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How to Cleanly and Quickly Terminate and Restart Windows Explorer

(This tip is for experienced PC users.)

Do you ever have a pesky application that hangs and you can’t seem to get it to close? Or do you sometimes edit the Registry and want to see its effect without having to log off first?

Either task can be accomplished by terminating the Windows Explorer interface (that includes the desktop) and then restarting it. There are several ways to do this but the standard methods such as using Task Manager or Process Explorer may be too abrupt in some cases. This tip gives another method that appeared at the Microsoft MSDN blog.

According to Microsoft, its purpose is to help developers and testers stop and restart Explorer quickly and cleanly without having to log out but the rest of us can use it also. Here is how it works.

How to cleanly terminate Windows Explorer

Windows XP

  1. Open the Start menu
  2. Click “Turn Off Computer”
  3. Hold down the Ctrl+Alt+Shift keys and click the "Cancel" button.

Windows Vista and Windows 7

  1. Open the Start menu
  2. Hold down the Ctrl + Shift keys and right-click in an empty spot inside the Start menu. (Keep holding down the keys while you click.)
  3. A hidden menu will pop up 
  4. Click “Exit Explorer”

After either of these procedures you may have a very empty screen but the system is still operating. If you have changed the default Explorer settings to "Launch folder windows in a separate process",  then some folder windows may not close when you apply this trick.

How to restart Windows Explorer

To restore Windows Explorer in all versions of Windows, do the following:

  1. Press the keyboard combination Ctrl+Shift+Esc  to launch Task Manager
  2. In Task Manager, open the "File” menu
  3. Choose “New Task (Run...)"
  4. Type "Explorer" and click OK

Windows Explorer will reappear.

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This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs a Windows blog called The PC Informant and also operates a computer education website.

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by imanerd11 on 1. August 2012 - 16:54  (97025)

You can just ctrl+alt+delete, task manager, terminate explorer.exe, click new task, and type in explorer.exe, and that works a lot more easily and quickly in my opinion.

Also in response to Bruneto's comment, to prevent any problems by terminating and restarting explorer.exe, you'll want to make it so the file manager aspect of explorer.exe, the desktop, and the taskbar work in separate processes. That should help foil any issues.

Also the slowness/hanging of windows explorer process is why I use explorer++ for general file managing and 7zip for compressed files. They don't hang much and work much more quickly. They don't, however replace the desktop/taskbar shell though. So if that hangs, you'll want to terminate it and restart it. If you have it running all in 1 explorer.exe process, then you might have issues, but not if you change that via folder options or the registry, or through Iobit ASC's system control utility, or some other possible tweaking tools, though easiest just by changing folder options, without installing anything.

Also sending a closeApplication signal to the process doesn't work. Sometimes, you'll need to forcefully close it and reopen it or just restart your computer, and frankly restarting a computer does more to data loss if you have anything up, and just takes longer and more effort.

That's my opinion anyway.

Also if you ever can't get explorer.exe to end and are reluctant to restart your computer, and maybe some other things are hanging as well, you should possibly try out a tool such as antifreeze or killprocess (I THINK it's called that, but even if not, it's something similar), though antifreeze, from what I read online is for emergencies mainly. So I'd just suggest making the explorer process be split up into separate processes, and next time it hangs, terminate it and restart.

Again, that's my take on it; just my personal preference. And then again you have to take into consideration, I usually don't care if shortcut orders get rearranged since I set windows to rearrange them automatically anyway, and I'm not big on bulk related to explorer such as MRU, Recent files, windows search, jump lists, recently used applications on the start menu, etc. So I admit I am a bit biased.

by brunetu on 25. August 2011 - 21:13  (78351)

I believe that by "cleanly and quickly terminate", v.laurie doesn't mean to forcefully end the explorer process, but instead just let it know that it needs to close. That is different from what most of the comments say, ending a task being well known, no matter what you use to accomplish that, a command prompt or graphical utility.

I've often wondered how to close explorer and start it again without logging off, because terminating it (forcefully) results in losing some settings (such as the order/layout of desktop icons/shortcuts). Has your system ever crashed / suffered a power failure ?

Thanks v.laurie for sharing this information. Just when I thought there was nothing more I could learn about the windows operating system / shell...

by Michael Connor (not verified) on 18. August 2011 - 6:34  (77863)

Here is an explorer application you might like;

Regards....Mike Connor

by Oaken on 18. August 2011 - 0:07  (77844)

Another way to cleanly restart Explorer.exe in Windows 7, is to simply type TSKILL EXPLORER in the Start/Search box and hit return.

by v.laurie on 18. August 2011 - 0:25  (77845)

I love the command line but my understanding is that Tskill and the even more powerful Taskkill are more brute force than the method given above and are not as clean. If you know of evidence to the contrary, please tell us about it.

While we are about it, note the related tip using Taskkill at

by Michael Connor (not verified) on 18. August 2011 - 5:19  (77859)

It doesn't make any difference which method you use to shut down PROGRAMS, there is really no such thing as "Abrupt" in such a case, the commands simply prevent further execution, and clear the CPU command buffer. ( "Tasks" are roughly the same as programs for this purpose).

Shutting down the machine itself with certain commands may cause loss of data. As will "pulling the plug" on a running machine. A "normal" shutdown flushes buffers and carries out other processes in order to prevent this. There are various utilities which circumvent the "normal" shutdown process, but they are best avoided.

When a program is "Hung" it doesn't matter how you terminate it.

Terminating various processes, services, etc which are running in support of various other processes or programs can cause problems. But terminating running programs with various commands is no problem at all, regardless of how you do it.

Explorer is not just the file manager in windows, it is the default command shell and controls the whole user interface. If you terminate it ( Close, Kill, stop etc. Doesn't matter which), then you need to restart it in order to use the interface again.

