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Managing services

A service is a specialized program that performs a function to support other programs. Many services operate at a very low level (by interacting directly with hardware, for example) and need to run even when no user is signed in. For this reason, they are often run by the System account (which has elevated privileges) rather than by ordinary user accounts. In this section, you'll learn how to view installed services; start, stop, and configure them; and install or remove them. We'll also take a closer look at some of the services used in Windows 10 and show you how to configure them to your advantage.

For the most complete view of services running on your computer, use the Services console. You can also view running services and perform limited management functions by using Task Manager. In this section, we discuss both tools.

Using the Services console

You manage services with the Services snap-in (Services.msc) for Microsoft Management Console. To view this snap-in, type services in the search box and then click the Services desktop app at the top of the results list. (You must have administrator privileges to gain full functionality in the Services console. Running it as a standard user, you can view service settings, but you can't start or stop most services, change the startup type, or make any other configuration changes.)

The Extended and Standard views in the Services console (selectable by clicking a tab near the bottom of the window) have a single difference: the Extended view provides descriptive information of the selected service in the space at the left edge of the details pane. This space also sometimes includes links for starting, stopping, or pausing the selected service. Unless you need to constrain the console display to a small area of your screen, you'll probably find the Extended view preferable to the Standard view.

The Services console offers plenty of information in its clean display. You can sort the contents of any column by clicking the column title, as you can with similar lists. To sort in reverse order, click the column title again. In addition, you can do the following:

  • Start, stop, pause, resume, or restart the selected service, as described in the following section.
  • Display the properties dialog box for the selected service, in which you can configure the service and learn more about it.

Most of the essential services are set to start automatically when your computer starts, and the operating system stops them as part of its shutdown process. A handful of services that aren't typically used at startup are set with the Automatic (Delayed Start) option, which starts the associated service two minutes after the rest of startup completes, making the startup process smoother. The Trigger Start option allows Windows to run or stop a service as needed in response to specific events; the File History service, for example, doesn't run unless you enable the File History feature.

But sometimes you might need to manually start or stop a service. For example, you might want to start a seldom-used service on the rare occasion when you need it. (Because running services requires system resources such as memory, running them only when necessary can improve performance.) On the other hand, you might want to stop a service because you're no longer using it. A more common reason for stopping a service is because it isn't working properly. For example, if print jobs get stuck in the print queue, sometimes the best remedy is to stop and then restart the Print Spooler service.

Pause instead of stopping
If a service allows pausing, try pausing and then continuing the service as your first step instead of stopping the service. Pausing can solve certain problems without canceling jobs in process or resetting connections.

Starting and stopping services

Not all services allow you to change their status. Some prevent stopping and starting altogether, whereas others permit stopping and starting but not pausing and resuming. Some services allow these permissions to only certain users or groups. For example, most services allow only members of the Administrators group to start or stop them. Which status changes are allowed and who has permission to make them are controlled by each service's discretionary access control list (DACL), which is established when the service is created on a computer.

In Windows 10, software installers can stop and restart running applications and services by using a feature called Restart Manager (introduced in Windows Vista). A handful of system services are considered critical, however, and cannot be restarted manually or programmatically except as part of a system restart. These critical services include Smss.exe, Csrss.exe, Wininit.exe, Logonui.exe, Lsass.exe, Services.exe, Winlogon.exe, System, Svchost.exe with RPCSS, and Svchost.exe with DCOM/PnP.

To change a service's status, select it in the Services console. Then click the appropriate link in the area to the left of the service list (if you're using the Extended view and the link you need appears there). Alternatively, you can use the Play/Pause/Stop controls on the toolbar or right-click and use the corresponding command.

You can also change a service's status by opening its properties dialog box and then clicking one of the buttons on the General tab. Taking the extra step of opening the properties dialog box to set the status has only one advantage: you can specify start parameters when you start a service by using this method. This is a rare requirement.

Configuring services

To review or modify the way a service starts up or what happens when it doesn't start properly, view its properties dialog box. To do that, simply double-click the service in the Services console.

