Laptop running Windows 11
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For the most part, Windows Update works silently in the background. It downloads updates automatically, installs the ones it can, and saves others to install when you restart Windows. But sometimes it breaks and stops working. Here’s how to fix Windows Update when it gets stuck or frozen.

  1. Try running the Windows Update Troubleshooter, which you can search for in the Start menu.
  2. If that doesn’t help, you can try deleting Windows Update’s cache by booting into Safe Mode, stopping the wuauserv service, and deleting the files in¬†C:\Windows\Software\Distribution.
  3. If all else fails, download updates manually using the WSUS Offline Update tool.

This can happen on Windows 7, 8, 10, or 11, but it’s become especially common with Windows 7. Sometimes updates will error out, or sometimes¬†Windows Update may just get stuck “searching for updates” forever. Here’s how to fix Windows Update

Warning: Windows updates are important.¬†No matter what troubles you’re having, we recommend keeping automatic updates turned on — it’s one of the best¬†ways to keep yourself safe from ransomware and other threats. If you turn automatic updates off, you are leaving yourself vulnerable to new attacks.

Fix Windows Update with a Troubleshooter on Windows 11

Windows includes a built-in troubleshooter that may be able to help fix a stuck update. It’s the easiest method to try, so go ahead and run it first. The troubleshooter will check for problems that could cause Windows Update to fail — like incorrect security settings, missing or corrupted files, or problems with services.

All modern versions of Windows use the same troubleshooter, but the process for accessing it varies slightly between Windows versions. In Windows 11, it can be found in Settings > Troubleshoot > Other Troubleshooters.

Click Start, type “Settings” into the search bar, and then hit Enter. Scroll down until you see “Troubleshoot” and click that.

Click “Other Troubleshooters” within the “Troubleshoot” window.

Other Troubleshooters collects most of the troubleshooters Windows comes with into one location. We’re looking for a troubleshooter labeled “Windows Update.” If you’ve never used it before, you’ll need to scroll down a bit to find it. Otherwise, it might be in your “Frequents” list. Once you find it, click “Run.”

Once the troubleshooter starts, follow the on-screen recommendations.

Fix Windows Update with a Troubleshooter on any Version of Windows

This troubleshooter is available on Windows 7, 8, 10, and 11. It is accessible through the Control Panel in all versions of Windows as of March 2022.

To run the troubleshooter, click the Start button, search for “troubleshooting,” and then run the “Troubleshooting” shortcut by clicking it or pressing Enter if it’s highlighted.

In the Control Panel list of troubleshooters, in the “System and Security” section, click “Fix problems with Windows Update.”

In the Windows Update troubleshooting window, click “Advanced.”

In the advanced settings, make sure that the “Apply repairs automatically” check box is enabled, click “Run as administrator” and then click Next. Giving the tool administrative privileges helps ensure that it can delete files in the download cache.

The troubleshooter works through its process and then lets you know whether it could identify and fix the problem. Most of the time, the troubleshooter can successfully remove a stuck update from the queue. Go ahead and try running Windows Update again. Even if the troubleshooter says it couldn’t identify the problem, it’s possible that the actions of starting and stopping the service and clearing out the cache did the trick.

Fix Windows Update by Deleting Its Cache Manually

If you’re still having trouble after running the troubleshooter (or if you’re the type that just likes to do things yourself),¬†performing the same actions manually may help where the troubleshooter didn’t. We’re also going to add the extra step of booting into Safe Mode first, just to make sure that Windows can really let go of that cache of Windows Update downloads.

RELATED: How to Boot Into Safe Mode on Windows 10 or 8 (The Easy Way)

Start off by booting Windows into Safe Mode. On Windows 7, restart your computer and press the “F8” key on your computer while it boots to access the boot options menu, where you’ll find a “Safe Mode” option. On Windows 8, 10, and 11 hold down the Shift key as you click the “Restart” option in Windows and navigate to Troubleshoot > Advanced Options > Windows Startup Settings > Restart > Safe Mode.

It’s a little more cumbersome than it used to be on the latest versions of Windows, but it’s still reasonably straightforward. Of course, if you want, you could also take some time to¬†add Safe Mode to the Windows boot menu¬†to make it easier in the future.

