How to resolve explorer.exe application error in Windows 10?

April 17, 2020 |

greater than 16 minutes

The Windows 10 interface that you know and love is actually powered by many processes that run in the background. These background tasks stay hidden from normal view and are seldom noticed by users. However, without them, Windows would just be an empty shell, one not much better than a simple command line interface.

One of these processes is known as Explorer.exe. More commonly known as Windows Explorer, Explorer.exe represents the graphical user interface that everyone interacts with once the computer is booted and ready to be used. The taskbar, Start menu, Charms bar, system tray, and File Explorer are all part of the Windows Explorer shell. These tools and interface components allow you easy access to your files, folders, applications, and basic visual personalization features in Windows 10.

There is a reason most users don’t even know that the desktop interface and start menu are actually powered by Explorer.exe. The process runs just fine most of the time, and there is no reason for casual users to pay it any attention. However, if the process succumbs to infection from malware, the consequences are grave indeed. The entire desktop vanishes, leaving the user to stare at a blank screen instead.

When the Windows Explorer process is corrupted this way, the go-to features of the Windows interface such as the taskbar, desktop icons, and even the Start menu button are nowhere to be seen. Repeatedly pressing the Windows logo key to bring up the Start menu won’t do anything. Neither will clicking the mouse buttons.

If you have been experiencing this issue lately, we are here to help. We have compiled this guide to bring together a list of the best solutions to get Explorer.exe working perfectly again.

What Is Explorer.exe Application Error in Windows 10?

Windows Explorer is, by and large, one of the most innocuous system processes in Windows 10. By this, we mean that it is among the processes that are least likely to develop random errors that impact users negatively. This should not come as a surprise to those paying attention. After all, being the graphical user interface for an entire OS means Microsoft gave Explorer.exe a lot of attention in development, with the result that it is more stable than most of the other system processes and services.

Even so, this is Windows we are talking about here. There is basically guaranteed to be a weak point in just about every aspect of the OS, and Explorer.exe is no exception to the rule. Many users have been reporting how they have been running into issues with Explorer.exe when doing a system reboot or trying to shut the PC down.

Some of the symptoms of the Explorer.exe error include hanging when an application is launched, freezing in the middle of application use or general system browsing, freezing on the Start menu screen, the disappearance of shortcuts or icons from the taskbar, the disappearance of Windows GUI components like desktop shortcuts and even the taskbar icons.

At least the OS is graceful enough to display an error message. However, the error message related to Explorer.exe not working will typically read something like this:

The instruction at 0x#### referenced memory at 0x####. The memory could not be read/written.

Click on OK to terminate the program.

Needless to say, Explorer.exe errors are very frustrating for a number of reasons. The most important of which is that there is simply nothing else that can replace the process in Windows 10. Without this process, you can’t open folders to look for individual files, launch your applications visually, or carry out computing operations in web browsers or productivity tools.

Like many errors in Windows 10, Explorer Application Error is difficult to pin down to a particular situation. There is more than one occasion that causes the error to rear its ugly head. Sometimes, it occurs when a certain application is launched. Everything, including the launched app, just freezes, as if embalmed in an Egyptian pyramid for posterity. At other times, the error occurs on the heels of a Windows 10 update. Why? Who knows?

There is one more scenario — a situation where the process misbehaves because of malware infection. This is by far the most critical of the causes and must be rectified immediately before further damage is done to the system. We will address the solution to this in the next section.

How to Resolve Explorer.exe Errors in Windows 10

Whether caused by Windows updates or random causes, by an application launch or infection by a virus, the Explorer.exe Application Error is not beyond resolution. It never is and never will be. It is actually one of the most solvable errors out there in the sense that fixes abound aplenty for it, and each one of them has been proved to be effective for different users.

What follows is a list of the best ways to get rid of the Explorer.exe Application Error in Windows 10. The list might look exhaustive, but these are actually the best of the best that we have curated here to help you quickly eliminate the bug and get your Windows interface working properly again.

Scan the PC with Auslogics Anti-Malware

The greatest threat to your computer isn’t fire or water or theft even. It is malware. We aren’t just talking about simple virus infections either. Contemporary malware is very sophisticated. The tentacles of online hijackers have gotten long recently. Not many things on the system are safe. Even the vaunted Windows directory that holds most of the system files isn’t totally safe anymore.

Malware can thus hijack the Explorer.exe process and make it do the nefarious bidding of online criminals. The process can somehow be co-opted to perform malicious tasks that harm the user’s computer. It can be used to transfer sensitive information that is better kept secret, upload a virus payload, or expand a botnet.

