Windows Update failed? Here are 10 fixes you can try (2023)

Windows Update failed? Here are 10 fixes you can try (1)

This weekend, I fired up a Windows 10 VM image I hadn't used for a while. Because they are essentially just files, virtual machine images tend to sit around, powered off, unless you need them. I use a standard Windows 10 starter template VM whenever I need a fresh machine. The template hadn't been updated in a while.

As is always the case when re-activating a VM, I ran Windows Update. It made some progress, but then it failed. I tried Windows Update again. I got another fail message.

Windows Update failed? Here are 10 fixes you can try (2)

You can try a bunch of tricks to fix updates when they fail. Fortunately, in my case, the very first tactic I used succeeded. I'll show you that, then I'll share with you some of the additional steps I would have taken if the update still hadn't worked.

Make a backup

I know this should go without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway. Make a backup. Before you go rummaging around in your system's innards, it's always good to make sure you can recover your data.

Yes, I've skipped this step. Yes, it's hurt my soul. Learn from my mistakes. Make a backup. Here are three great articles by our own Windows sensei, Ed Bott, that should help you backup before you go forward.

Ed Bott on Windows backups:

  • Windows 10 tip: Create a full image backup using this hidden tool
  • Windows 10 tip: Create a recovery drive
  • Windows 10 tip: Turn on File History for automatic backups

1. For VM users: Replace with a newer VM

I often have older VMs pre-configured with a lot of custom tweaks, installed applications, and other elements. As such, it's often rather time-consuming to start from a fresh Windows image. But if you're able to, rather than going through the effort to update a version of Windows that was originally installed in 2016 or 2017, start with a fresh Windows image that has the October 2018 update already installed.

2. Restart and try running Windows Update again

In reviewing this post with Ed, he told me that the most common cause of those "Update failed" messages is that there are two updates waiting. If one is a servicing stack update, it has to install first, and the machine has to restart before it can install the next update. Problem solved.

A good read on this is Liam Tung's piece, Windows update problems: Microsoft reveals why recent patches broke some PCs. Even though it talks about some Windows 7 update issues, the underlying principle is the same.

3. Try Windows Update Troubleshooter

Microsoft actually ships Windows 10 with a Windows Update troubleshooting tool. I find the easiest way to reach it is simply type "troubleshoot" in the search box.

Windows Update failed? Here are 10 fixes you can try (3)

Because I'm working on an older revision of Windows 10, the screen above is shown. If your Windows 10 is from a more recent update, you'll see the following screen, which you can also reach by going to Settings > Update & Security > Troubleshooting.

Windows Update failed? Here are 10 fixes you can try (4)
(Video) Fix Any Windows Update Error on Windows 10/Windows 11

This will bring up the full Troubleshooting panel. You'll want to select "Fix problems with Windows Update." This will bring up the Windows Update troubleshooter. I didn't feel I needed to use Advanced options, so I just hit Next. That said, Ed recommends taking the extra minute and using Advanced Options. He says, "That runs the troubleshooter as an admin and allows it to fix a wider range of problems."

Windows Update failed? Here are 10 fixes you can try (5)

After a relatively short time, Windows reported it had found and fixed the problem.

Of course, it's never a good idea to simply take Windows' word for anything like this, so I went back into Windows Update and ran it again.

After a few hours, I had my result. The update that previously failed had completed properly and my system was fully up to date.

Windows Update failed? Here are 10 fixes you can try (7)

4. Pause updates

Here's an interesting trick that's a big counter-intuitive. Go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update and hit the Advanced Options button. Assuming you're at a relatively recent version of Windows 10, you'll see this screen:

Windows Update failed? Here are 10 fixes you can try (8)

Slide the Pause Updates switch on. Restart your machine. Then, once the machine is booted up fully, go back to that screen and slide the Pause Updates switch back to Off.

If you tell Windows to pause updates, you'll clear all of the downloaded updates. Go ahead and try Windows Update again. Hopefully it will work. This is way easier (and less stressful) than deleting the SoftwareDistribution directory from your Windows directory, which is my next suggestion.

5. Delete the SoftwareDistribution directory

I have to say that this was a surprise. Most of the time, when I've had difficulty getting Windows Update to work, it's taken hours or days, and I've had to jump through a bunch of hoops to get it done.

