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Dealing with the registry

Many applications store their data in the registry; when making such an application portable this data must be preserved.

Making registry keys portable

With the PortableApps.com Launcher it’s easy to make a registry key that an application uses portable.

First of all, when using any of the registry sections in your launcher configuration file, you must set [Activate]:Registry to true, or else they will not work. If something doesn’t seem to be working, check that value first. You probably didn’t set it.

When you have an application that uses a key like HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\AppName, you can make that portable with a line in the [RegistryKeys] section like this:

[RegistryKeys]
appname=HKCU\Software\AppName

The appname refers to the filename (without the .reg extension) where it will be saved, inside the Data\settings directory of your package. This means that you can update drive letters and things like that inside %PAL:DataDir%\settings\appname.reg.

If the registry key exists when the launcher comes to load the portable data, it will be backed up, and restored at the end, so that no data is lost.

If the registry key you are wishing to save and make portable is deeper, like HKCU\Software\Publisher\AppName, then you need to make sure that the “Publisher” key is also deleted if it is empty, and not left behind. This also uses the [RegistryCleanupIfEmpty] section.

[RegistryKeys]
appname=HKCU\Software\Publisher\AppName

[RegistryCleanupIfEmpty]
1=HKCU\Software\Publisher

This also applies for more complex subtrees. (Try to think of more useful file names that “appname1” and “appname2” for your own applications.) In the example below, note that order is important. If the key numbers of the [RegistryCleanupIfEmpty] values were the other way round, it would try to delete HKCU\Software\Publisher first, and find that it wasn’t empty (because it would have Type in it) and so it wouldn’t be cleaned up.

[RegistryKeys]
appname1=HKCU\Software\Publisher\Type\AppName
appname2=HKCU\Software\Publisher\AppNameConfig

[RegistryCleanupIfEmpty]
1=HKCU\Software\Publisher\Type
2=HKCU\Software\Publisher

Read the launcher.ini registry reference and the rest of this document for more information.

Hives

The registry is divided up into “hives” for storing data. Here is a list of the hives supported by the PortableApps.com Launcher:

  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE (HKLM) – settings shared between users; requires administrative privileges to write to it
  • HKEY_CURRENT_USER (HKCU) – settings for the current user; requires no special permissions to write to it, but on restricted accounts certain methods of writing to it will not work.
  • HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT (HKCR) – a virtual hive constructed of an amalgamation of HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Classes and HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Classes (HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Classes takes precedence). In your launcher configuration you should use HKCU\Classes for this value instead.

The official format for hives is the four-letter abbreviation (HKLM or HKCU) instead of the long name.

A note on HKEY_USERS (HKU): programs like Regshot use the full path to HKEY_CURRENT_USER, which includes the user ID. This means that anything like HKU\S-?-?-??-?????????-?????????-?????????-???? (each ? is a number) should be used as HKCU. There is also HKU\.DEFAULT which is the same as far as portability is concerned.

Keys and values to ignore

Lots of cache-type data is stored in the registry and other Windows settings which can be safely ignored when making a portable application. This section will gradually grow with lists of such values which you can ignore when making an application portable or when testing an application.

These keys are in HKCU:

  • SessionInformation\ProgramCount
  • Software\Microsoft\Cryptography\RNG\Seed
  • Software\Microsoft\DirectDraw\MostRecentApplication
  • Software\Microsoft\DirectInput\MostRecentApplication
  • Software\Microsoft\SchedulingAgent
  • Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\ComDlg32\LastVisitedMRU
  • Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\ComDlg32\LastVisitedMRU
  • Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\ComDlg32\OpenSaveMRU
  • Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\FileExts
  • Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\UserAssist
  • Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\UserAssist
  • Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Group Policy
  • Software\Microsoft\Windows\ShellNoRoam\BagMRU
  • Software\Microsoft\Windows\ShellNoRoam\Bags
  • Software\Microsoft\Windows\ShellNoRoam\MUICache

These keys are in HKLM:

  • Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Reliability
  • System\ControlSet001 (equivalent to System\CurrentControlSet)
  • System\CurrentControlSet\Control\DeviceClasses
  • System\CurrentControlSet\Services\*\Enum
  • System\CurrentControlSet\Services\SharedAccess
  • System\CurrentControlSet\Services\swmidi

If you come up with more keys that can be ignored, please contact Chris Morgan.

Specific registry keys

Some registry keys have particular ways of dealing with them. These are listed here.

HKCU\Software\JavaSoft\Prefs

Keys in here are from Java applications which use java.util.prefs. See that page for tips on dealing with those registry keys.

HKCU\Software\Trolltech

Keys in this key are from Qt applications. See Making Qt applications portable for details on what to do about them.

HKLM\Software\Classes\CLSID\XXXXXXXX-XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-XXXXXXXXXXXX

(Where X is a hexadecimal digit.)

These are DLL servers and need registering. For the moment, this will block an app from being properly portable. Code to deal with this is due in an upcoming version.

General handling of registry keys

The normal way of dealing with registry keys in the launcher configuration file is with the [RegistryKeys], [RegistryValueWrite], [RegistryCleanupIfEmpty], [RegistryCleanupForce] and [RegistryValueBackupDelete] sections.

Detecting changes

In making a portable app, unless you know exactly what it’s going to be changing, you should monitor things like the registry, to see what keys you may need to deal with. The most popular tool in the PortableApps.com community for doing this is Regshot.

This document is not complete