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Troubleshooting Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE)

In resuscitating my Insider Preview desktop, I’ve been fixing dual boot and Windows Recovery (WinRE). (Links to previous posts: Balky Mobo, Clean Install.) Apparently, something about dual boot interferes with WinRE’s normal operation. It usually lurks in the background, ready to take over if Windows boot or startup issues appear. Dual booting, however, appears not just to disable WinRE. Alas, it also breaks its normal re-enablement process. In researching this, I’ve discovered a couple of peachy resources, and found a nice fix. The resources help with troubleshooting Windows Recovery Environment issues, so I share them here.

Here’s what you see on a typical Windows 10 PC, after you set up dual boot then run the REAgentC command. For those unfamiliar with that command, it’s used to configure a WinRE image and “push-button reset recovery.” Happily, that quote comes from one of my two nonpareil resources on WinRE.

After setting up dual-boot on Win10 on my PC, both installations show status as “Disabled.” Time for some troubleshooting!

Tools for Troubleshooting Windows Recovery Environment

First comes the “official resource” — the MSDN Hardware Dev Center’s 5/4/2016 documentation. It’s a multi-part opus. Thus, I provide links to each part, along with a brief explanation. Helpfully, the first item defines what WinRE is and does:

Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE) is a recovery environment that can repair common causes of unbootable operating systems. WinRE is based on Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE), and can be customized with additional drivers, languages, Windows PE Optional Components, and other troubleshooting and diagnostic tools. By default, WinRE is preloaded into the Windows 10 for desktop editions (Home, Pro, Enterprise, and Education) and Windows Server 2016 installations.

WinRE produces a familiar “alternate boot” screen during Windows boot-up. It can come when called, or when the primary active install of  Windows 10 can’t or won’t boot:

When WinRE kicks in, this is what you see on your PC’s display.

Tool 1: MSDN/Hardware Dev Center WinRE Reference

Here are WinRE items from Microsoft. Key sections are flagged with an asterisk (*):

Windows Recovery Environment (Windows RE)*: general WinRE overview.
Customize Windows RE: manipulate a WinRE image (using DISM). Include languages, packages, drivers, and custom  diagnostic or troubleshooting tools.
Add custom tool to the Windows RE boot options menu: mount and configure a WinRE image.
Add hardware recovery button to start Windows RE: simplified process introduced with Windows 10.
Deploy Windows RE: deploy WinRE to a new computer including BIOS and UEFI options.
Push-button reset: for OEMs wanting push-button reset features for computer systems.
REAgentC command-line options*: command-line tool for WinRE setup and management.
ResetConfig XML reference: XML elements in the ResetConfig.xml file for push-button reset.
Windows RE troubleshooting features: Recovering from startup failures and WinRE troubleshooting utilities. Automatic Repair, System image recovery, Command Prompt, and more.

In working with reagentc.exe, I found the overview and the command line options elements useful and germane. Those who wish to customize WinRE will find the other sections helpful, too.

Tool 2: TeraByte KB Article 587

This gem is entitled “Repairing the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE).” It’s both long and incredibly detailed. Believe me, that’s what you want when exploring various ways to get WinRE working on a Windows PC.

For me, the fix that worked appears in a section entitled “Reset the ReAgent.xml File.” It shows how to edit that configuration file. ReAgent.xml drives a running Windows image’s set-up for and understanding of WinRE. By changing XML elements as this section recommends, I was able to run reagentc /enable successfully. This meant that the tool rebuilt my Windows Recovery environment and made changes needed to get it working again.

But the article covers a range of ways to repair WinRE. First, it explains various ways that WinRE might fail. These include:

  • WinRE disabled
  • BCD file not correctly configured to boot WinRE
  • missing or misplaced WinRE.wim file
  • wonky WinRE configuration file (ReAgent.xml)

Repairs discussed include

  • disabling and re-enabling WinRE
  • correcting invalid BCD file references to WinRE
  • moving WinRE to the right path/location
  • resetting the ReAgent.xml file
  • finding and restoring the Winre.wim file

Each repair provides sufficient detail to work your way through it. Even better, each section is illustrated with examples. Bottom line: I was able to diagnose and fix my issues using this Guide. ‘Nuff said!