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Troubleshooting Windows Update problems

Updated November 3, 2022

When it comes to repairing Windows computers, there are a couple of problems that I get a lot of help requests. One of them is when a computer cannot get updates to Windows. So here are a few of my favorite resources for fixing Windows Update.

Troubleshooting Windows Update problems

There are several reasons why Windows Update can fail. There could be corrupted files or folders; the different services that Windows Update requires are not starting, registry errors, etc. The following is a list of some procedures I use to repair Windows Update.

Remember to always restart your computer after running any of these procedures before trying Windows Update again.

Windows Update Troubleshooter

Windows 10 and Windows 11 have several troubleshooters built-in, including one for Windows Update. All of the Troubleshooters are located in Windows Settings. There are a few different ways to get to Windows Settings.

How to access the Windows Update troubleshooter in Windows 11

You can find all of the troubleshooters for Windows 11 in the Settings app. To get to the Settings app, do one of the following:

  • Left-click on the Start Windows logo menu and left-click on Settings (the gear icon)
  • Right-click on the Start Windows logo menu or press the Windows logo key Windows logo + X and select Settings from the Power User menu
  • Press the Windows logo key Windows logo + I

The Settings app should open with System highlighted in the left-hand column. In the right-hand column, select Troubleshoot, Other troubleshooters, then left-click on the Run button on the right-hand side of Windows Update.

How to access the Windows Update troubleshooter in Windows 10

You can find all of the troubleshooters for Windows 10 in the Settings app. To get to the Settings app, do one of the following:

  • Left-click on the Start Windows logo menu and left-click on Settings (the gear icon)
  • Right-click on the Start Windows logo menu or press the Windows logo key Windows logo + X and select Settings from the Power User menu
  • Press the Windows logo key Windows logo + I

Once you open Windows Settings, select Update and Security, then Troubleshoot in the left-hand column. In the right-hand column, select Additional troubleshooters, then select Windows Update in the right-hand column.

So if the Windows Update Troubleshooter (repair) did not fix the issue, you could attempt to reset the components that Windows Update uses. The following link gives complete instructions on how to manually reset the Windows Update components, plus some additional resources.

Reset Windows Update components

There is another way to reset the Windows Update components. The Reset Windows Update Tool is s script-based application that performs the same functions as the script above. Along with resetting Windows Update components, it can run Secure File Checker (see below), repair invalid registry keys, and repair the Windows system image using DISM (see below).

Reset Windows Update Tool

Check your drive for errors

If you have run the Windows Update troubleshooters (repair/reset) and Windows Update is still not functioning correctly, it's time to do some general system checks. Sometimes there can be an error(s) with the file system that does not allow the troubleshooters to fix the issue(s). I have had this problem many times before. Nothing worse than feeling like a dog chasing his tail. At this point, check your drive for errors by running checkdisk.

Check your drive for errors in Windows 11

Check your drive for errors in Windows 10

Check your drive for errors in Windows 8

Check your drive for errors in Windows 7 and Windows Vista

Once you are done with a checkdisk, go ahead and rerun the Windows Update troubleshooter. First, run the repair troubleshooter and try checking for updates. If it doesn't fix it, run the reset troubleshooter. If Windows Update still won't work, then it is time to check to system files.

Check system files

SFC

Windows has a built-in program called System File Checker (SFC) to check system files for corruption and incorrect versions. SFC is run inside of an administrative command prompt. Just follow the link below for your version Windows for instructions on how to bring up an admin command prompt.

Open an Administrative Command Prompt in Windows 11

Open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 10

Open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 8

Open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows Vista and Windows 7

SFC is the same in all of the currently supported versions of Windows. Here is the link to the most detailed instructions for SFC (Windows 10, Windows 11).

Check Windows 11 system files with System File Checker

Check Windows 10 system files with System File Checker

Once you are done running SFC and have corrected any problems it may have found, try running Windows Update. If it still doesn't work, try running the troubleshooters (repair/reset) one at a time, running Windows Update in between. If you again cannot run Windows Update successfully, it may be time to run the most advanced system corruption repair tools.

DISM (Windows 8/8.1, Windows 10, Windows 11) / SUR (Windows Vista, Windows 7)

Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) and System Update Readiness tool (SUR) are the complete way of checking for file corruption in Windows. The link to the instructions on how to run both is below. DISM and SUR are meant to be used by advanced users, so if you don't feel comfortable running either one of these programs, please contact a local computer repair shop like Geeks in Phoenix for assistance.

