Ah, Windows Update. A System Administrator’s valuable ally and hated adversary, all rolled into one. Recently, on one model of laptop that I was configuring for new employees, I started running into the following error:

“Windows Update cannot currently check for updates, because the service is not running. You may need to restart your computer.”Yet when I checked, the service was, indeed, running. And a reboot didn’t fix the issue, nor did running the “Fix Problems with Windows Update” troubleshooter in control panel. And this was a brand new install of Windows 7 (and not only that, it happened on multiple machines). So what gives?

Windows Update cannot currently check for updates, because the service is not running. You may need to restart your computer.

I did some research, and turns out that this is often caused either by corrupted files and/or datastores in the Windows Software Distribution folder (which contains the Windows Update history and uninstall files), and the fix involved clearing and then rebuilding those files. You will need either local or domain administrative privileges on the machine to complete these steps.

Note: This folder contains the system’s complete history of installed updates and uninstall files. Following this procedure will remove those files and datastore, and will rebuild them. Only do this if the Windows Update Troubleshooter does not fix the issue, or if there is no other method of fix. In the case study here, this was a new build of Windows 7, and there was no history to preserve.

1. Click Start > type “services.msc” > press enter.

2. Find “Windows Update” in the list, right-click, choose “Stop”. This service must be in the “stopped” state, or the next 2 steps will fail.

3. Open Windows Explorer and navigate to “C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution”.

4. Delete every file inside the folder. If you receive an error message that some of the files are in use, check to be sure the Windows Update service (step 2.) is stopped. 

5. Reboot the computer, and try running Windows Update again.

In a few cases, this procedure didn’t work. In that case, it turns out that some of the .dlls involved with Windows Update were not correctly registered. If this happens to you, here are the steps to correct the issue:

a. Complete steps 1-2 to stop the “Windows Update” service again.

b. Click Start > type “cmd” > right-click and choose “Run as Administrator”.

c. Type the following commands to register the Windows Update services, pressing the “Enter” key on your keyboard after each one:
regsvr32 wuapi.dll
regsvr32 wuaueng.dll
regsvr32 wups.dll
regsvr32 wups2.dll
regsvr32 wuwebv.dll
regsvr32 wucltux.dll

d. Reboot the computer immediately and then check for updates once you log back in.

After this you should be good to go, having wrangled Windows Update back into line!

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