Regards....Mike Connor

by Michael Connor (not verified) on 18. August 2011 - 5:34  (77860)

By the way, a "Hard" reset ( Usually a button somewhere on your machine), also terminates everything immediately, it does this by actually resetting the CPU, and returning all start parameters and the CPU instruction pointer to the default start up values In some cases where a machine is completely "Hung up", this may be used to reset it. If you have unsaved data in memory, you will lose it, because the RAM is reset as well. This should only be used as a last resort, it can cause various problems. Often, after a hard reset, you will get a start screen telling you that Windows did not shut down normally, and giving you various options to start. Always best to try "Start Windows Normally" first.

There are some utilities floating around on the net which will also cause a "hard" reset, often by toggling the power supply, these are most definitely not recommended!

Regards....Mike Connor

by Michael Connor (not verified) on 18. August 2011 - 5:58  (77861)

May also be of interest in this regard;

Problems with the page file can also cause very long shutdown times, ( some "optimisers and other programs can mess up this registry key), or even prevent a shutdown. To cure this, open Regedit, and navigate to;

HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management.
ClearPageFileAtShutdown: 0=no, 1=yes.
If it's set to 1, change it to 0; close Regedit and reboot.

As always, editing the registry is not something for beginners to try! Before you make any changes at all to a running system, BACK IT UP!

Regards....Mike Connor

by Michael Connor (not verified) on 18. August 2011 - 6:04  (77862)

Also, this will speed up the clearing of various "hung" processes autonatically;


Type in a number between 2000-20000 (2-20 seconds) and click on OK.
Close regedit. Restart your Pc.

The fastest is two seconds of course" :) Don't enter lower values than 2 seconds in this key.

Regards....Mike Connor

by fastfood (not verified) on 17. August 2011 - 16:42  (77820)

I do not recall which specific edits, but in some cases I have found it IS necessary to actually restart the machine for registry edits to take effect. I vaguely recall it involving registry edits to system settings.

by v.laurie on 17. August 2011 - 17:06  (77824)

System-wide (local machine or HKLM) edits need a reboot. User edits (HKCU) only need a log off and on or a restart of Explorer.

by v.laurie on 17. August 2011 - 15:45  (77815)

I am afraid that many comments are missing the point. As the tip says, "...standard methods such as using Task Manager or Process Explorer may be too abrupt in some cases." Or as the MSDN blog that is referenced puts it, "If you need to shut down the main Explorer process, you could just kill it from Task Manager or Process Explorer. But undesirable and unpredictable things can happen when you abruptly kill any process, particularly one as central as Explorer."

This tip provides a cleaner method for terminating Explorer and makes no claims to being faster.

by Uallax (not verified) on 17. August 2011 - 15:13  (77814)

Personally I prefer a simple batch file.

@echo off
taskkill /f /IM explorer.exe

by Michael Connor (not verified) on 17. August 2011 - 15:05  (77813)

For various reasons you may need to re-start your Windows Explorer, you would normally do the following:

Start the Task Manager ( Doesn't matter much which one you use).

Select explorer.exe from the processes, and click on the End Process button. This will kill explorer.exe.

Next, on the File tab, choose New task (Run…), type explorer.exe in the box and click OK. This will restart explorer.exe.

However, creating a desktop shortcut to restart explorer is definitely a more convenient option!

Just copy this;

@echo off
taskkill /f /im explorer.exe
start explorer.exe

Into a text editor, save it as Restart.bat. You can now use this shortcut anywhere, on the desktop, in the taskbar, you can also give it an icon if you wish.

This gives you an entry in the Desktop Context menu instead;

If you use CCleaner for instance, in order to rebuild you tray notification cache, this will ONLY work if you run the cleaner and then restart explorer immediately. Rebooting the machine will NOT work.

There are other things which also require an explorer restart as well.

Regards....Mike Connor

by Shelly (not verified) on 17. August 2011 - 13:57  (77807)

There is an easier, one-step method for achieving the same objective. Replace Windows Task Manager with Sysinternals' Process Explorer, which I highly recommend in any version of Windows from XP onward. Then you can use any of the methods you usually use to start the Task Manager (CTRL-ALT-DEL or right click on task bar, etc.) and, when Process Explorer starts, select the Windows Explorer process and click restart. Presto, done within seconds with one click. By the way, that procedure will work just as easily for restarting any hung application, including browsers.

by John . (not verified) on 17. August 2011 - 15:52  (77816)

While your method does indeed seem simple, I count 3 steps...

by hardy (not verified) on 17. August 2011 - 13:53  (77805)

Sometimes programs still cannot be killed by the Task Manager no matter what you do; that is why some tips like this one are like having a little pouch of fairy dust in your back pocket.

Once upon a time in my early days with some programs that were beasts to control I have once or twice (as a very last resort) ended up turning off the power switch at the wall

This is a sure fire great tip for those who know this is truly needed

by Captain Betty (not verified) on 17. August 2011 - 13:20  (77800)

Can't you just pull up task manager and kill off the "explorer.exe" process instead of trying to catch the computer from shutting down? Seems kind of silly to do it that way.

by Ferdinand Pietre DiSelce (not verified) on 17. August 2011 - 13:10  (77798)

Since you have to open Task Manager to restart Explorer anyway, I just kill Explorer from there.

by Michael Connor (not verified) on 17. August 2011 - 3:51  (77762)

I like this;

One click stops and restarts explorer.

Reagrds....Mike Connor

by TapanVerma on 17. August 2011 - 3:11  (77760)

Nice tip.

by Jojo Yee on 17. August 2011 - 1:32  (77758)

Before reading your tips Vic, I've not realized this hidden menu which is useful to me. Thanks.