Start Windows 8 in safe mode.

When you’ve booted into Safe Mode, the next step is to stop the Windows Update service, and the easiest way to do that is with the Command Prompt. To launch the Command Prompt in¬†Windows 7, open the Start menu, search for “Command Prompt”, and launch the Command Prompt shortcut. You’ll also find it under Start > All Programs > Accessories > Command Prompt. In¬†Windows 8, 10, or 11 you can right-click the Start menu (or press Windows+X), choose “Command Prompt (Admin)” and then click Yes to allow it to run with administrative privileges.

At the Command Prompt, type the following command and then hit Enter to stop the Windows Update service. Go ahead and leave the Command Prompt window open.

net stop wuauserv

Stop the windows update service in Command Prompt.

Next, open a File Explorer window and navigate to C:Windows\Software\Distribution . Delete¬†all the files in the folder. Don’t worry. There’s nothing vital here. Windows Update will recreate what it needs the next time you run it.

Select the contents of the "Software Distribution folder."

Now, you’ll restart the Windows Update service. Return to the Command Prompt window, type the following, and hit Enter:

net start wuauserv

Restart Windows Update service.

When the service has restarted, you can close Command Prompt and restart Windows into normal mode. Give Windows Update another try and see if your problem has been fixed.

Windows 7: Update the Windows Update Service

RELATED: Where to Download Windows 10, 8.1, and 7 ISOs Legally

If you’re installing Windows 7 from scratch, you’ll notice that Windows Update will take a very long time while checking for updates. This can also occur if you haven’t checked for updates in¬†a while, even if you installed your Windows 7 system long ago. This occurs even if you install Windows 7 from a disc or USB drive with Service Pack 1 integrated, which you should. Microsoft’s official Windows 7 installation media downloads includes SP1.

Microsoft has now provided official instructions about how to fix this problem. According to Microsoft, this problem occurs because Windows Update itself needs an update, creating a bit of a catch-22. If the latest updates to Windows Update are installed, the process should work better.

Here are Microsoft’s official instructions for fixing the problem.

First, open Windows Update. Head to Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Update. Click the “Change Settings” link in the sidebar. Select “Never Check For Updates (Not Recommended)” in the dropdown box and then click “OK”.

Disable auto-check for updates.

Reboot your computer after you change this setting.

RELATED: How Do I Know if I'm Running 32-bit or 64-bit Windows?

After the computer restarts, you’ll need to manually download and install two updates for Windows 7. You’ll need to check whether you’re running a 32-bit version of Windows or a 64-bit version and download the appropriate updates for your PC.

For 64-bit editions of Windows 7, download these updates:

For 32-bit editions of Windows 7:, download these updates:

Updates to fix Windows 7 update service.

Double-click the “KB3020369” update to install it first.

After the first update finishes installing, double-click the “KB3172605” update to install it second. You’ll be asked to restart the computer as part of the installation process. After it restarts, Microsoft says you should wait ten to twelve minutes to allow the process to finish.

Install the updates.

When you’re done–remember to wait ten to twelve minutes after restarting–head back to the Windows Update dialog at Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Update. Click “Change Settings” and set it back to Automatic (or choose your desired setting).

Click “Check for Updates” to have Windows check for and install updates. According to Microsoft, this should have fixed your problems and Windows Update should now work normally without any long delays.

Allow Windows update to check for updates.

Windows 7: Get the Convenience Rollup

RELATED: How to Update Windows 7 All at Once with Microsoft's Convenience Rollup

Microsoft has also produced a “convenience¬†rollup” for Windows 7. This is essentially Windows 7 Service Pack 2 in all but name. It bundles together a large number of updates that would take a very long time to install normally. This package¬†includes updates released from February 2011 all the way to May 16, 2016.

To speed up the¬†updating of a new Windows 7 system, download¬†the convenience¬†rollup and install it rather than waiting for Windows Update. Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t offer the¬†update rollup through Windows Update–you have to go out of your way to get it. But it’s easy enough to install if you know it exists and know you have to go looking for it after you install Windows 7.