If the troubleshooter doesn't work, a good first start is to simply clear away the old update files. To do this, first restart your machine in Safe Mode. It is possible to clear the Windows Update files by stopping the Windows Update service, but I've found it's just a much more reliable experience to make sure nothing's running in the background, so I go straight for Safe Mode.

Windows Update failed? Here are 10 fixes you can try (9)

From there, open File Explorer, navigate to the Windows folder, and delete the folder called SoftwareDistribution.

Windows Update failed? Here are 10 fixes you can try (10)

Alternatively, you can type RMDIR /S/Q at a command prompt, which recurses throughout the entire subdirectory and deletes the appropriate update files without requiring additional confirming prompts.

Windows Update failed? Here are 10 fixes you can try (11)
(Video) 5 Common Reasons Why Windows Updates Fail

At this point, go ahead and restart your machine and try the update again. If you disabled the Windows Update service, remember to turn it on before attempting your update.

6. Download the latest feature update from Microsoft

If Windows Update is still failing, you might want to consider going to Microsoft to download the update directly. It's probably not a bad idea to bookmark the Download Windows 10 page on the Microsoft site.

If you're using Edge, you'll be able to download the update:

Windows Update failed? Here are 10 fixes you can try (12)

Go ahead and completely download the update. I'd recommend hitting Save rather than Run, so that you have the update and can reapply it if you run into any snags.

Once it's downloaded, run the update image, and hopefully you'll be all set.

7. Download the cumulative quality/security updates

The tactic above may work if there's a recent feature update (as there was in my case). But there are really two kinds of updates: feature and quality/security updates. Ed has a great explanation of the differences in this article. Ed explains that most "Update failed" messages are related to security/reliability updates.

For those, you have to go to the Microsoft Update Catalog, search using the KB number of the failed update, and download the correct standalone distribution package, then double-click to run it.

8. Run the Windows System File Checker

If all that fails, it might be time to run the Windows System File Checker. Here's a key tip for those of you familiar with using SFC (System File Checker) in Windows 7 and earlier. Now, since Windows 8, you'll need to run a tool called DISM (Deployment Image Servicing and Management) first.

So let's begin with that. First, open a command shell. Make sure you right-click on the Command menu and run in elevated privilege mode.

Windows Update failed? Here are 10 fixes you can try (13)

DISM is a pretty neat tool with a lot of capabilities

Windows Update failed? Here are 10 fixes you can try (14)

Issue the command DISM /online /cleanup-image /restorehealth. This should help clean corruption among your system components. Give it a few minutes to run. Hopefully you'll have a successful result.

Windows Update failed? Here are 10 fixes you can try (15)

Once you've completed your DISM run, it's time to fire off SFC. In that same elevated privilege command window, go ahead and run SFC /scannow.

Windows Update failed? Here are 10 fixes you can try (16)

As it turned out, SFC did find some errors, which it repaired and then wrote to the CBS (Component Based Servicing) log.

(Video) How To Fix Microsoft Update Error 0x80080005 - Error Encountered Windows Update Windows 10

Once you've run DISM and SFC, it's time to reboot. Then, once again, try Windows Update.

9. If all else fails, repair your Windows installation

Hopefully, you're happily updating Windows by now. But if not, I have one more hammer left in my toolbox: repairing your Windows installation itself. Windows offers an in-place repair and upgrade as part of the installation process.

To take this final step, read Ed Bott's quick tip on how to make it happen.

10. Skip the update

Finally, it's worth mentioning that sometimes Microsoft ships problematic updates. You might just need to skip that update. I know, after all that pain, right? But it happens. Here's an Ed tip on hiding problematic updates and moving on with your life.

Hopefully, one of these procedures is getting you back on the way to an updated Windows. Let me know how things worked out in the TalkBacks below.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

Previous and related coverage:

Windows 10 how-to: Ed Bott's free tech support and troubleshooting guide

A curated list of the best sites for support information about Windows 10.

How to install, reinstall, upgrade and activate Windows 10

Here's everything you need to know before you repair, reinstall, or upgrade Windows 10, including details about activation and product keys.

Which apps are draining your laptop's battery? Check Windows Task ManagerCNET

The venerable Task Manager has a few new tricks.

10 apps to add features to Windows 10TechRepublic

Here's a selection of our favorite Windows 10 utilities.