Fix Windows Update errors by using the DISM or System Update Readiness tool

After running either DISM or SUR, check again to see if Windows Update will work. If Windows Update still does not work, it may be time to perform a repair upgrade to Windows 10 / Windows 11.

How to perform a repair upgrade of Windows 11

How to perform a repair upgrade or Windows 10

How to clean up and reset the Internet Explorer

In repairing computers for a living, the one thing I find myself doing continually is cleaning up and resetting web browsers. Removing adware, malware and viruses can screw up the Internet Explorer. So here is how to clean up and reset the Internet Explorer.

How to clean up and reset the Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer (IE) has been included in every version of Windows since Windows 98. Microsoft has made cleaning IE reasonably straightforward, but there can be some tricky items. All of IE's settings are accessible from either inside of IE or the Control Panel. The best way is to go through the Control Panel because that is when IE is not technically running. If you use Outlook or Windows Mail, you will need to close these programs too before attempting to clean up IE, as they use IE to rendered HTML formatted e-mails.

When it comes to resetting the IE, you have to first get into the Control Panel. The easiest way to do it with Windows Vista and Windows 7 is to type Control Panel into the search box above the Start button and select Control Panel from the search results. The easiest and fastest way in Windows 8 is to use the Power Users menu (Windows logo key Windows logo key + X) and then select Control Panel. In Windows 10, use the search box next to the Start Windows logo button, type Control Panel, and click on it from the results. Once you have the Control Panel up, select Network and Internet then Internet Options (if viewing by category) or just Internet Options (if viewing by icons).

The Internet Properties General tab inside of Windows 10
The Internet Properties General tab inside of Windows 10

The Internet Options haven't changed much over the years, so the tabs on the Internet Properties will look similar in Windows Vista as they do in Windows 10. When you first open Internet Properties, the General tab appears by default. You can go down to Browsing history and delete everything from temporary Internet files and cookies to form data and passwords. Remember that you cannot get it back once you delete something like passwords, so choose carefully.

The Internet Properties Programs tab inside of Windows 10
The Internet Properties Programs tab inside of Windows 10

Once you're done with the General tab, go over to the Programs tab and select Manage add-ons. Here is where you enable, disable and sometimes delete add-ons that have been installed into the IE. There are times when all you can do is disable an add-on, so that is when you'll need a third-party program like CCleaner from Piriform. CCleaner can clean up all of the major browsers, but the only one I've had issues with getting rid of third-party applications is IE.

The Internet Properties Advanced tab inside of Windows 10
The Internet Properties Advanced tab inside of Windows 10

The last tab in Internet Properties is Advanced, and it is the most powerful. It has only two buttons, Restore advanced settings and Reset. The first one you click is Restore advanced settings, then click on Apply in the lower right-hand corner. Then to completely reset IE click on Reset. You will get a screen warning you that you are about to reset IE back to its original default settings. Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 10 users will also have the option of deleting personal settings. Remember that these cannot be undone, so choose carefully. If in doubt, leave the personal files checkbox empty. You can always come back and remove them if need be.

Now, if after you have reset IE, you find you cannot get into some secure sites, like bank websites, go back into Internet Properties and select the Security tab, and deselect Enable Protected Mode. When you click Apply, you will get a prompt telling you that your current security setting might put you at risk. Then try the website you were having problems with. If you can now get into it, you are all set.

The Windows features menu inside of Windows 10
The Windows features menu inside of Windows 10

There is one option that is not available to IE, and that is to uninstall and reinstall. As I stated earlier in this article, IE is integrated into the operating system as a feature and is used by other programs like Outlook and Windows Mail. The only thing you can do is turn off the IE feature in the Control panel, restart your computer and turn it back on. To do this, go to the Control Panel and select Programs and Features, then Uninstall or change a program. In the left-hand column, left-click on Turn Windows features on or off.

How to change default programs in Windows 10

Updated August 8, 2020

The default programs that Windows 10 uses to open different file types are pretty good right from the start. But maybe you'd like to change what program opens music or photos? Here's how to change the default applications in Windows 10.

