Group Policy Storage in .NET

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Where does Windows XP store policies in the registry and on the disk The branch \Software\Policies is the preferred branch for registry based policies. This branch in HKLM contains per computer policies, and the branch in HKCU contains per user policies. Another branch, inherited from earlier versions of Windows, is \Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies. Policies in this branch tend to tattoo the registry, which means they make permanent changes to the registry that you must explicitly change. What prevents users from changing these keys, and thus the policies they enforce, is their ACLs (Access Control Lists). The Users and Power Users local groups do not have permission to change values in these keys. An administrator can overwrite 134
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these keys directly and change the policy, however. That covers the location of policies in the registry; now for their location on the file system. The local GPO is in %SYSTEMROOT%\System32\GroupPolicy. This is a super hidden folder. To show it in Windows Explorer, click Tools, Options; on the Folder Options dialog box's View tab, select the Show Hidden Files And Folders option, and then clear the Hide Protected Operating System Files check box. It contains the following subfolders and files (our focus is the file Registry.pol): \Adm. Contains all the ADM files for the local GPO. \User. Includes the file Registry.pol, which contains registry based policies for users. When users log on to the computer, Windows XP applies these to HKCU. \User\Scripts. Contains the local GPO's per user scripts. The scripts in \Logon run when users log on to Windows XP, and the scripts in \Logoff run when they log off of the operating system. \Machine. Includes the file Registry.pol, which contains registry based policies for the computer. When Windows XP starts, it applies these settings to HKLM. \Machine\Scripts. Contains the local GPO's per computer scripts. The scripts in \Startup run when Windows XP starts, and the scripts in \Shutdown run when the operating systems shuts down. If you're familiar with System Policy and the file Ntconfig.pol, you're probably wondering whether the files Registry.pol and Ntconfig.pol use similar formats. They don't. Both are binary files, but Registry.pol is much simpler. It contains a simple list of settings, including their value names, type, and data, in a binary format. Ntconfig.pol is actually a registry hive file that you can load and browse in Regedit. Unfortunately, you can't do the same with Registry.pol. Note Domain GPOs are more complicated than local GPOs. Active Directory stores policies in \\Server\SYSVOL\Domain\Policies, where Server is the name of the domain controller, and Domain is the name of the domain. Each GPO is in a subfolder, and the name of the subfolder is the GPO's GUID (see 1, "Learning the Basics"). The structure of each GPO's subfolder is similar to the structure of the local GPO described in this chapter. The \User and \Machine folders have additional subfolders, though, and the various Group Policy extensions create these.
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Extending Registry Based Policy
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You can extend registry based policy by customizing existing administrative templates or by creating new ones. Windows XP provides administrative templates for its policies. Other applications, such as Office XP, also provide templates. When you install the Office XP Resource Kit, it adds the Office XP policy templates to %SYSTEMROOT%\Inf. You should never customize these templates. You might want to create your own templates that extend registry based policy, though. First the caveats: Extending registry based policy is generally something that developers do to give administrators more control over users' applications. Remember that a registrybased policy requires developers to add code to their applications that read policies and enforce those settings. If developers added policies to their code, they almost certainly created policy templates for them, so you don't have to. On the other hand, if no code enforces a policy setting, creating an administrative template for it is useless. It almost sounds like extending registry based policy is futile, eh But there are still times when it's useful and some times that are extremely valuable:
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Repairing broken policies. I don't run across broken policies often, but when I do, the only way to fix them is to create a custom template for them. For example, in the Windows XP beta, the screen saver policy stored the timeout period incorrectly in the registry. My simple fix was to create a custom template for it. Creating custom administrative templates. Windows XP supports hundreds of policies, as does Office XP. Hunting for policies is sometimes frustrating. You can create a custom administrative template that assembles all the policies you're deploying in one place, making the job a bit easier. You can also rephrase the language of a policy with easier to understand descriptions. Customizing Windows XP. Many of the registry settings you can use to customize Windows XP have no user interface. You can build a user interface for them by creating an administrative template and changing those settings with the Group Policy editor. For power users, this is a great reason to master this topic. This goes against one of the primary features of Group Policy, however, because settings you change outside the normal policy branches in the registry will tattoo the registry. You can use any text editor to create an administrative template. Administrative templates have a language all their own, and you learn about that language in the remainder of this section. The Group Policy editor is very good about displaying useful errors when a template file contains an error. It gives you the line number, the keyword that's in error, and more information. In summary: 1. Create an administrative template using the language you learn about in this chapter. The template file is a text file with the .adm extension. 2. Load the template file in the Group Policy editor as you learn to do in the section "Deploying Registry Based Policy." 3. Edit the settings that the administrative template defines. The following listing is a sample administrative template that doesn't do much but illustrates what a template file looks like. Figure 6 4 shows what this template looks like in the Group Policy editor. The figure's annotations show some of the keywords that are responsible for different portions of a policy. For example, the keyword EXPLAIN is responsible for displaying the policy's description that you see in the figure. Throughout the remainder of this section, you'll see dozens more examples that give you the building blocks for creating your own administrative templates. Take these building blocks and copy them right into your file to get started straightaway.
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Figure 6 4: Administrative templates, such as the one in this example, define the user interface for 136
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