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How to check and repair system files in Windows 11

When it comes to repairing Windows-based computers, I always do one thing: check for corrupt system files. Corrupt system files can cause all sorts of problems, so here is how to check and repair system files in Windows 11.

How to check and repair system files in Windows 11

Repairing system files is not complex, but it can be time-consuming. Going through all of the steps outlined in this article can take several hours. Once you start a scan, you will have to allow it to complete, so be prepared to watch your computer work. And all of the links included in this article will open in a new window.

We first need to check the drive's file structure that the operating system is installed on. It is usually drive C:. For this, we will use the disk error checking program built into Windows 11.

There are a couple of different ways to run it (standard and advanced), but the most thorough way is by using the advanced method (see link below). It may take some time to run, but it is the most thorough error checking you can perform.

How to check your drive for errors in Windows 11

Now that we have checked the drive for errors, we must check for corrupted system files. For this, we will use the built-in System File Checker (SFC). Like most of the programs in this article, this program has to be run from an Administrative Command Prompt.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 11

SFC has multiple syntaxes and parameters you can use with it. Here are all of the syntaxes and parameters with examples of their use.

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

  • /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 integrity of the file 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.
  • /OFFLOGFILE - For offline repair, optionally enable logging by specifying a log file path.

Examples:

  • SFC /SCANNOW
  • SFC /VERIFYFILE=c:\windows\system32\kernel32.dll
  • SFC /SCANFILE=d:\windows\system32\kernel32.dll /OFFBOOTDIR=d:\ /OFFWINDIR=d:\windows
  • SFC /SCANFILE=d:\windows\system32\kernel32.dll /OFFBOOTDIR=d:\ /OFFWINDIR=d:\windows /OFFLOGFILE=c:\log.txt
  • SFC /VERIFYONLY

System File Checker running in an Administrative Command Prompt inside of Windows 11
We want to check all of the Windows 11 protected system files, so type the following into an Administrative Command Prompt and press Enter.

SFC /SCANNOW

System File Checker results in an Administrative Command Prompt inside of Windows 11
Now four (4) possible results can appear when SFC is done scanning. They are:

Windows Resource Protection did not find any integrity violations.
All system files are acceptable, and you are 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. Just restart your computer to finalize the repairs. If you want to view the repair details, type the following into an Administrative Command Prompt and press Enter.

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

It will create a text file on your desktop named sfcdetails.txt that has all of the details of the repaired files.

Windows Resource Protection found corrupt files but was unable to fix some of them.
If you received this message, you will need to repair the hidden Windows image. To do this, we will need to run the Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) program.
Deployment Image Servicing and Management running in an Administrative Command Prompt inside of Windows 11
To restore the health of the Windows image, type the following into an Administrative Command Prompt and press Enter.

DISM /Online /Cleanup-image /Restorehealth

Once DISM finishes, run SFC /SCANNOW again. This time no integrity violations should be found. If, after several attemps at automatically repairing the corrupt system file(s) fails, you may have to fix them manually. To view the details of the files that could not be automatically repaired, type the following into an Administrative Command Prompt and press Enter.

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

It will create a text file on your desktop named sfcdetails.txt. You will need to search through it and find what file(s) could not be repaired

How to manually repair corrupt system files

Note: To replace a corrupt system file, you must have a known good copy of the file(s) in question. A good file source is another computer or virtual machine running Windows 11. Since I do computer repair for a living, I have all of the versions of Windows that are still supported by Microsoft running inside virtual machines.

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 and press Enter.

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 and press Enter.

icacls path\filename /grant administrators:F

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

The third thing to do is copy 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 and press Enter.

copy path\filename path\filename

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

How to change default programs inside of Windows 11

Have you ever downloaded and installed a program in Windows 11 only to find out that it is not set as the default program for a specific type of file? If so, here is how to change default programs inside of Windows 11.

How to change default programs inside of Windows 11

With Windows 11, you have three (3) different ways to change default programs: By app, file type, or link type. You can also reset all programs back to their default settings, but that is usually not a very good option.

I like to change all of the files a program can open by changing the defaults for that particular program. But there are times when you might just want to change the default program a file extension opens with.

Note: Windows 11 has been known to change the default programs back to the original defaults after applying Feature updates, so try and remember what programs you have opening what file types.

How to change the default apps inside of Windows 11

Changing the default apps in Windows 11 Settings

The default app settings are located in the sub-menu of the Apps section inside of the Settings program. There are several ways to get to the Settings program in Windows 11, and here are the four (4) most common ways to get there.