(Video) Fix Windows Update Failed To Install Error

FAQs

How do I fix Windows 10 after failed update? ›

  1. Methods to fix Windows Update failing errors.
  2. Method 1: Run the Windows Update Troubleshooter tool.
  3. Method 2: Restore Windows Update related services.
  4. Method 3: Run the System File Checker (SFC) scan.
  5. Method 4: Execute the DISM command.
  6. Method 5: Temporarily disable your antivirus.
  7. Method 6: Restore Windows 10 from a backup.

Why does my Windows 10 20H2 update keep failing? ›

Windows 10 version 20H2 won't install error may happen due to corrupted Windows Update components. Once they are corrupt, you are not allowed to install the latest updates on your PC. If so, you need to reset Windows Update components.

How do I force a Windows 10 update manually? ›

If you want to install the update now, select Start > Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update , and then select Check for updates. If updates are available, install them.

What causes Windows 10 updates to fail? ›

A common cause of errors is inadequate drive space. If you need help freeing up drive space, see Tips to free up drive space on your PC. The steps in this guided walk-through should help with all Windows Update errors and other issues—you don't need to search for the specific error to solve it.

How do I repair a corrupt Windows 10 install? ›

The best tool for repairing damaged Windows installations is System File Checker (SFC). Like many of Microsoft's most powerful repair tools, SFC runs from the command line. After executing the program, it inspects Windows for signs of damage. When it detects damaged files, SFC automatically repairs them.

How do I force a stuck Windows Update? ›

Run Windows Troubleshooter
  1. Go to Start – Settings – Updates & Security.
  2. Select Troubleshoot – Additional troubleshooters.
  3. Under Get up and running, click Windows Update – Run the troubleshooter.
  4. Restart your PC once the troubleshooting is completed.
  5. Install the new update after restarting.

How do I bypass Windows 10 update? ›

How to disable automatic updates using Settings
  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Windows Update.
  4. Click the "Pause updates for 7 days" option.
Aug 8, 2022

How do I fix system update failed to install? ›

Below are some effective troubleshooting tips you can try when your Android fails to install a system update.
  1. Switch to a Faster Internet Connection. ...
  2. Charge Your Phone. ...
  3. Free Up Storage Space. ...
  4. Correct Date and Time. ...
  5. Restart Your Phone. ...
  6. Install Updates in Safe Mode. ...
  7. 1 Comment.
Oct 5, 2022

Why does Windows 10 version 21H2 keep failing to install? ›

A large number of temporary files are generated during the use of the computer. Some of these temporary files may get corrupt causing Windows 10 21H2 update problems like Windows 10 21H2 update failure. To delete the corrupt temporary files, you just need to restart your Windows 10 computer.

How do I force a 20H2 to 21H1 update? ›

Click on Update & Security. Click on Windows Update. Click the Check for updates button. Under the “Feature update to Windows 10, version 21H1” section, click the Download and Install now button.

How do I force Windows 10 20H2 update? ›

Upgrade to Windows 10 20H2 on version 2004
  1. Open Settings on Windows 10.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Windows Update.
  4. Click the Check for updates button (if applicable).
  5. Under the “Optional updates available” section, click the Download and Install now button. ...
  6. Click the Restart now button.
May 9, 2022

How do I force Windows 10 to restart and update? ›

Manage updates in Windows
  1. Select Start > Settings > Windows Update .
  2. Select Schedule the restart and choose a time that's convenient for you. Note: You can set active hours to make sure your device only restarts for updates when you're not using your PC.

How do I force system update? ›

Get the latest Android updates available for you
  1. Open your phone's Settings app.
  2. Near the bottom, tap System. System update.
  3. You'll see your update status. Follow any steps on the screen.

How to force Windows 10 updates to install using the command line? ›

Step 1: Type cmd in the search box next to Cortana, and right-click the top one, then choose Run as administrator and click Yes to continue. Step 2: Type UsoClient StartScan to check for updates. Step 3: Type UsoClient StartDownload to download updates.

Is it OK to never update Windows 10? ›

Without these updates, you're missing out on any potential performance improvements for your software, as well as any completely new features that Microsoft introduces.

How do I repair Windows 10 without a recovery drive? ›

Keep holding down the shift key while clicking Restart. Keep holding down the shift key until the Advanced Recovery Options menu loads. Click Troubleshoot. Next, click Reset this PC.

