Quickly analyze Windows Update errors

Martin Brinkmann
Oct 12, 2016
Updated • Oct 12, 2016

It is unclear how many Windows users and administrators run into updating issues on Windows machines regularly or occasionally.

Updating issues can be frustrating, especially if the system lands in an endless cycle of downloads, installs, reboots and rollbacks that frustrate many users and system admins.

The past year alone has seen several borked updates that caused issues on Windows 10 machines.  The Windows 10 updates KB3081424 and KB3194496 caused issues on PCs around the world for instance.

Microsoft released the Reset Windows Update Agent, a tool designed to fix common updating errors. While that works well if Windows Update does not work correctly, the tool won't work if the issues are caused by updates or on Microsoft's side.

Quickly check Windows Update errors

windows update errors

Windows keeps an update log that lists update related events. You find those logs under the path C:\Windows\Logs\WindowsUpdate. The files are Event Trace Log files that you can analyze using various tools.

While that is the case, you may also use a simple PowerShell command to turn those Event Trace Log files into a single text log that you can then parse easily for errors or issues related to updates on Windows.

This is how that is done:

  1. Tap on the Windows-key, type cmd.exe, hold down Shift and Ctrl, and hit the Enter-key. This opens an elevated command prompt.
  2. Type powershell.
  3. Run the command get-WindowsUpdateLog -verbose.

The Event Trace Log files are parsed which takes a moment. The time it takes depends largely on the number and size of log files in the logs directory.

A WindowsUpdate.log file is created on the desktop by the process. It may take up several Megabytes of space. You may load it once the process finishes in any text editor. I suggest you use a third-party editor such as NotePad++ for that and not the default Notepad application.

While you may go through the log line by line, you may speed things up doing one of the following things:

  1. Since the log file is ordered chronologically, you may jump to the date and time you experienced the issues.
  2. The second option that you have is to hit F3 to open the search box and search for "error". This jumps to log entries marked as such. This should provide you with information on why an update failed on the device.

While it may take a while to go through the Windows Update log, it may be one of the best ways to find out why an update failed on a device.

Now You: What do you do when an update fails or causes issues?

Quickly analyze Windows Update errors
Article Name
Quickly analyze Windows Update errors
Find out how to quickly check the Windows Update log for update related issues or errors without using the Event Viewer or third-party tools.
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  1. Günter Born said on October 16, 2016 at 11:49 pm

    Some additional hints how to decode Windows 10 Upgrade-Errors may be found at http://borncity.com/win/2016/10/15/windows-10-analyze-upgrade-errors/

  2. Tom said on October 14, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    Thanks for another great article.
    Windows Update was stuck and after using the tool I managed to find that the problem was caused by a previous Windows Update… Restored the machine and everything went fine – until the next update. Of course it took several hours.
    I remarked on another machine at work that if you let the WU utility alone it will eventually update and sort things out. Maybe it’s a kind of Cortana thing …

  3. Vrai said on October 13, 2016 at 3:33 am

    Thanks for the info Martin.

    That “Reset Windows Update Agent” looked interesting so I downloaded it. Some comments on the Technet site caught my eye so I decided to upload and scan the file on “Virus Total”. Got 19 hits out of 56. This has me quite concerned.

    I understand a “false positive” every now-and-then, but 19 out of 56? Hmmmmmmmm…..

    What to do now… ?

    1. Really? said on October 22, 2019 at 6:07 pm

      What to do now?

      Understand what virus scanners do, what they look for, and why you’re getting those false positives.

  4. jupe said on October 13, 2016 at 12:19 am

    WinKey+X and then press A is another way of getting to Admin Command Prompt some people may find useful

  5. d3x said on October 12, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    Please note that it only works on Windows 10

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