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo key button to bring up the Start menu.
  2. In the list of pinned apps on the Start menu, left-click on Settings.
  3. Scroll down the left-hand column and left-click on Apps.

or

  1. Right-click on the Start button Windows logo to bring up the Power User menu.
  2. Left-click on System.
  3. Scroll down the left-hand column and left-click on Apps.

or

  1. Press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + X to bring up the Power User menu.
  2. Press the letter Y to select System.
  3. Scroll down the left-hand column and left-click on Apps.

or

  1. Press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + I.
  2. Scroll down the left-hand column and left-click on Apps.

Now you should have the Settings program open to the Apps sub-menu. In the right-hand column, left-click on Default apps. This will bring up a list of installed programs.

Now the easiest way to change the defaults for a program is to scroll down the list of programs until you find the app you want to change the defaults for. If you left-click on that app, you will be presented with a list of all the file extensions that the program can open.

Left-click on the file type or link type, select the program you would like to open that file type, and then left-click on OK. That program will now be used to open that particular file or link type from now on.

You can also change the defaults for a particular file or link type. Just scroll all the way down the right-hand column under Apps > Default apps to the bottom. There you will find three (3) buttons: Choose defaults by file type, Choose defaults by link type and Reset all default apps.

Clean up Windows 11 with Storage Sense and Disk Cleanup

Are you running out of free space on your Windows 11 computer? Or maybe you would like to clean up all the clutter that can build up over time? If so, here is how to clean and free up space on Windows 11 using Storage Sense and Disk Cleanup.

Clean up Windows 11 with Storage Sense and Disk Cleanup

Windows 11 has two (2) built-in programs that you can use to clean up Windows 11; Storage Sense and Disk Cleanup. They both have similar features, and they both can be run manually or automatically.

Note: Both of these programs will permanently delete files on your computer, so you need to be careful what you decide to clean up. Remember, once you delete a file or files with either one of these programs, you cannot get them back.

Storage Sense

The Storage Sense feature inside of Windows 11 Settings

Storage Sense is relatively new, as it first appeared in Windows 10 version 1809. It is relatively simple to use, as it only has a few settings that you can change.

Storage Sense can be run automatically when your computer starts to run out of free space or every day, week, or month. It can delete files in your Recycle Bin and Downloads folder based on how long those files have been there. You can run Storage Sense manually too.

How to open Storage Sense in Windows 11

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo key button to bring up the Start menu.
  2. In the list of pinned apps on the Start menu, left-click on Settings.
  3. Scroll down the right-hand column and left-click on Storage.
  4. In the right-hand column, left-click on Storage Sense.

Disk Cleanup

The Disk Cleanup program inside of Windows 11

Disk Cleanup has been inside Windows for some time now and has far more options for cleaning up Windows 11. And there are two (2) ways to run Disk Cleanup, which I refer to as Standard and Advanced.

Disk Cleanup can clean up user and system files, ranging from the Recycle Bin and temporary Internet files for users to Windows Update and thumbnails for the system.

The Standard way to run Disk Cleanup

  1. Left-click on the Start button Windows logo to bring up the Start menu.
  2. In the upper right-hand corner of the Start menu, left-click on All apps.
  3. Scroll down the list of programs and left-click on Windows Tools.
  4. Left-click on Disk Cleanup.

or

  1. Open File Explorer using one of the following:
    • Left-click on the File Explorer icon (manilla folder) on the Taskbar.
    • Press the Windows logo key Windows logo + E at the same time.
    • Use the Power User menu by right-clicking on the Start Windows logo button and selecting File Explorer.
  2. In the left-side column, left-click on This PC.
  3. In the right-side column, right-click on the drive you want to optimize and select Properties.
  4. On the General tab, left-click on the Disk Cleanup button.

If you started Disk Cleanup from the Windows Tools shortcut and have more than one (1) drive inside your computer, you may be prompted for which drive you want to clean up.

From the dialog box that appears, you will see a list of user files that can be deleted. If you are looking to clean up your user profile, select the files you want to delete and left-click on the OK button.

If you want to clean up system files, then left-click on the Clean up system files button. If this is the drive with Windows installed on it, you will have several more file options to choose from. Select the files you want to clean up and left-click on the OK button.

The Advanced way to run Disk Cleanup

Using the advanced way of starting Disk Cleanup will give you all of the user and system settings options. And you can also use Task Scheduler to run the advanced Disk Cleanup settings on a schedule you set.