If you haven’t got the memo already, we suspect that you have done so now. The machine needs serious and constant protection against this type of hijacking, otherwise the computer will become a playground for malware.

Although this is extremely rare, a fake Explorer.exe process can even be fashioned and transplanted to the victim’s computer. This fake process stops the genuine Windows Explorer process and runs in the background instead. This will cause all the troubles with the Windows interface we have already talked about.

You can always find out whether the Explorer.exe process currently running in Task Manager is the real thing or not. Simply launch Task Manager, find the process, right-click it, and select Open File Location. If the File Explorer window is in the location C:/Windows/System32, then all is probably well with the file. Any other location apart from this and you probably have a virus on your hands.

Whether you have determined that there is a virus masquerading as the real Explorer.exe or just that malware infection is causing the Explorer.exe Application Error, you can do something meaningful about it. Use your security software to perform a full scan of the system and remove any malware that it finds. Simple, right?

Of course, it isn’t that simple. It seldom is. There is the question of how the file became corrupt or damaged in the first place. Perhaps, your security software might not be as watertight as advertised. Lucky you, then, because we know a tool that is.

Auslogics Anti-Malware is recommended by Microsoft as software that offers top-notch protection against malware and data safety threats. It is a versatile, lightweight tool that can stand alone or work in tandem with another antivirus, helping to keep your computer totally safe from infection.

The program is very easy to use, as it is devoid of the cumbersome, complicated interface of some of its peers. After downloading the installer for Auslogics Anti-Malware, simply launch the program and run a deep scan that will scan your machine from top to bottom. You might end up being surprised at how the tool fishes out dangerous items from places that you never even thought existed.

Its job done, you can either quarantine the discovered files and items or delete them altogether. Whether it is a background process, auto-start item or something else, Anti-Malware is guaranteed to fish it out of its hiding place, giving you the peace of mind you need.

After removing the discovered items, you need to reboot the machine so the OS can properly remove them from your computer. After the reboot, you should test that you aren’t experiencing any more Explorer.exe application errors in Windows 10.

Restart the Explorer Process

If scanning the system with reputable security software like Auslogics Anti-Malware doesn’t help, restarting the Windows Explorer process certainly should. Usually, it is recommended that a reboot should be performed on the affected system. This has the effect of restarting the Windows Explorer process as well since everything begins anew in system memory.

However, a faster and easier way to achieve this without shutting down the machine or disrupting other processes is to restart the Explorer.exe process in Task Manager. This should help if the Windows graphical interface is stuck and nothing is happening after multiple clicks and key presses.

  1. First, opening Task Manager is a must. Do this by moving your cursor over to the Start Menu icon at the bottom left of the screen and right-clicking it. When the Quick Access Menu is displayed, simply select Task Manager from the list.
  2. When Task Manager opens, the interface should already be set to the Processes tab. If this isn’t the case, select the Process tab. If you can’t see the list of processes, click the “More details” down-facing arrow at the bottom to expand the processes list in Task Manager.
  3. Scroll down the list of processes in Task Manager till you come down to the Windows Explorer process.
  4. Right-click this process and select Restart.

You should observe that the Windows desktop interface briefly disappears. Don’t worry about this. It will reappear again soon. When it does, click on things and open different applications just to check that the Explorer.exe Application Error message doesn’t show up anymore.

Re-enable the Explorer Process

This method is supremely useful if your Windows Explorer interface is buggy to the point that nothing is displayed there anymore. Instead of the customary taskbar, desktop interface and Start Menu icon, you see nothing, nothing at all. Well, that is not quite correct: you see a black screen, sometimes a yellow or blue one. This could be the background colour of the desktop but devoid of graphical and textual elements of any kind.

When this happens, re-enabling the Windows Explorer process is often the way to go. This is somewhat similar to the previous solution but different enough to sometimes have an impact where the other one doesn’t work.

Let’s not waste any more time. Here is what you must do to re-enable Explorer.exe through Task Manager:

  1. First, opening Task Manager is a must. Do this by moving your cursor over to the Start menu icon at the bottom left of the screen and right-clicking it. When the Quick Access menu is displayed, simply select Task Manager from the list.
  2. Scroll down the list of processes in Task Manager, looking for the Windows Explorer process. Given that your screen is purely black with nothing else showing, the Explorer.exe process has likely crashed. If it has, it won’t be running at all. You can confirm this by checking that the process is absent from Task Manager. This means that it must be enabled for your desktop and other UI elements to reappear.
  3. To re-enable the process, click the File button at the top left of Task Manager. Select “Run new task” from the expanded File options.
  4. The “Create new task” dialog will open. Type “Explorer” or “Explorer.exe” (without quotes) into the box.
  5. Don’t click OK just yet. First, tick the “Create this task with administrative privileges” checkbox.
  6. Now, click OK.

