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Hidden Trick to Close Windows Explorer in Windows 7 or Vista

If you want to test an explorer shell plugin or registry hack without having to log off, more technical users will usually just kill the explorer.exe process in Task Manager. Windows Vista has another way to do the same thing that you might not be aware of.

This tip was sent in by Justin, one of our most active forum members.

Alternate Close Explorer Method

Open the Start menu and then hold down the Ctrl and Shift keys at the same time. Right-click on an empty area of the menu, and you’ll see a new option called “Exit Explorer”

image

The taskbar should completely disappear, and any open folder windows if you are using default explorer settings.

Classic Close Explorer Method

Pull up Task Manager with Ctrl+Shift+Esc and then right-click on explorer.exe in the process list, and choose End Process.

image 

Restart Explorer

Use Ctrl+Shift+Esc to bring up Task Manager, and then go to File \ Run and type in explorer into the run box.

image

The start menu will re-appear, but you might notice a few tray icons will be missing until you log off and back on. (or restart those applications)

The only real benefit to using the alternate method is that Explorer has a chance to properly shut down, rather than just killing the process which could screw things up. Also, it’s fun to know these hidden tricks =)

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 02/14/08

Comments (37)

  1. Benman

    Whoa, I had no idea that was there!

    I bet this method would work better if you have lots of plugins for explorer or drive mappings. I wonder if it closes network connections and stuff like that?

  2. Kent

    To restart Explorer, use WHAT to bring up Task Manager??!!

  3. The Geek

    @Kent

    Whoa, serious typo there! I can’t believe that I missed that =)

  4. Kent

    That’s OK. I was thinking my keyboard might be a little too close to the bathroom.

    Somewhere in America, someone is probably saying: “John, can you get the gas mask and some gloves? I need to restart Explorer!”
    John: “Again? Wouldn’t it be easier to call your mother?”

    ;-)

  5. ph15h

    :( I wish I had said this. I’ve been doing this since my games started crashing on me.

  6. anhlqn

    Nice tip. Thanks

  7. Michael

    Not for XP. It’s just for Vista; I got it to work, and it managed to close the Taskbar and toolbars.

  8. jd2066

    If you read the page at http://blogs.msdn.com/aaron_margosis/archive/2007/07/17/how-to-cleanly-stop-explorer-exe-on-windows-vista.aspx
    There is a way to do this in Windows XP. I have no idea why “The Geek” didn’t post that too.
    The best benefit to this trick is that is allows Windows Explorer to save it’s settings.
    There are things like taskbar placement and toolbar settings that will be lost if one just kills explorer.

  9. The Geek

    @jd2066

    Yes, there is a way to do this for XP, which I chose not to write in this article which was titled “for Vista”. I had been planning on putting the XP method into a separate article.

  10. jon

    This tip is brilliant – my Firefox sometimes stops firefoxing, and the best way to persuade it to do its thing has been a reboot. I have therefore been seeking a safe way to reboot explorer without shutting down, which achieves the same result. Many thanks.

  11. jd2066

    @jon: What do you mean by “stops firefoxing”? Usually you can just kill Firefox and restart it if there is a crash. It isn’t normal behavior to need to reboot or restart explorer to get Firefox to work in that case.

  12. jon

    My Firefox and IE often give the message “can’t find server” or similar. In this situation, only way to reach the site is to reboot, or with this tip, to reboot Windows Explorer. But maybe my computer is due for a reimage (Vista Business) though everything else runs well.

  13. Jaspal Singh

    I Have a laptop Model HP Dx 6515 t and windows vista is preloaded with license version and all the updates which is available on the site is downloaded and it is very slow when i start my laptop. Please help me to open my laptop little fast

  14. jd2066

    @Jaspal Singh: You should post that question on the forums. More people will be able to see it and possibly help. Not that many people read the article comments.

