How to Fix Windows Update When it Gets Stuck

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. Sometimes, though, an update installation fails and that can prevent other updates from being installed, too.

Windows Update is pretty different in Windows 10 than it was in previous versions. Since, in theory, Windows 10 will be the “last” version, Windows Update has gotten a bit more aggressive about ensuring that computers get updated. All available updates (not just the critical ones) are now downloaded and installed by default. The good news is that you can prevent Windows 10 from automatically downloading updates and, should a bad update come through, you can uninstall it. But that doesn’t help much if an update is stuck in the pipe. Here’s how you can fix that issue when it happens.

Fix Windows Update with a Troubleshooter

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 performs three actions:
It shuts down Windows Update Services.
It renames the \Windows\SoftwareDistribution folder to \Windows\SoftwareDistribution.old, essentially clearing the Windows Update download cache so that it can start over.
It restarts the Windows Update Services.

To run the troubleshooter, hit Start, search for “troubleshooting,” and then run the selection that search comes up with.

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.

Start off by booting Windows into Safe Mode. It’s a little more cumbersome than it used to be, 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.

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 open Command Prompt, 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 stop wuauserv

Next, open a File Explorer window and navigate to C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution . 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.

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

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.
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