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How To Troubleshoot Windows Updates Stuck Downloading

Date: February 28, 2024 Time: 7:35 pm
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Date: February 28, 2024 7:35 pm

Keeping your Windows 11 PC up to date is important for a few reasons. Most notably, new updates deliver security improvements and fixes, and opting not to get them can leave you exposed to big security threats. Otherwise, updates can also fix other functional issues in Windows, and they can add whole new features to already fantastic laptops, too, so you have some incentive to keep updating.

Unfortunately, Windows Update is no stranger to causing problems that make it harder to get said updates. Thankfully, no problem is without a solution, so if you find yourself stuck downloading a new Windows update, try these steps.

Restart your computer

Have you tried turning it off and on again?

The most basic and common solution for all kinds of computer problems is restarting your PC, which can actually be helpful in many situations. It won’t fix more serious issues, but your computer may have just been running for a long time, and it’s getting clogged up with all the running programs and changes you may have made. It’s also possible some existing updates are pending a restart, so you may need to do that before installing new ones. Try restarting the computer and checking for updates to see if it works. If not, we can try more elaborate solutions.

Troubleshooting with the Get Help app

A guided solution for fixing update issues

On Windows 11, Microsoft has moved many of its troubleshooters to the new Get Help app. If you want to run the Windows Update troubleshooter, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Start menu and search for Get Help. Select the first option.
  2. In the search bar at the top, type fix windows update.
  3. The app will ask for permission to run the troubleshooter. Click Yes.
  4. Wait while the troubleshooter runs. It should automatically try to check for updates again.
  5. If you’re still having issues, click Continue in the Get Help app to run more troubleshooting steps. It will once again check for updates automatically.
  6. You may see a question asking if you’re seeing an error when installing updates. Choose Yes or No, depending on your situation, and follow the steps to continue troubleshooting if needed.
  7. The app will suggest a few more fixes if you’re still having issues, so follow the guidance until things are working again.

Many of the steps described in the Get Help app are things you can also run manually, so we’ll dive into some of these solutions below.

Run the Windows Update troubleshooter

A quick and easy fix

Another potential solution for Windows updates stuck downloading is to use the Windows Update troubleshooter that’s built right into Windows 11 (and other versions). To run the troubleshooter, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Settings app (you can find it in the Start menu).
  2. Choose System from the menu on the left side.
    Screenshot of the Windows 11 Settings app with the System section highlighted on the left side
  3. Click Troubleshoot.
    Screenshot of Windows 11 system settings with the troubleshoot button highlighted

    According to Microsoft, its standalone troubleshooter will soon be discontinued on Windows 11. If this option isn’t available to you, try the option above.

  4. Choose Other troubleshooters.
    Screenshot of the Troubleshoot section in Windows 11 Settings with the other troubleshooters button highlighted
  5. Next to Windows Update, click Run.
    Screenshot of the treoubleshooter list in Windows 11 Settings with the run button highlighted next to Windows Update
  6. Wait for the troubleshooter to run its diagnostics and apply available fixes, then click Close the troubleshooter.
    Screenshot of results after running Windows Update troubleshooter

This should fix the issues you’re having, so try checking for updates again.

Reset Windows Update components

Maybe Windows Update is broken

A very common fix for Windows Update problems is resetting the Windows Update components. This requires restarting the update services and renaming a couple of system folders. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Press Windows + X on your keyboard (or right-click the Start menu icon) and choose Terminal (Admin).
    Screenshot of the Windows 11 Start context menu highlighting the Terminal (Admin) option

    Depending on your Windows version, this option may be Command Prompt (Admin) or Windows PowerShell (Admin).

