Navigating the Registry

Updated: August 9, 2012

Applies To: Windows PowerShell 2.0, Windows PowerShell 3.0

You can navigate through the Windows registry by using the same techniques that you use to navigate in the file system drive. In Windows PowerShell, the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE hive maps to the Windows PowerShell HKLM: drive and the HKEY_CURRENT_USER hive maps to the Windows PowerShell HKCU: drive.

For example:

PS C:\> cd hklm:
PS HKLM:\> dir
PS HKLM:\> dir
   Hive: Microsoft.PowerShell.Core\Registry::HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE
SKC  VC Name                           Property
---  -- ----                           --------
  4   0 HARDWARE                       {}
  1   0 SAM                            {}
Get-ChildItem : Requested registry access is not allowed.
At line:1 char:3
+ dir <<<<
 39   2 SOFTWARE                       {flash, (default)}
  8   0 SYSTEM                         {}
PS HKLM:\> cd system\currentcontrolset\control
PS HKLM:\system\currentcontrolset\control> dir

As you navigate, you will notice that the output of dir (Get-Childitem) is different in the registry drives than it is in the file system. Because the registry has different drives, Windows PowerShell displays a different view of the data. In this case, it is important to know how many subkeys and entries are present, so the output includes a subkey count (SKC) and a value count (VC), in addition to the names of the subkeys and the entries.

PS> cd "CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager"
PS> dir
    Hive: Registry::HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\system\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session

SKC  VC ChildName                      Property
---  -- ---------                      --------
  0   1 AppCompatibility               {AppCompatCache}
 15   0 AppPatches                     {}
  0   7 DOS Devices                    {AUX, MAILSLOT, NUL, PIPE, PRN, UNC, f...

You won't encounter very many differences in navigation until you get to the registry entries. The entries in a registry key are considered to be properties of the key in which they are located. As such, you use the Get-ItemProperty cmdlet to retrieve them.

For example, if you want to see the value of the Windows PowerShell execution policy, you can use the Get-ExecutionPolicy cmdlet or navigate to the ExecutionPolicy registry entry that stores the value in HKLM:\Software\Microsoft\PowerShell\1\ShellIds\Microsoft.PowerShell.

PS C:\> cd hklm:
PS HKLM:\> cd software\microsoft\powershell\1\ShellIds\Microsoft.PowerShell
PS HKLM:\software\microsoft\powershell\1\ShellIds\Microsoft.PowerShell> dir
PS HKLM:\software\microsoft\powershell\1\ShellIds\Microsoft.PowerShell> get-itemproperty -path . -name executionpolicy

PSPath          : Microsoft.PowerShell.Core\Registry::HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\software\microsoft\powershell\1\ShellIds\Micro
PSParentPath    : Microsoft.PowerShell.Core\Registry::HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\software\microsoft\powershell\1\ShellIds
PSChildName     : Microsoft.PowerShell
PSDrive         : HKLM
PSProvider      : Microsoft.PowerShell.Core\Registry
ExecutionPolicy : RemoteSigned