Individual settings for users on a system are stored in a hive (disk file) per user. During user login, the system loads the user hive under the HKEY_USERS key and sets the HKCU (HKEY_CURRENT_USER) symbolic reference to point to the current user. This allows applications to store/retrieve settings for the current user implicitly under the HKCU key.
The "HKLM\SYSTEM" key is normally only writable by users with administrative privileges on the local system. It contains information about the Windows system setup, data for the secure random number generator (RNG), the list of currently mounted devices containing a filesystem, several numbered "HKLM\SYSTEM\Control Sets" containing alternative configurations for system hardware drivers and services running on the local system (including the currently used one and a backup), a "HKLM\SYSTEM\Select" subkey containing the status of these Control Sets, and a "HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet" which is dynamically linked at boot time to the Control Set which is currently used on the local system. Each configured Control Set contains:
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The default extension for the policy file is .POL. The policy file filters the settings it enforces by user and by group (a "group" is a defined set of users). To do that the policy file merges into the registry, preventing users from circumventing it by simply changing back the settings. The policy file is usually distributed through a LAN, but can be placed on the local computer.
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Critics labeled the registry in Windows 95 a single point of failure, because re-installation of the operating system was required if the registry became corrupt. However, Windows NT uses transaction logs to protect against corruption during updates. Current versions of Windows use two levels of log files to ensure integrity even in the case of power failure or similar catastrophic events during database updates. Even in the case of a non-recoverable error, Windows can repair or re-initialize damaged registry entries during system boot.