  2. Enter the following four commands in a row, pressing Enter on your keyboard after each one:
    1. net stop wauserv
    2. net stop cryptSvc
    3. net stop bits
    4. net stop msiserver
    Screenshot of Windows Terminal after running multiple commands to stop Windows Update services
  3. Rename the C:WindowsSoftwareDistribution folder by running the following command:
    ren C:WindowsSoftwareDistribution SoftwareDistribution.old
    Screenshot of Command Prompt after running a command to rename the Software Distributin folder
  4. Similarly, rename the C:WindowsCatroot2 folder with this command:
    ren C:WindowsCatroot2 Catroot2.old
  5. Enter the following commands back-to-back, pressing Enter after each one:
    1. net start wauserv
    2. net start cryptSvc
    3. net start bits
    4. net start msiserver
    Screenshot of Windows Terminal after running commands to start Windows Update related services
  6. Close the Command Prompt (Terminal) window.

Try checking for updates again. You should be able to install them normally now.

Free up disk space

It’s good to delete unnecessary files anyway

One potential reason updates may fail to download or install is the lack of space on your hard drive. We’ve already covered how to free up space on Windows 11, but here’s a quick overview of how you can free up space:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Choose System from the menu on the left.
  3. Click Storage.
    Screenshot of the system section in the Windows 11 Settings app with the Storage option highlighted
  4. Choose Temporary files to open the disk cleanup tool.
    Screenshot of the storage page in Settings with the Temporary files option highlighted
  5. Select all boxes except the Downloads folder, then click Remove files.
    Screenshot of the temporary files page in Windows 11 Settings
  6. Wait for the process to finish.

You should be able to free up a few gigabytes this way, letting you install updates again. But really, if you’re out of space completely, it’s probably a good time to look at what you need and don’t need. Try uninstalling some apps and look through your Downloads folder manually to see if there’s anything you don’t need anymore.

Scan and fix corrupted files

Windows itself may be the problem

In more serious cases, the reason Windows Update isn’t working may be because Windows itself has some corrupted files and other issues. In this case, you’ll need to make sure to fix those issues before trying again. There are two main things to do here, so let’s get into it:

  1. Press Windows + X on your keyboard (or right-click the Start menu icon) and choose Terminal (Admin) or equivalent, depending on your Windows version.
  2. Run the following command to scan for issues on your PC, pressing Enter to confirm
    DISM.exe /Online /Cleanup-image /Scanhealth
    Screenshot of Windows Terminal with the DISM command to verify the health of the operating system
  3. The scan will take some time to complete, so let it run.
  4. Once it finishes, run this command to check for corrupted system files:
    sfc /scannow
    Screenshot of Windows Terminal running the system file check command
  5. Again, this will take some time, so let the verification finish.

Once both diagnostic tools are done, check for updates again and see if it works.

Restore your system to a previous state

In case it’s a recent problem

Sometimes, changes we make to our PC can cause things to stop working, so a potential solution is to use the System Restore feature to bring your PC back to a previous state. System Restore points are generated automatically during major events, so you should be able to go back to a previous state. However, note that you’ll lose any programs you installed since the restore point you choose.

If you want to restore your PC to a prior state, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Start menu and search for create a restore point, and choose the first option.
    Screenshot of Windows 11 Search showing results for create a restore point
  2. Click System Restore… in the dialog that appears.
    Screenshot of the System properties dialog with the System Restore button highlighted
  3. Click Next.
  4. Choose a restore point to go back to. If you notice a specific date when things started going wrong, you may want to start with that.
    Screenshot of the System Restore dialog presenting multiple options for restore points to go back to
  5. Click Next.
  6. Click Finish to begin restoring your PC.

Wait for the process to finish, then attempt to look for updates again.

What to do if you still can’t download updates

You may have to start fresh

If you’ve tried everything and still can’t seem to download Windows updates, it may be time to reset your PC to its factory settings. It’s possible that something has gone awry in your system, and it’s simply not able to install updates for reasons that can’t be easily determined. Resetting your PC is a somewhat lengthy and involved process, so check out our guide to reset Windows 11. Alternatively, you may want to perform a clean install of Windows 11 so it’s completely fresh.

A new installation of Windows 11 will be pretty much guaranteed to get updates as normal, so this is the ultimate solution, but it is the most time-consuming as well, so only do this if you have no other option.

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