Windows Explorer will be restarted after you click the OK button. Your graphical user interface elements should all show up again. Now, go ahead with clicking and launching stuff to verify that the Windows Explorer process won’t hang, freeze or give you application errors anymore.

Disable Auto-Hide in Taskbar

Auto-hide might not ring a bell in the casual imagination. It is one of those lovely little features that people switch on or off and promptly forget about. With respect to the error we are dealing with right now, some users have speculated that it might have something to do with the status of auto-hide. According to them, turning the feature off instantly eradicated the Explorer.exe Application Error for them.

If you’re wondering how such a harmless and nifty little feature could cause such annoyance, you’re not the only one. We are equally stumped here. In any case, there is nothing to be lost by trying this out and checking if it turns things around. If nothing changes after doing it, you can always turn the feature back on without fuss.

  1. Open the Settings app. First, press the Windows logo key to display the Start menu. Next, click the Gear icon, which represents the Settings app, to launch the tool.
  2. Look for the Personalization option on the Settings home screen. When found, click it.
  3. In the left menu pane of the Personalization screen, select Taskbar.
  4. In the Taskbar menu, on the right, toggle these two settings to Off:
    • Automatically hide the taskbar in desktop mode
    • Automatically hide the taskbar in tablet mode
  5. Restart the computer.

After the reboot, check what is happening with the desktop interface. Hopefully, you won’t be getting any more Explorer.exe application errors.

Use Command Prompt to Run DISM and SFC Scans

If you are still getting incessant errors with Windows Explorer, perhaps a corrupt system file is the cause. If so, you will have better luck walking to Mars than isolating which system file it is, given that there are literally hundreds of those on a Windows 10 PC.

It is easier, safer and better to simply leave the job to two tools created more or less for that purpose. Enter the DISM and SFC tools. The first tool is known as the Deployment Image Servicing and Management tool, while the second one is the acronym for System File Checker. Collectively, they restore the health of the system image and repair any system files that are corrupt, damaged, missing, or otherwise unusable.

Running a DISM scan, followed by a scan with System File Checker, in Windows 10 is a piece of cake. Microsoft recommends that, for Windows 10 especially, the DISM scan should be conducted first before the SFC scan is applied.

Anyhow, when you’re ready to proceed, this is what you’re going to be doing:

  1. Assuming you can briefly make use of the Windows GUI, you must open an elevated Command Prompt, first of all. Press the Windows logo key and type “Command Prompt”.
  2. Instead of simply clicking the top result, which should be Command Prompt, right-click it instead and select Open as Administrator.
  3. You’re now in an elevated Command Prompt window. First things first: run this command in the window:

dism /online /cleanup-image /restorehealth

  1. Chill a bit as the DISM tool does what it does best. It will check your Windows installation image for parts that are bad or otherwise corrupt and try to repair them. This process might take a long time. You should be patient and let it finish.

Once the DISM scan is out of the way, it is time for the System File Checker scan, which is actually the more important of the two.

  1. Now, run this command in the elevated CMD window:

sfc /scannow

  1. System File Checker will scan the system files on the PC, mostly those in the Windows installation directory. If it finds anything divergent, which can be missing, broken or corrupted files, it will try to fix them immediately.

You might have to wait for ages for the verification to reach 100%, especially if your hardware isn’t the type that can be called top end. Just wait like with the DISM scan until it’s completed.

When the scan finishes, you should hopefully get something like this message: “Windows Resource Protection found corrupt files and successfully repaired them. Details are included in the CBS.Log %WinDir%\Logs\CBS\CBS.log”. If you do, this means that the objectives of the scan have been achieved.

You can go ahead and reboot the machine. When you log in again, you should notice that the Explorer.exe Application Error has gone away for good.

Review Shell Extensions

Shell extensions let users extend what they can do on their operating system when they need to work with a file type. Shell extensions add extra functionality to the context menu in Windows 10 so that you can access more options when you bring that menu up by right-clicking an object.

Unfortunately, Shell extensions have been identified as one of the causes of the Explorer.exe Application Error on Windows 10. Many users have complained that any time they right-clicked a file, Windows Explorer immediately froze and nothing could be done with it for a few seconds or even minutes. As right-clicking is the action that brings up the context menu, it was thought that shell extensions have something to do with it.

As it eventually turned out, they do. Many people have solved the issue of Explorer.exe freezing by disabling the most recent extensions to the shell. These extensions can be added by Microsoft or a third-party program upon installation. Savvy users can manually create them as well.