  15. john

    haha, this feels like an easter egg

  16. Jawahar

    Windows Explorer (the userbar) keeps closing! (VISTA)?
    Each time I turn my Vista PC on I see this
    http://img292.imageshack.us/img292/4713/
    When I try to open some kind of window, (ex: My Documents, Backup & Restore Center), explorer (my userbar) just shuts down, and I would have to turn it on again via Task Manager; New Task. How do I fix this?
    PLEASE HELP. Thanks you!
    PS. For some reason, when I open other programs such as Mozilla, Warcraft, or Photoshop, Explorer (my userbar) doesn’t shut down…

  17. jon

    Jawahar
    Try stopping the imageshack img from running at startup. You should be able do that via Windows Defender, or a third party program like Startup Manager. If that fails, try a reimage (others may have better ideas).

  18. Jawhar

    hi jon..
    kind of you..
    the above said problem occurs only when i log in as one user but not for other users..
    further i cant find ‘imageshack’ in any startup manager programs..

  19. The Geek

    @Jawhar

    Please post your question on the forums. The comments are not meant to be a help forum.

    http://www.howtogeek.com/forum/

  20. Amit

    Actuallyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy……………………………….
    why cant we just use shutdown button.
    Dat’s more easy I think…………………. until some geek tels how to make a shutdown SHORTCUT on the desktop

  21. Josh

    None of this can actually “fix/restart” my windows explorer.
    Because when it is not working, the whole start menu freezes, and anything that runs on the windows program ( My documents, the time, and start menu ) will not work properly.
    All of the boxes on the bottom just shift a bit but wlil still open.

  22. jd2066

    @Amit: This trick is just to close the Windows Explorer shell to reload shell extensions and load registry changes not shutdown Windows.
    If you want a shutdown shortcut there are steps on that at http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/windows-vista/quick-tip-create-shutdown-restart-lock-icons-in-windows-vista/

  23. Stuajnht

    Isn’t this hidden trick like what Microsoft had in Windows 9x (going back a bit), when you could just restart explorer by ending it in task manager, or whatever it was called back then, and it would restart itself in a few seconds.

  24. Kylie

    Hi I discovered this hidden trick on my own as I have the unfortunate problem of Windows Explorer stopping searches (or the green bar still loads, but nothing happens) or freezing on Vista. So, after having to repeatedly turn the computer on and off, I decided to try the explorer.exe process in the taskbar.
    It is just annoying having to do it so many times.

    But does anyone know how I can get Explorer to stop freezing??

  25. Dio

    I always do that, when i got crash on my own computer, i restart the explorer.exe.

  26. Johan

    Hi there

    Here’s another (hidden :) trick to end explorer gracefully…
    In win7 when you right-click on the start menu (i.e. above the shutdown button) you get “Properties” only,

    When you hold Crtl+Shift and then right-click you get “Exit Explorer”

    You can start the task manager any time with ctrl+alt+del

    Regards
    Johan

  27. ranjith

    this is the best site for the people who intend to show off their hacking skills,honestly speaking i am one of them.
    the people who built this hats off to them.

  28. Donald

    @Geek- To restart explore I right click the start button. Is this not ok?

  29. Donald

    @geek- Iobviously had not shut down explorer properly pls disregard and erase last post. I’m red faced enough. tx

  30. al xyz

    thank you

  31. hericardo

    to me, it doesnt work in Win7 x64

  32. mesaman

    Worked great for me, thanks

  33. J Henry

    This is an interesting trick, however it doesn’t seem to work in Classic Start Menu mode. There is no empty area to right click on. I also get nothing when I right click over the Shut Down Start Menu entry.

    C’est la vie I guess.

  34. Jason Harrop

    If you have a command prompt open, you can just type “explorer” to run that command.

    Worked for me on Win 7 x64 after I killed the process.

  35. Jaime

    Actuallu – Ctrl+Shift_Esc opens Taks manager directly. the do ‘File. Run….” No need to Ctrl+Alt+Del

  36. ruudster101

    Hey…nice trick.Im using it a while now.
    It works perfectly on my windows7 too…

  37. David

    Sadly, but understandably, not applicable if you’ve chosen the classic start menu.

    Also, it would be interesting to consider the effect of running the taskbar and desktop as a separate explorer process (which is possible (see tweaks in Gigatweaker (e.g.)) which also conveniently allows you to specify whether the desktop and taskbar explorer instance is to restart automatically after errors.

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