How do I know if my Windows 10 OS is corrupted? ›

  1. Click Start.
  2. In the search bar, type CMD .
  3. Right-click CMD.exe and select Run as Administrator.
  4. On the User Account Control (UAC) prompt, click Yes.
  5. In the command prompt window, type SFC /scannow and press Enter .
  6. System file checker utility checks the integrity of Windows system files and repairs them if required.
Jan 3, 2022

What are the signs of corrupted Windows 10? ›

These are some of the common signs of a corrupted operating system.
...
What Happens If Your Operating System Is Corrupted?
  • Problem loading Windows Explorer.
  • Applications failing to launch.
  • Applications crashing.
  • Computer facing sudden BSOD (blue screen of death)
  • Sudden errors causing applications to stop working.
Jul 11, 2022

What causes Windows Update stuck? ›

Usually, a stuck update is the result of a software conflict or a preexisting issue that causes the screen to freeze and even the best Windows laptops can experience these issues from time to time.

Why does my system update keep failing? ›

Many Android users face an Android system update failure due to the lack of storage space. So, before the system installation process, you should make sure that you have enough storage space for the next update on your phone.

Is Windows 10 21H2 stable now? ›

Yes, Windows 10 21H2 is totally safe. When this update was released on November 16, it was confirmed and signed as safe, stable, and ready to install on devices that have 20H2, 2004, and 21H1.

Is Windows 10 21H2 update good? ›

Is it safe to install Windows 10 21H2? The best answer is “yes,” when Microsoft released Windows 10 21H2 on November 16, the update was signed off as stable and safe to install on devices running versions 2004, 20H2, and 21H1.

Is Windows 10 21H2 a major update? ›

Just like Windows 10 versions 21H1 and 20H2, the 21H2 update is a pretty minor one. New features include support for the WPA3 H2E Wi-Fi security standard, Windows Hello for Business improvements, as well as GPU compute support in the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL).

Should I update Windows 21H1 to 21H2? ›

Once your version of Windows 21H1 reaches its "end of service" on December 12, 2022, it will no longer receive security updates. Yes, you will need to upgrade to Windows version 21H2 to continue to receive security updates and keep your system secure, improve performance and stability.

What is the difference between Windows 10 version 20H2 and 21H1? ›

This update also contains all features and fixes included in previous cumulative updates to Windows 10, version 20H2. Windows 10, version 21H1 is a scoped set of features for select performance improvements, enterprise features, and quality enhancements.

What is the difference between Windows 10 21H1 and 21H2? ›

In this article

Windows 10, version 21H2 is also known as the Windows 10 November 2021 Update. It includes all features and fixes in previous cumulative updates to Windows 10, version 21H1.

What happens if I don't update Windows 10 20H2? ›

The company is ending support for Windows 10 version 20H2 in just a few short weeks, meaning that anyone who fails to upgrade will no longer receive security updates. Microsoft would, of course, like users to upgrade to Windows 11, but this is not the only option.

Can I skip 20H2 update? ›

On Windows 10 Pro or Home, the version 20H2 won't download automatically until you start the process manually. This means that if you want to prevent Windows 10 from installing the new version, the only thing you have to do is not to click the Download and Install now option in the “Windows Update” settings page.

How do I force reinstall Windows 10? ›

To access this Windows reinstall option on Windows 10, head to Settings > Update & Security > Recovery. You'll see a Reset this PC header; click the Get started button underneath this to begin. If you're on Windows 11, head to Settings > System > Recovery. Click Reset PC next to Reset this PC to get started.

How do I repair Windows 10 without a disk? ›

CD is also not needed for the Windows 10 repair. This can be done by visiting your system's Settings > Update & Security > Recovery. From here, you can click on the "Get Started" button under the "Reset this PC" section. This will allow you to erase everything from your computer or keep the files intact.

How do I restore Windows 10 without reinstalling? ›

In Windows 10, click the Start menu and select the gear icon in the lower left to open up the Settings window. You can also select the Settings app from the app list. Under Settings, click Update & Security > Recovery, then select Get started under Reset this PC.

Can I reset Windows 10 without reinstalling? ›

Related links. To reset your PC, go to Start > Settings > Update & Security > Recovery > Reset this PC > Get Started. Then, select Keep my files, choose cloud or local, change your settings, and set Restore preinstalled apps? to No.

Can I reinstall Windows without deleting everything? ›

Use the installation media to reinstall Windows 10

Select Change to determine what to keep: Select one of the following options, and then select Next: Keep personal files and apps – This will preserve your personal data, apps, and settings.

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