How to change default programs in Windows 10

As with previous versions of Windows, there can be multiple programs that can open the same type of file. Some are UWP (Universal Windows Platform), and some are standard Desktop programs. And then there are the programs you may install yourself. Knowing how to change the default programs in Windows 10 is essential since Windows 10 is prone to reset default programs when performing a Feature update.

How to change the default apps in Windows 10 Settings

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo button.
  2. Left-click on Settings (the gear icon).
  3. Left-click on Apps.
  4. In the left-hand column, left-click on Default apps.

Changing the default apps in Windows 10 Settings

The six (6) most common apps are listed at the top of the right-hand column. They are Email, Maps, Music player, Photo viewer, Video player, and Web browser. You will find three more advanced ways of modifying the default applications on the bottom of the right-hand column.

  • Choose default apps by type
    Warning! By choosing the wrong application for specific file types, you can make your system unusable. This method of setting the default program requires you to know the extension of the object you want to open. Be sure of the file extension before making any changes. When in doubt, use the Set defaults by app settings.
  • Choose default apps by protocol
    Warning! By choosing the wrong application for specific protocols, you can make your system unusable. This method of setting the default program requires you to know the protocol of the object you want to open. Be sure of the protocol before making any changes. When in doubt, use the Set defaults by app settings.
  • Set defaults by app
    When you choose this option, you are presented with a list of installed programs, and you can select what each one does or does not do. You can set an application to open all types of files it can or choose which types of files to open with that particular program.

Check Windows 10 system files with System File Checker

Updated July 20, 2020

I was thinking the other day about what program I use the most in doing computer repair. The one program I use the most on Windows computers would have to be System File Checker (SFC). SFC checks for system files that may have gotten corrupt or replaced with incorrect versions. Here's how to check Windows 10 system files with System File Checker.

Check Windows 10 system files with System File Checker

SFC has been included in every version of Windows since Windows XP. You can also build it into the Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset (DaRT). There is no shortcut or link to SFC in Windows 10, as it runs inside an Administrative Command Prompt.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 10

SFC running inside of Windows 10 Administrative Command Prompt

The following is the syntax and switches for SFC. The most commonly used syntax/switch is: sfc /scannow.

SFC [/SCANNOW] [/VERIFYONLY] [/SCANFILE=<file>] [/VERIFYFILE=<file>] [/OFFWINDIR=<offline windows directory> /OFFBOOTDIR=<offline boot directory>]

/SCANNOW (Scans integrity of all protected system files and repairs files with problems when possible.)
/VERIFYONLY (Scans integrity of all protected system files. No repair operation is performed.)
/SCANFILE (Scans integrity of the referenced file, repairs file if problems are identified. Specify full path <file>.)
/VERIFYFILE (Verifies the file's intergrity with full path <file>. No repair operation is performed.)
/OFFBOOTDIR (For offline repair specify the location of the offline boot directory.)
/OFFWINDIR (For offline repair specify the location of the offline windows directory.)

Examples

sfc /scannow sfc /verifyfile=c:\windows\filetobereplaced.dll sfc /scanfile=d:\windows\filetobereplaced.dll /offbootdir=d:\ /offwindir=d:\windows sfc /verifyonly

Once SFC is done scanning the system files, it will give one of four possible results:

  • Windows Resource Protection did not find any integrity violations.
    All system files are fine, and you're good to go.
  • Windows Resource Protection could not perform the requested operation.
    There may be another program preventing SFC from running. In this case, boot the system up into safe mode and run SFC from there.
  • Windows Resource Protection found corrupt files and successfully repaired them.
    All system files are now correct, and you're ready to go. If you want to view the repair details, see below.
  • Windows Resource Protection found corrupt files but was unable to fix some of them.
    If you get this message, SFC found a file or files that it couldn't repair. The next thing you will need to do is find out the name of the file(s). Using the Find String utility, you can filter out the SFC results with only the scanned components and create a text file with that information on your Desktop called sfcdetails.txt. Just copy the following code into an Administrative Command Prompt:

findstr /c:"[SR]" %windir%\Logs\CBS\CBS.log >"%userprofile%\Desktop\sfcdetails.txt"

Manually replacing a corrupt system file in Windows 10

Note: To replace a corrupt system file, you will need to have a known good copy of the file(s) in question. A good source for files is another computer or virtual machine running Windows 10. Since I do computer repair for a living, I have all of the versions of Windows that are still supported by Microsoft running inside of Oracle VirtualBoxes.

