your browser, then it’s easier to understand the function of your registry. Your registry entries are somewhat like cookies for your PC, in that they may stick around long after you use them. They also aid in the communication between your computer and your applications, much like cookies communicate between the browser and past websites.

The registry is separated into a number of different sections, each of which begins with ‘HKEY’. For example, HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE stores any settings that are specific to the local computer. Meanwhile, HKEY_CURRENT_USER contains the configuration info that is used by the person who is currently logged in.

Registry entries are not necessarily unique to Windows. Almost every application requires configuration files: Windows was just the first to develop a specialized registry database model in which to store them. Other companies choose take a different approach. On Unix operating systems, like Linux, this information is stored in either in the /etc/ part of the file system, or, for specific user information, it could be stored in various hidden folders and directories. These can be found in each user’s home directory.

Meanwhile, Apple’s Mac OS X operation system takes a similar approach, in that configuration files are stored in each user’s ‘property lists’ folder which is located in the user’s Library.

If you want to look at the registry yourself, you can do so by typing in regedit.exe into a command prompt. However, changing registry entries is only recommended for advanced users, as it can harm your computer.

In much the same way as cookies, registry entries need to be cleared regularly to ensure the optimal performance of your computer. For that reason, it’s important to get a registry cleaner, which will eliminate the old files that your registry collects over the years. Sometimes, these outdated registry entries can give conflicting information to your computer, which can cause it to slow down.

Editing your registry manually would take hours (if not days). By finding a registry cleaner that will do this for you, you can yourself save significant amounts of time and energy.