If you’ve been experiencing system or application crashes in Windows, it’s possible system files have become corrupt or that other system damage has occurred. Here’s what you can do about it.
If Windows is experiencing blue-screen or other crashes, applications are failing, or some Windows features just aren’t working properly, there are two system tools that might be able to help. The System File Checker (SFC) tool built into Windows will scan your Windows system files for corruption or any other changes. If a file has been modified, it will automatically replace that file with the correct version. If the SFC command doesn’t work, you can also try the Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) command on Windows 10 or Windows 8 to repair the underlying Windows system image. On Windows 7 and earlier, Microsoft offers a downloadable “System Update Readiness Tool” instead. Let’s take a look at how to use them.
Run the SFC command when troubleshooting a buggy Windows system. SFC works by scanning for and replacing system files that are corrupt, missing, or changed. Even if the SFC command doesn’t repair any files, running it will at least confirm that no system files are corrupted and then you can continue to troubleshoot your system with other methods. You can use the SFC command as long as the computer itself will start. If Windows will start normally, you can run it from an administrative command prompt. If Windows won’t start normally, you can try starting it in Safe Mode or in the recovery environment by booting from your installation media or recovery disc.
However you get to the Command Prompt—normally, Safe Mode, or recovery environment—you’ll use the command the same way. Just remember that if you start Windows normally, you will need to open the Command Prompt with administrative privileges. To do this, right-click the Start button and select “Command Prompt (Admin)”.
At the Command Prompt, type the following command and press Enter to run a full system scan and have SFC attempt repairs:
Leave the Command Prompt window open until the command completes, which may take some time. If everything is fine, you’ll see the message “Windows Resource Protection did not find any integrity violations.”
If you see a “Windows Resource Protection found corrupt files but was unable to fix some of them” message, try restarting your PC in Safe Mode and running the command again. And if that fails, you can also try booting with your installation media or recovery disc and trying the command from there.
You shouldn’t normally have to run the DISM command. However, if the SFC command fails to run properly or can’t replace a corrupted file with the correct one, the DISM command—or System Update Readiness Tool in Windows 7—can sometimes fix the underlying Windows system and make SFC run correctly.
To run the DISM command in Windows 8 and 10, open a Command Prompt with administrative privileges. Type the following command and then press Enter to have DISM check your Windows component store for corruption and automatically fix any problems it finds.
DISM /Online /Cleanup-Image /RestoreHealth
Allow the command to finish running before closing the Command Prompt window. This may take five to ten minutes. It’s normal for the progress bar to stay at 20 percent for a while, so don’t worry about that.
If the results of the DISM command state that anything was changed, restart your PC and you should then be able to run the SFC command successfully.
On Windows 7 and earlier, the DISM command isn’t available. Instead, you can download and run the System Update Readiness Tool from Microsoft and use it to scan your system for problems and attempt to fix them.
If you’re still experiencing system problems and the SFC and DISM commands don’t help, you can try more drastic actions.
Running the System Restore tool will restore your Windows operating system files, settings, and applications to an earlier state. This may fix system corruption problems if the operating system wasn’t also damaged at the earlier point when the restore point was created.
An if all else fails, you could always resort to performing a system reset or reinstalling Windows. On Windows 8 and 10, you can perform a “Reset this PC” operation to reset Windows to its default state. You’ll have the option to keep your personal files in place—though you’ll have to reinstall programs—or to remove everything and do a complete reinstall. Whichever you choose, make sure you’ve backed up your PC first! On Windows 7 and earlier, this will require using your computer’s manufacturer-provided recovery partition or reinstalling Windows from scratch.
If you encounter other errors while running any of the commands we’ve covered, try searching the web for the specific errors you encounter. The commands will often point you to log files with more information if they fail—check the logs for more details about specific problems. Ultimately, it may not be worth troubleshooting serious Windows corruption problems when you can just reset Windows to its default state or reinstall it. That decision will be up to you.
Image Credit: jchapiewsky on Flickr