Why do I get notified for changes to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT when nobody is writing to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT?

Raymond Chen

A customer had a question about the Reg­Notify­Change­Key­Value function.

We are using it to monitor the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT tree as follows:

    true, // monitor entire subtree
    true); // asynchronous mode

If I understand the documentation correctly, this registers for notifications when subkeys are added, deleted, or when values are changed. However, it seems that my event becomes signaled at many other times, for example, when I switch folders in an Explorer window. I fired up Process Monitor and confirmed that nobody (not even Explorer) is writing to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT.

Why are we getting spurious notifications? Have we misunderstood what this function does?

Everything is working as expected; it’s just that your expectations are wrong.

Recall that the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT registry key is really a combined view of HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE and HKEY_CURRENT_USER. Specifically, it is a combined view of HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Classes and HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Classes. And HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Classes is itself just an alias for HKEY_USERS\«SID»_Classes. Therefore, if you’re going to look in Process Monitor, you need to be looking at all of those locations to see changes that eventually get reported as changes in HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT.

In this particular case, Explorer was making changes to HKEY_USERS\«SID»_Classes\Local Settings, which shows up as HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Local Settings.

Upon receiving this explanation, the customer understood what was going on, and also remarked that they were going to look to see if they could register their notification on a location that isn’t quite so broad.


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