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Windows Patching – Why Does My Computer Keep Rebooting?


One complaint common complaint among Windows operating system users is why does my computer reboot so frequently? Whether it for Windows updates or just when installing, uninstalling, or updating software, Windows will often ask to reboot.

The operating system generally has to reboot because it cannot modify system files while they are still in use. While in use, these files are locked and can only be updated/modified when the system is rebooted.

What Does Rebooting Do?

Windows cannot update or remove files while they are being used. When the system updater downloads new updates, it cannot apply them to the system files right away as they are locked against any changes. To make the required changes, the system has to shut down and the updates are then added to the file when the computer boots again.

Reboots also become necessary when adding or removing certain software programs. An antivirus or a hardware driver that is hooked deep into the system will have files loaded onto the memory and protected against modification. Windows may need to reboot the computer and modify the files before the system fully starts up.

Windows Update Reboots

Microsoft typically releases patches for Windows, second Tuesday of each month – often referred to as “Patch Tuesday.” Most of these updates modify system files that can’t be updated while Windows is running. Not every Windows Update requires a reboot, however. For example, updates for Microsoft Office shouldn’t require a reboot — these files can be unloaded from memory by restarting Office.

One important reason Windows regularly ask you to reboot is security updates are not usually installed until you do. Microsoft introduced pop-ups that keep requesting you to restart your computer. Regular reboots are particularly important to perform when a new virus or hacker vulnerability has been discovered. As these issues are discovered, Microsoft’s team of engineers will work quickly to eliminate these risks and push out these updates as soon as possible. The updates can’t help if people wait days or weeks before rebooting remaining at risk the entire time.

What About Linux or Other Operating Systems

If you have ever used Linux or any other operating system, you may have noticed that Windows wants to reboot more often than most. On Windows, files that are being used are normally locked and cannot be modified or deleted. Linux on the other hand allows in-use files to be modified or deleted. This means, on a Linux system, the system library files can be updated immediately without requiring a reboot. Any in-use files can likely be deleted immediately.

However, the changes will not necessarily take effect until you reboot. For example, if you install an update for a system library, the files on disk will be updated immediately, but any running processes using that library will still be using the old, insecure version. If you update a program, the new version of that program won’t be used until you close the program and restart it.

In other words, a reboot is often still necessary to make sure important updates have taken effect on Linux just like Windows. However, rebooting has become less necessary over time. Windows can now swap out many types of drivers — graphics drivers, for example — without rebooting the system. Moreover, modern security features (like having the Windows Firewall enabled) have made Windows more secure offering a three-day grace period for rebooting after Windows Updates.

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