In any case, if your own variant of the Windows Explorer bug involves right-clicking an object, you should review the extensions on your machine. Remove the most recent ones and see what happens. Chances are that after a few removals, things should be back to normal. The extension you removed immediately prior to the restoration of normal functionality is then the culprit.

You could try removing shell extensions via the Windows registry. But that is a very cumbersome process, not to mention potentially dangerous. Instead, we will use ShellExView, a shell extension manager created by Nirsoft.

Download the utility and install it. Once you launch the tool, it will display all the extensions on the computer in a nice, simple way. You can see everything at a glance. To make your troubleshooting faster, focus on the extensions with the Type Context Menu and ignore those created by Microsoft. Now, disable an extension and see if it makes a difference when you right-click an object. Keep disabling the extensions until the problem is resolved.

Turn Off Dynamic Access Colors and Wallpaper Slideshows

Much like turning off the auto-hide feature in the taskbar, we are skeptical about the relationship between these settings and Windows Explorer’s weird behavior. However, since some users have expressed that doing this worked for them, there is no harm in following suit. Again, you can always turn them back on should this prove not to be effective.

  1. Open the Settings app. First, press the Windows logo key to display the Start menu. Next, click the Gear icon, which represents the Settings app, to launch the tool.
  2. Look for the Personalization option in the Settings home screen. When found, click it.
  3. In the left menu pane of the Personalization screen, select Colors.
  4. In the Colors window on the right, untick the “Automatically pick an accent color from my background” checkbox.

Up next is the wallpaper slideshow:

  1. Still in the Personalization window, select Background.
  2. Turn off the Slideshow mode.

If this still doesn’t work, check out the next fix below.

Adjust the Size of System Virtual Memory

The virtual memory feature in Windows 10 enables the operating system to perform tasks more efficiently. When the device memory is full to bursting, the OS transfers some of the data to a space on the hard disk. The space is known as the virtual memory.

There is some evidence that if the size of this memory is too low, it can affect the behaviour of Windows Explorer negatively. Therefore, to solve the Explorer.exe Application Error, increasing the size of the virtual memory is another viable option.

  1. Click the File Explorer icon on the taskbar.
  2. Right-click This PC on the left pane of the main File Explorer window and select Properties.
  3. In the Properties window, select the Advanced System Properties option.
  4. In the System Properties window, select the Advanced tab.
  5. In the Performance section, select Settings.
  6. A new window, the Performance Options window, will be displayed. Make sure you’re in the Advanced tab of this window.
  7. Click the Change button in the Virtual Memory section.
  8. In the Virtual Memory window, uncheck the “Automatically manage paging file size for all drives” checkbox.
  9. Now, tick the “Custom size” box and enter a value in the Maximum Size box. This value should be at least 1.5 times the size of your system memory.
  10. Click Set.
  11. Click OK.

What you’ve just done basically gives the system more breathing space to perform memory tasks. Therefore, even if a lot is going on in Windows Explorer, the chance of it glitching is reduced. Check that what you’ve just done indeed has a positive effect.

Check the Hard Drive

Disk errors can cause a domino effect such as Explorer.exe crashes and glitches. This could be because your hard drive has been fragmented too much or a portion of it is corrupted. However, you can simply use the built-in tool by Microsoft to check and resolve any errors with your hard drive. If you’re using an SSD, meanwhile, you’re unlikely to be affected by this.

The tool is called “Check disk error cleaner”. You can run it via the Command Prompt easily. Just open an elevated CMD window as we have described elsewhere in this guide and run the following command:

chkdsk /f C:

When the scan and repair procedure finishes, simply reboot your computer to enjoy the benefits of a defragmented disk. For the most comprehensive defragmentation and disk cleanup, you can use Auslogics Disk Defrag Ultimate.

Use the Memory Diagnostic Tool

The Memory Diagnostic Tool is a lifeline you can use if all other methods have proved abortive so far. Microsoft included this tool in Windows 10 to help fix any issues with the memory. You can as well use it to fix RAM-related errors that might be having a knock-on effect on Windows Explorer.

Running the Memory Diagnostic Tool in Windows 10 is easy. Simply open Search and type “Memory Diagnostic” (without quotes). Click the top result, and the Memory Diagnostic troubleshooter will open.

The Memory Diagnostic Tool interface will provide you with two options straightway. Simply select the “Restart now and check for problems (recommended)” option and follow the rest of the process to its logical conclusion.

When the computer restarts, the Explorer.exe Application Error bug shouldn’t be showing up anymore.

Summing Up

One of these fixes is bound to prove effective in solving the Explorer.exe Application Error. If one worked for you, and even if none did, you can hit us up with your suggestions, comments and questions through the comment box below.

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