Because Windows Update depends on a great many interrelated Windows technologies, it can sometimes fail for obscure reasons. This tip explores the reasons behind one of the most common failures, also known as the "0x800A138F" problem, because of the cryptic (and wholly uninformative) error code that Windows Update returns during many of its errors.

  1. The computer's clock is set incorrectly. Windows uses the clock to determine the validity of the digital certificates used in Windows Update. If the clock on the computer attempting to access Windows Update is set wrong (by days, not minutes!), Windows Update will fail. (Note: When setting up non-bulk-licensed editions of Windows XP on workstations, make sure the system clocks are correct in BIOS before starting the installation or the system will require Product Activation to be triggered if Windows Update is contacted.)
  2. Make sure no antivirus, firewall or other programs are blocking SSL access. SSL uses TCP port 443, and SSL is required to make Windows Update work.
  3. The ActiveX control for Windows Update is not working correctly. The ActiveX object reports back on what components are or are not installed and determines what Windows Update would need to download. Try clearing out the Internet Explorer cache, which will force the component to be reloaded on the next visit to the Windows Update site. Also try deleting the files in the folder Program FilesWindowsupdate and Program FilesWindowsupdateV4 -- except for the file iuhist.xml in that folder. Now open Internet Explorer and try the Windows Update site again.
  4. A language setting for IE is missing or damaged. Make sure that the English-United States language option is available in IE (in Tools | Internet Options | General | Languages). If not, you can add it manually. This is due to a known bug in the XMLHttp component of the XML 2.6 parser.
  5. Insure that there are no references to microsoft.com or akamai.net in the HOSTS file. Akamai hosts many of the files used for Windows Update, but many programs that block spyware apps also silently block Akamai. If you are using an anti-spyware, pop-up blocker, ad killer or firewall, make sure it is not blocking Akamai addresses.
  6. IE components are not properly registered. This is a common problem for IE in general: one or more of the components that IE needs to work correctly become unregistered. To fix this problem, type in the following commands (or run them as a batch file) and reboot:

    regsvr32 urlmon.dll
    regsvr32 shdocvw.dll
    regsvr32 mshtml.dll
    regsvr32 browseui.dll

    Systems with the Microsoft Java VM present, type: regsvr32 msjava.dll

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Serdar Yegulalp
is the editor of the Windows 2000 Power Users Newsletter. Check out his Windows 2000 blog for his latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators – please share your thoughts as well!

This was first published in November 2003

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