Windows Explorer is one of the most important components of the Windows operating system. In addition to its obvious role in providing a method by which users can view and manage their PC’s storage (with the user-facing app known as File Explorer in recent versions of Windows), Windows Explorer also handles much of the desktop interface, including desktop icons, wallpaper, and the taskbar. But sometimes Windows Explorer can freeze or behave erratically, and you may want to reboot your PC in order to troubleshoot the issue. Instead of a potentially lengthy reboot, however, you can simply force Windows Explorer to quit and then manually relaunch it. In many cases, this resolves Explorer issues while leaving your other applications running and unaffected.
Automatically Restart Windows Explorer
There are two ways to quit Windows Explorer. The first is to try an automatic restart of the process in Task Manager. Launch Task Manager by right-clicking on the desktop taskbar and selecting Task Manager. Alternatively, you can launch Task Manager with the keyboard shortcut Control-Shift-Escape, or via the Ctrl-Alt-Del screen.
In Windows 8 and Windows 10, Task Manager starts by default in the “fewer details” view. To see all of your PC’s current processes, click More Details at the bottom of the Task Manager window.
Next, make sure you’re on the “Processes” tab and scroll down until you find “Windows Explorer” listed under the Background Processes section. Click Windows Explorer to highlight and select it, then click Restart in the bottom-right section of the window.
Your desktop will flash momentarily and everything should immediately reload. This represents an automatic restart of the Explorer.exe process.
Manually Restart Windows Explorer
If the restart steps above don’t work, you can also force quit Windows Explorer and relaunch it manually. To do so, head to the desktop and hold the Shift and Control keys on your keyboard while right-clicking on your desktop taskbar. You’ll see a new option appear at the bottom of the list labeled Exit Explorer. Click it to kill Windows Explorer.
Unlike the previous steps, this action doesn’t automatically restart Windows Explorer, so don’t panic when you see your taskbar, wallpaper, and desktop icons disappear. As mentioned, these are all handled by the Explorer.exe process, so they’re temporarily gone now that we’ve quit it. But don’t worry, all of your files, data, and icons still exist, you just can’t see them.
Next, open Task Manager with the keyboard shortcut Control-Shift-Escape and make sure you’re looking at the “More Details” view. Go to File > Run New Task and type explorer in the “Open” box.
Click OK and Windows will relaunch Explorer.exe, letting the Windows Explorer process do its thing once again. You’ll immediately see your desktop icons, wallpaper, and taskbar return and, if everything went well, your PC should be running smoothly again.
Restarting or force quitting Windows Explorer won’t solve every problem, but it’s a good troubleshooting step that can, at the very least, help you narrow down possible issues.