To update your system to the latest release, there must be enough space on your hard drive for the update files. Windows will automatically try to use a different drive if your system drive is full, but with a few steps, you can also force Windows to download updates somewhere else.

By default, Windows will store any update downloads on to your main drive, this is where Windows is installed, in the C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution folder. If the system drive is too full and you have a different drive with enough space, Windows will often try to use that space if it can. Windows takes care of removing update files at some point after they’ve been installed, but often—especially in the case of major updates like the October 2018 Update—it keeps those files around for a while in case you want to uninstall the updates or roll back your version of Windows.

Since these updates can often take up a lot of space—16-20 GB in some cases—you might want Windows to download them to a different drive, especially if you’re using something like a solid state drive where disk space is at a premium. You’ll have to jump through a few hoops to make it work. We’ll be shutting down the update service, using the Command Prompt to create a symlink (a virtual link to a new folder so Windows still thinks it’s using the original folder), and then restarting the update service. It’s not complicated, though, and we’ll walk you through the steps.

Note: Before going any further, you should back up your computer just in case anything goes wrong while altering things in system folders. (You really should be backing up regularly, anyway.) It’s a pretty safe process, but better being safe than sorry.

Step One: Create a New Update Download Folder

The first thing you’ll do is to create a new folder for the downloads on a different drive. This is where Windows will store any future update downloads.

In File Explorer, find the location you want to use, right-click anywhere, point to the “New” submenu, and then click the “Folder” command.

Next, name the folder to whatever you want. We’ve named ours “NewUpdateFolder,” and it’s located on the D:\ drive.

Step Two: Stop the Windows Update Service

Next, you have to stop the Windows Update service to prevent it from updating anything while you change things around and because in the next step, you’ll be renaming the old update folder. The Windows Update service won’t let you do that if it’s running.

Press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to open the Task Manager and click the “Services” tab.

Scroll down until you find the  wuauserv service near the bottom of the list. Right-click it and then click “Stop.”

Step Three: Rename the Old Download Folder

Now, you’ll need to rename the existing folder to something different. That’s because you’ll be creating a new symlink folder and Windows doesn’t let you have two folders of the same name, even though one is only pointing to the new folder you created in step one.

In File Explorer, browse to C:\Windows . Right-click the “SoftwareDistribution” folder there and then click the “Rename” command. You’ll be prompted for permission to do this; click “Yes.”

The easiest thing to do is to just stick “Old” at the front or back to signify this isn’t the current folder we’ll be working with. If prompted for permission again, click “Yes.”

Step Four: Create a Symbolic Link to the New Folder

Now that you’ve created the new folder you want the downloads to go and renamed the old “SoftwareDistribution” folder to get it out of the way, you need to show Windows how to find the new folder. To do this, we use what’s called a Symbolic Link, or symlink. These act much the same way a shortcut does; they point to a real folder somewhere else on your computer.

First, run Command Prompt as an administrator. Clicking Start, type “cmd” into the search box, right-click on the “Command Prompt” result, and then select the “Run As Administrator” command.

At the prompt, type the following command (replacing “d:\NewUpdateFolder” with the full path to the folder you created in step one).

mklink /j c:\windows\SoftwareDistribution d:\NewUpdateFolder

After you run the command, you should see a reply stating “Junction Created For” followed by the paths you specified.

A new “SoftwareDistribution” item with a shortcut icon is added to the C:\Windows folder.

Note: If the mklink  command didn’t work or you received an error, try restarting your computer into Safe Mode and repeating the previous steps.

Now, copy the contents of the old “SoftwareDistribution” folder (the one you renamed in step three) into the newly created symbolic link. This will prevent Windows from re-downloading any updates.

We suggest copying instead of moving the contents for now just in case something doesn’t work. Once you’ve made sure everything is functioning, you can always come back and delete the old folder later.

Step Five: Start the Windows Update Service Again

The final step is to start the Windows Update Service back up.

Open Task Manager by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Esc and switch to the “Services” tab.

Scroll down until you find the  wuauserv service near the bottom of the list, right-click it, and then click the “Start” command.

From now on whenever Windows Update downloads files, they should be stored in the newly created folder.

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Brady Gavin has been immersed in technology for 15 years and has written over 150 detailed tutorials and explainers. He's covered everything from Windows 10 registry hacks to Chrome browser tips. Brady has a diploma in Computer Science from Camosun College in Victoria, BC.  
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