There will be much fewer updates to install via Windows Update after you install this, so the process should be much faster. Check out our instructions on installing the Convenience Rollup here.

Windows 7, 8, or 10: Download Updates Manually WSUS Offline Update

Update, 3/11/22: WSUS Offline Update has removed support for Windows 7 in Version 12. If you’re still using Windows 7, older versions of WSUS can still be downloaded. WSUS does not support Windows 11.

If none of the official solutions fixed your problem, we have another solution that’s worked for us in the past. It’s a third-party tool called WSUS Offline Update.

This tool will download available Windows Update packages from Microsoft and install them. Run it once, have it download those updates and install them, and Windows Update should work normally afterward. This has worked for us in the past when none of the other solutions did.

Download WSUS Offline Update, extract it to a folder, and run the UpdateGenerator.exe application.

Select the version of Windows you’re using–“x64 Global” if you’re using a 64-bit edition or “x86 Global” if you’re using a 32-bit edition. After you do, click “Start” and WSUS Offline Update will download updates.

Select the relevant updates.

Wait for the updates download. If it’s a fresh install of Windows 7, there will be a lot of updates, so this may take quite a while. It depends on the speed of your Internet connection and how fast Microsoft’s download servers are for you.

Wait for the downloads to finish.

After the updates are done downloading, open the “client” folder in the WSUS Offline folder and run the UpdateInstaller.exe application.

Click “Start” to install the downloaded updates. After the tool finishes installing the updates, Windows Update should work normally again.

This should hopefully become a bit easier in the future.¬†In October 2016, Microsoft announced that it was making changes to the way Windows 7 and 8.1 are “serviced”, or updated. Microsoft plans to release fewer small updates and more bundles of large updates. It will also begin combining previous updates into a monthly update rollup. This will mean fewer individual updates to install, and updating newly installed Windows 7 systems should¬†become faster over time.

Download Updates from Microsoft Manually

If you’re using Windows 11, or the other methods don’t work for you for some reason, you can always download updates from Microsoft manually.

You first need to find out what updates have been released for your operating system. A comprehensive list of updates can be found on Microsoft’s help site. For example, if you are looking for Windows 11’s updates, type “Windows 11 Update History” into the search bar and hit Enter. The first result is probably the one you want — it should be exactly the same as your search term.

The update history page displays every update that has been issued for the operating system on the left-hand side. Clicking one will give you more detailed information about what precisely the update does, when it was issued, and if it has any installation requirements.

Mach 8th update for Windows 11.

Note: The update name will usually be KB followed by some numbers, though that isn’t always true.

Identify the update(s) you want to download, and then scroll down the page until you find a section titled “Install This Update.” There will be a section that contains a link to the Windows Update Catalog. Click the link, and you’ll be taken to the specific update you need.

Look at the list and determine which version of the update you need — if you’re using a desktop computer, it is definitely the one “for x64-based systems.” If you have a laptop or tablet, you’ll need to check what CPU you have. As of March 2022, there are no AMD or Intel ARM-based CPUs, so if it is made by either of them, you can safely use the x64 update. If you see Qualcomm, you definitely need the ARM update.

Click “Download” for the correct update.

Note: If you download the wrong update, you won’t harm your computer. It’ll just refuse to install.

Click the file name in the popup to begin the download, and then wait — Windows updates are regularly several hundred megabytes, so it might take a few minutes.

Hit Ctrl+j to open your downloads, and then click the file you just downloaded. It’ll check your system, and then offer you a prompt to allow the installation; go ahead and click “Yes.”

Once the installation is complete you need to restart your computer for the update to take effect.

If you’re going to manually install updates, you’ll need to be pretty diligent about it. There are new vulnerabilities discovered every day, and keeping Windows updated is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read nearly one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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Profile Photo for Nick Lewis Nick Lewis
Nick Lewis is a staff writer for How-To Geek. He has been using computers for 20 years --- tinkering with everything from the UI to the Windows registry to device firmware. Before How-To Geek, he used Python and C++ as a freelance programmer. In college, Nick made extensive use of Fortran while pursuing a physics degree.
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