The first thing you need to do is open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges. Note: The full name of Disk Cleanup is cleanmgr.exe, but you only need to use cleanmgr in the Admin Command Prompt.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 11

In the Admin Command Prompt, type the following and then press Enter.

cleanmgr

This will start Disk Cleanup, just like starting it from the Windows Tools shortcut. But you can use command-line switches to get all of the options (user and system). You can use several different command-line switches with cleanmgr, but you will only need to use two; /sageset:n and /sagerun:n.

cleanmgr /sageset:n

/sageset:n - This switch displays the Disk Cleanup settings dialog box and creates a registry key to store the settings you select. The n value is stored in the registry and allows you to specify different tasks for Disk Cleanup to run. The n value can be any integer value from 0 to 65535. To get all the available options when using the /sageset switch, you may need to specify the drive letter that contains the Windows installation.

cleanmgr /sagerun:n

/sagerun:n - This switch runs the specified tasks assigned to the n value using the /sageset switch. All drives in the computer will be enumerated, and the selected profile will be run against each drive.

How to create a Scheduled Task to run Disk Cleanup

First, you will need to have created a preset configuration using the /sageset:n switch. Then open Task Scheduler and create a new task.

  1. Left-click on the Start button Windows logo to bring up the Start menu.
  2. In the upper right-hand corner of the Start menu, left-click on All apps.
  3. Scroll down the list of programs and left-click on Windows Tools.
  4. Left-click on Task Scheduler.
  5. In the right column labeled Actions, select Create Basic Task. The Create a Basic Task Wizard will appear.
  6. Give the task a name and description, and then select Next.
  7. Select when you want it to run (trigger).
  8. When prompted for what task you want to perform, select Start a program, then select Next.
  9. When prompted for a program/script to start, select Browse and navigate to C:\Windows\System32\ and select cleanmgr.exe.
  10. In the Add arguments section, type /sagerun:n and then select Next.
  11. Then select Finish, and you're all set.

You can also create a shortcut with the cleamgr /sagerun:n command, that way, you can run it manually whenever you want.

How to enable automatic registry backups in Windows 10 and Windows 11

When it comes to repairing Windows-based computers, the one thing that will positively stop Windows from starting up is a corrupt registry. Having a backup of the registry is essential for quickly getting a system back up and running. So here is how to enable automatic registry backups in Windows 10 and Windows 11.

How to enable automatic registry backups in Windows 10 and Windows 11

In previous versions of Windows, the operating system would automatically backup the registry. In fact, Windows did automatically back up the registry until Windows 10 version 1803.

With Windows 10 version 1803, Microsoft disabled the automatic registry backup to help reduce the overall footprint of Windows. Microsoft would prefer you to use the System Restore feature.

But considering that Windows 10 and Windows 11 can take up to 40GB or more of disk space, the folder that contains the registry backup (Windows\System32\config\RegBack) only takes up roughly 100MB or so of disk space. I do not see a problem with having a backup of the registry.

Now over the past couple of years, I have seen an increase in Windows computers that do not have System Protection enabled. System Protection is the feature that creates and manages the System Restore feature.

So when I get a computer in the shop with a corrupted registry, and there are no System Restore points, then the only thing I can do is reformat the drive and reinstall Windows. But you can re-enable the automatic registry backup with a simple registry edit.

Note: If you are not comfortable editing the registry, don't hesitate to contact a local computer technician to assist you.

From my experience, getting the registry backups going again is a two-step process. First, you create the registry key and restart your computer to take effect. Then you run the built-in task inside of Task Scheduler. Let's start with the registry editor.

How to open the Registry Editor in Windows 10 / Windows 11

  1. Open the Registry Editor by either
  2. Navigate to HKLM (HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE) > System > CurrentControlSet > Control > Session Manager > Configuration Manager
    Registry Editor open to Configuration Manager entry
  3. In the left-hand column, right-click on Configuration Manager and select New > DWORD (32-bit) Value.
    Creating the new DWORD value EnablePeriodicBackup
  4. Name the new DWORD value EnablePeriodicBackup.
    Registry Editor open to EnablePeriodicBackup value
  5. Right-click on the EnablePeriodicBackup value and select Modify.
    Modifying the EnablePeriodicBackup value
  6. Change the Value data from 0 to 1 and left-click on OK.
    Changing the default EnablePeriodicBackup value from 0 to 1
  7. Restart your computer.

Using File Explorer, navigate to the Windows\System32\config\RegBack folder and see if the registry files are backed up. If you encounter a couple of dialog boxes that tell you that you do not have permission to access this folder, left-click on Continue.

You should see five (5) files in this folder; DEFAULT, SAM, SECURITY, SOFTWARE, and SYSTEM. And more than likely, they will be only 0KB in size. If that is the case, we will need to run the task that backups the registry.

Now we need to run the built-in task RegIdleBackup to get the Windows to start backing up the registry. Once you run the RegIdleBackup task, you should restart your computer again to get it fully functional.