The first thing to do is note the location (path) and name of the file(s) that need to be replaced from the sfcdetails.txt file. Once you have another copy of the corrupt file(s), you will need to take administrative ownership of the file(s). To do this, modify the following command with the path\filename of the file you want to replace and then type it into an Administrative Command Prompt:

takeown /f path\filename

Example: takeown /f C:\Windows\FileToBeReplaced.dll

Next, you will have to grant administrators full access to the file(s) being replaced. To do this, modify the following command with the path\filename of the file you want to replace and then type it into an Administrative Command Prompt:

icacls path\filename /grant administrators:F

Example: icacls C:\Windows\FileToBeReplaced.dll /grant administrators:F

The third thing to do is copy over the new file(s) and replace the corrupt one(s).To do this, modify the following command with the path\filename of the file you want to replace and then type it into an Administrative Command Prompt:

copy path\filename path\filename

Example: copy C:\Temp\FileToBeReplaced.dll C:\Windows\FileToBeReplaced.dll

How to use Windows 10 Advanced Boot Options

Since I do computer repair for a living, there are times when I need to boot a Windows 10 system up into Safe Mode. But with newer computers utilizing UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) and fast/safe boot features, this can be not easy. So here is how to use the Windows 10 Advanced Boot Options.

How to use Windows 10 Advanced Boot Options

In previous versions of Windows, getting to the advanced boot options was pretty easy. All you had to do was press the F8 key at startup. But with Windows 10, getting the advanced boot options is a little different. You can bring up the advanced boot options just one time or set it up permanently. Both require the system to be able to boot up into Windows 10 first.

Enable Window 10 Advanced Boot Options screen one-time

You can bring up the one-time Windows 10 boot options, either logged on or off. Since I repair computers for a living, I prefer not to log in under any user's profile. That way, I don't have to deal with any of the programs that may load when a user signs in. There are two (2) ways (logged in and logged out) of getting to the Windows 10 one-time boot options.

When you are logged in to Windows 10:

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo button.
  2. Left-click on Settings (the gear icon).
  3. Left-click on Update & Security.
  4. In the left column, left-click on Recovery.

    Windows 10 advanced startup option when logged in
  5. Under Advanced startup, left-click on Restart now. The computer will log you off and bring up the Choose an option screen.

When you are logged out of Windows 10:

  1. At the login screen, left-click on the Power button in the lower right-hand corner to bring up the different options.

    Windows 10 advanced startup option when logged out
  2. Hold down the Shift key on the keyboard and right-click on Restart. This will bring up the Choose an option screen.

When you get to the Choose an option screen:

    Windows 10 choose an option screen
  1. Left-click on Troubleshoot.

    Windows 10 troubleshoot screen
  2. Left-click on Advanced options.

    Windows 10 advanced options screen
  3. Left-click on Startup Settings.

    Windows 10 startup settings screen
  4. Left-click on the Restart button.

    Windows 10 standard advanced boot options screen
  5. When the Startup Settings page appears, select the number that coincides with the function you would like to perform.

Enable Window 10 Advanced Boot Options screen permanently

This option should be used very carefully. Not only do you have to edit the boot configuration of your Windows 10 computer, but once permanently enabled, you will have to select a boot option you want to use every time your computer starts or restarts. There is no timer for this screen as there was in previous versions of Windows. To edit the boot configuration, you will need to use an administrative command prompt.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 10

The first thing we have to do is turn on the Windows 10 Advanced Boot Options. Type or cut and paste the following code into an administrative command prompt:

bcdedit /set {globalsettings} advancedoptions true

To turn off the Windows 10 Advanced Boot Options, type or cut and paste the following code into an administrative command prompt:

bcdedit /set {globalsettings} advancedoptions false

You can also change the default boot manager used with the advanced boot options. The default is the Windows 10 standard version, but you can change it to the legacy version if you like the old DOS look.
Windows 10 legacy advanced boot options screen
To change to the legacy boot manager used in previous Windows versions, like Windows 7, you can type or cut and paste the following code into an administrative command prompt:

bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy legacy

To restore the boot menu to the default, type or cut/paste the following code into an administrative command prompt.

bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy standard

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