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Windows Update failed to install. Now what?

When the Windows Update utility fails, fixing it is usually easy and just requires you to figure what the issue is and why it's happening.

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Windows Update is a staple of the operating system, and generally the utility works well, but sometimes things go wrong with the update process.

Thankfully, if Windows Update failed, troubleshooting the problem tends to be a relatively straightforward process. Windows Update is a fairly simplistic service, so there are only so many things that can go wrong. If, for example, Windows Update hangs during the download process, it is a good indication the computer lost internet connectivity.

How to diagnose a Windows Update failure

The first step in diagnosing an update failure is to locate the corresponding error code. To do so, click the Start button, and then click on Settings, followed by Update and Security. When the Update and Security window opens, click on Windows Update. Now, click on the Advanced Options link, followed by the View Your Update History link. Then, look for the update that failed to install (Figure A).

The most recent update has failed, but previous updates were successful.
Figure A. The most recent update has failed, but previous updates were successful.

To determine the reason for the Windows Update failure, click on the Failed to Install message. Windows will give a description of what the update does, but it does not provide any information about the cause of the failure (Figure B).

Windows gives a basic description of the update, but does not say why the update failed.
Figure B. Windows gives a basic description of the update, but does not say why the update failed.

Still, the update description window contains a More Info link. Sometimes, clicking on this link immediately reveals the cause of the problem. If the problem occurred because of a lack of connectivity, for instance, Windows displays an error message saying you're not connected (Figure C).

The Edge browser tells you if you are not connected to the internet.
Figure C. The Edge browser tells you if you are not connected to the internet.

Determining why Windows Update failed

Thankfully, if Windows Update failed, troubleshooting the problem tends to be a relatively straightforward process.

In most cases, this technique works to determine which Windows Update failed, but it doesn't help uncover why it failed.

For that, open the Event Viewer and navigate through the console tree to Event Viewer (Local), then Windows Logs, and then System. Now, look for an error event that lists WindowsUpdateClient as its source. You can verify you are looking at the correct error by matching the name of the update with the failed update that Windows reported. The error text should list an error code. The error code for this particular error is 0x80246013 (Figure D).

Locate the failed update in the event logs, and then look for the error code.
Figure D. Locate the failed update in the event logs, and then look for the error code.

Next, go to Microsoft's list of Windows Update error codes and locate the code Windows reported. The list of error codes is rather long, so the easiest way to locate the code is to use the browser's Find on Page function.

For whatever reason, Microsoft's list does not include every possible error code, but the list can still be helpful. It groups error codes by category, and an error code's first several digits can provide clues to the cause of the error.

How well do you know the Windows 10 update process?

Put your Windows 10 update process knowledge to the test, including where to find Windows 10 update bands and what editions of the OS support Current Branch for Business.

Consider the code 0x80246013, which does not appear on the list of error codes. If you use the Edge browser's Find on Page function in Windows 10, however, and slowly type the code's digits one at a time, you discover that error codes beginning with 0x80246 are all related to the download manager (Figure E). Based on that information, the inability to download the update produced the error. The next step is to test the computer's ability to download files from the internet. It may also be helpful to search the web for the exact error code.

Error codes beginning with 0x80246 are download-related.
Figure E. Error codes beginning with 0x80246 are download-related.

Windows Update is one of the simpler Windows services, and it is usually easy to diagnose update errors. The first step is to determine the error code for the failed update, which will help you diagnose the problem.

Next Steps

What is Windows Update for Business?

How to modify Windows Update settings

Explore the Windows 10 Anniversary Update

This was last published in October 2016

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