How to open the Task Scheduler in Windows 10 / Windows 11

  1. Open the Task Scheduler by either
  2. When Task Scheduler appears, navigate down the left-hand column to Task Scheduler Library > Microsoft > Windows > Registry.
    The RegIdleBackup task inside of Task Manager
  3. In the center column, highlight the RegIdleBackup task and select Run in the right-hand column.
  4. Restart your computer.

Windows will now be backing up the registry regularly, usually every ten (10) days. Now that you enabled automatic registry backups let's check and see if they are working.

Let's use File Explorer again to navigate to the Windows\System32\config\RegBack folder and see if the registry files have increased in size. You should now see they are no longer 0KB.

The different ways to navigate Windows 11

If you have used Windows before, you are well versed with the Start menu. But did you know that there are other ways to get around inside Windows 11? Let's take a look at the different ways to navigate Windows 11.

The different ways to navigate Windows 11

In the early versions of Windows, you only had the Program Manager to make your way around Windows. But in 1995, Microsoft released Windows 95 with a new way of navigating Windows, the Start menu.

Over the years, the look of the Start menu has changed. It has had several different Windows logos, flat/rounded/beveled edges, but it always worked the same way.

Then came Windows 8, and Microsoft changed the Start menu. The Start menu was replaced with the Start screen, and navigating Windows would never be the same.

When Windows users complained about the Windows 8 Start screen, Microsoft introduced the Power User menu in Windows 8.1. That made finding the more popular features easier, like Settings, System, and Computer Management.

So when Windows 10 was released, the Start menu came back along with the Power User menu. A few other cool features were added to the Start menu, including the ability to change the accent color of the Start menu.

With Windows 11, Microsoft changed the look and feel of the Start menu, but all of the essential functions are still there. The Start menu layout changed, but the learning curve is really mild.

Windows 11 Start menu

The Start menu is the traditional way of getting around Windows 11. As with every version of Windows, Microsoft has made some changes to its appearance.

With Windows 11, you can change the location of the Start menu to either the center or the left side of the Taskbar. Sadly, you can not change the Taskbar's position to the left, right, or top of the screen.

You can change the same Start menu features in Windows 11 that you could in Windows 10. The only thing I found you cannot do is to change the Start menu's color. You can only change the color mode, light or dark.

All Start menu customizations can be found by going to Settings > Personalization. Here is a list of the features and areas on the Windows 11 Start menu.

The different features and areas of the Windows 11 Start menu

  • Search box - Type in the name of the app or file you are looking for.
  • Pinned apps - This is a collection of shortcuts to your favorite programs.
  • All apps - Here, you will find all of the shortcuts to all of the installed programs.
  • Recommended - This is a list of the most recently used files.
  • Folders - These are the shortcuts that you select to appear next to the Power button. You can choose which folders appear by going to Settings > Personalization > Start > Folders.

Here is a list of the folders you can have to appear next to the Power button.

  • Settings
  • File Explorer
  • Document
  • Music
  • Pictures
  • Videos
  • Network
  • Personal folder

Windows 11 Power User Menu

The Power User menu appeared in Windows 8.1 to appease users that were upset with the replacement of the Start menu with the Start screen. Windows 8 was a nightmare to navigate using the Start screen, and the Power User menu made it a little easier.

The Power User menu has shortcuts to the most used features inside of Windows, including System, Settings, and Computer Management. And the cool thing is that you can bring up the Power User menu in two (2) different ways.

  • Right-click on the Start button Windows logo

or

  • Press the Windows logo key Windows logo + X at the same time.

Windows 11 Power User menu

If you use your keyboard to bring up the Power User menu, the different programs and features will have a letter underlined in their name. If you press the corresponding letter, that program or feature opens.

Windows 11 Windows Logo keyboard shortcuts

Back when the Start menu was introduced, Microsoft also added a feature to help navigate Windows using the keyboard. That Windows logo key on your keyboard can do a whole lot more than just bring up the Start menu.

Windows 11 Windows logo keyboard shortcuts

The Windows logo key can open more than fifty (50) Windows 11 programs and features when used with other keys. Some of my personal favorites are:

  • Windows logo key Windows logo + E opens File Explorer
  • Windows logo key Windows logo + R opens the Run dialog box
  • Windows logo key Windows logo + X opens the Power User menu

What makes these Windows logo keyboard shortcuts special to me is that you can use only your left hand to use them. That way, I can keep my right hand on my mouse. Follow the link below for a complete list of the Windows logo key shortcuts for Windows 11 (it opens in a new window).

Windows logo key shortcuts for Windows 11

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