Explained: How to Know if Windows Updates are Working (and What to Do if They Aren't)

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Infopackets Reader Howard N. writes:

" Dear Dennis,

In regard to the WannaCry Internet worm which can infect all Windows PCs that have not yet been patched using Windows Updates - how can I make sure that my Windows Update is operating properly, and that I am receiving my updates automatically? I enjoy your newsletter - please keep it up and have a nice day! "

My response:

Generally speaking: you should be able to go to the "Windows Update" service within Windows, and it should tell you when updates were last received. If you haven't received any updates for a while - or if you have your automatic updates shut off (which is a very bad idea) - you can manually scan for updates; if successful, it will retrieve information about updates from the Windows Update servers.

In that case, your Windows Update service is most likely working properly - HOWEVER you will also need to check to see if you have any failed updates; if you are running Windows 10 you will also need to ensure you're running the latest Windows 10 edition. I'll explain much more about that in detail.

Note that you can enable Automatic Updates by referring to this article. In Windows 10, automatic updates cannot be shut off unless you hack Windows 10 to not allow automatic updates (this is NOT recommended).

How to Know if Windows Updates are Working

Below I'll explain how to check to ensure the updates are downloading, and to scan for any failed updates.

In Windows 7 and 8, click Start, then type in "Windows Update"; wait for "Windows Update" to appear in the list, then click it. A new window will appear with the title "Windows Update"; in the middle of the window it will say: "Updates were installed: (date)," with a link to "View update history". If you had updates installed recently, then it is likely working. If there are updates available, it will also say "X updates are available", or such.

VERY IMPORTANT - you should also review your update history by clicking on the "View update history" link and review all your installed updates to see if you have a lot of failed updates. If that is the case, then you likely have some sort of Windows Update corruption and you will need to fix. If you do not fix it, then your system is not fully patched, and is therefore susceptible to infection / attack. You can also manually check for updates by clicking the "Check for updates" link near the top left of the screen.

In Windows 10, click Start and then click "PC Settings" (the cog wheel), then click the "Update and Security" icon near the bottom left of the screen to access the Windows Update service. It will say: "Update Status: your device is up to date" (or not), and gives the option to check for updates. I suggest you click the link for "Update history" which will show you all the updates that have installed - look for any failed updates. As I mentioned above - if you have a lot of failed updates then that means your system is not fully patched and therefore may be susceptible to attack or infection. In this case you will need to fix the system.

VERY IMPORTANT - Windows 10 updates are cumulative and Microsoft releases major Windows 10 updates every few months. Even if your Windows Update appears to be working, you will need to ensure that you are running the latest Windows 10 edition (or at least the one before it) to ensure you are also receiving the latest security features and patches.

So far there have been the following Windows 10 editions: the first Windows 10 release in July of 2016, followed by "The Fall Update" (November 12, 2015), followed by "Anniversary Edition" (August 2, 2016) and now the "Creators Update" (March 20, 2017). Note that the "Creators Update" is still being deployed, so if you are not running that edition, it is normal behavior.

One way you can check to see if you are running the latest version of Windows 10 (including ALL the cumulative updates, including security fixes), is to click Start, then type in "winver" and press Enter. At minimum you should be running the Anniversary Edition, which is OS Build 14393.xxx. If you are running the Creators Update, it will be OS Build 15063. If you are running OS Builds 1507 or 1511 then there is likely a major problem with your Windows Update and you need to fix it.

Other Ways to Know if the Windows Update Service is Broken

A very common sign that the Windows Update service is broken is when you click "check for updates" and Windows Update will "scan" forever looking for updates, and never report back that there are X updates available (or none). If it reports back that "no new updates" are available and that you've installed updates somewhat recently, then it is likely working. Generally speaking if you click the "check for updates" link and it doesn't complete within an hour, then your Windows Update service is likely corrupt.

Another way to know if your Windows Update service is broken is if you have many failed updates (refer to the Windows Update History as I mentioned previously), or if you download updates but receive a message "failure configuring Windows, reverting changes" message during a reboot.

What to do if Windows Updates aren't Working

If you are not running the latest Windows 10 edition, or if you know for certain that your Windows Update service is broken - you will have to fix it yourself, or hire someone like myself to fix it. Based on my experience this can be very stubborn and difficult, especially when the regular 'fixes' don't work. I have written an article on fixing the Windows Update service, which you can refer to here.

If you don't want to go through this hassle, or if Windows Update is still broken even after reading my article, you are more than welcome to contact me for remote desktop support (described next) and I will fix it for you.

Additional 1-on-1 Support: From Dennis

A broken Windows Update needs to be fixed to ensure that you are receiving the latest security patches on your machine. The WannaCry ransomware worm is still spreading online the Internet, instantly infecting Windows machines (any version) that have not yet been patched. The only way to patch the machine and to continue receiving security updates regularly is to have a properly working Windows Update service. If you need help fixing your Windows Update service, I would be more than happy to look at the issue via my remote desktop service. Simply send me an email briefly describing the issue, and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Got a Computer Question or Problem? Ask Dennis!

I need more computer questions. If you have a computer question - or even a computer problem that needs fixing - please email me with your question so that I can write more articles like this one. I can't promise I'll respond to all the messages I receive (depending on the volume), but I'll do my best.

About the author: Dennis Faas is the owner and operator of Infopackets.com. With over 30 years of computing experience, Dennis' areas of expertise are a broad range and include PC hardware, Microsoft Windows, Linux, network administration, and virtualization. Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science (1999) and has authored 6 books on the topics of MS Windows and PC Security. If you like the advice you received on this page, please up-vote / Like this page and share it with friends. For technical support inquiries, Dennis can be reached via Live chat online this site using the Zopim Chat service (currently located at the bottom left of the screen); optionally, you can contact Dennis through the website contact form.

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