Setting startup options

On the General tab of the properties dialog box, you specify the startup type:

  • Automatic (Delayed Start):
    The service starts shortly after the computer starts in order to improve startup performance and user experience.
  • Automatic:
    The service starts when the computer starts.
  • Manual:
    The service doesn't start automatically at startup, but it can be started by a user, program, or dependent service.
  • Disabled:
    The service can't be started.

The Trigger Start option cannot be configured manually from the Services console. Instead, you have to use SC (Sc.exe), a command-line program that communicates with the Service Control Manager. If you'd rather not tinker with the arcane syntax of this command, try the free Service Trigger Editor, available from Core Technologies Consulting.

You'll find other startup options on the Log On tab of the properties dialog box.

If you specify a sign-in account other than the Local System account, be sure that account has the requisite rights. Go to the Local Security Policy console (at a command prompt, type secpol.msc), and then go to Security Settings\Local Policies\User Rights Assignment and assign the Log On As A Service right to the account.

Specifying recovery actions

For a variety of reasons-hardware not operating properly or a network connection being down, for example-a service that's running smoothly might suddenly stop. Settings on the Recovery tab of the properties dialog box allow you to specify what should happen if a service fails.

You might want to perform a different action the first time a service fails than on the second or subsequent failures. The Recovery tab enables you to assign a particular response to the first failure, the second failure, and all subsequent failures, from among these options:

  • Take No Action:
    The service gives up trying. In most cases, the service places a message in the event log. (Use of the event log depends on how the service was programmed by its developers.)
  • Restart The Service:
    The computer waits for the time specified in the Restart Service After box to elapse and then tries to start the service.
  • Run A Program:
    The computer runs the program that you specify in the Run Program box. For example, you could specify a program that attempts to resolve the problem or one that alerts you to the situation.
  • Restart The Computer:
    Drastic but effective, this option restarts the computer after the time specified in the Restart Computer Options dialog box elapses. In that dialog box, you can also specify a message to be broadcast to other users on your network, warning them of the impending shutdown.

Viewing dependencies

Many services rely on the functions of another service. If you attempt to start a service that depends on other services, Windows first starts the others. If you stop a service upon which others are dependent, Windows also stops those services. Before you either start or stop a service, therefore, it's helpful to know what other services your action might affect. To obtain that information, go to the Dependencies tab of a service's properties dialog box.

Managing services from Task Manager

Using the Services tab in Windows Task Manager, you can start and stop services and view several important aspects of the services, both running and available, on your computer. You can also use this as a shortcut to the Services console.

To open Task Manager, use any of the following techniques:

  • Right-click Start (or press Windows key+X), and then click Task Manager on the Quick Link menu.
  • Right-click the taskbar, and then click Task Manager.
  • Press Ctr+Alt+Delete, and then click Task Manager.
  • Press Ctrl+Shift+Esc.

To start, stop, or restart a service, right-click its name on the Services tab and then click Start, Stop, or Restart.

Using the Services tab, you can also associate a running service with its process identifier (PID) and then further associate that PID with other programs and services being run under that PID.

Determining the name of a service

As you view the properties dialog box for different services, you might notice that the service name (shown at the top of the General tab) is often different from the name that appears in the Services console (the display name) and that neither name matches the name of the service's executable file. (Many services run as part of a service group, under Services.exe or Svchost.exe.) The General tab shows all three names.

So how does this affect you? When you work in the Services console, you don't need to know anything other than a service's display name to find it and work with it. But if you use the Net command to start and stop services from a Command Prompt window, you might find using the actual service name more convenient; it is often much shorter than the display name. You'll also need the service name if you're ever forced to work with a service's registry entries, which can be found in the HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\service subkey (where service is the service name).

And what about the executable name? You might need it if you or a user you support have problems running a service; in such a case, you need to find the executable and check its permissions. Knowing the executable name can also be useful, for example, if you're using Windows Task Manager to determine why your computer seems to be running slowly. Although the Processes tab and the Services tab show the display name (under the Description heading), because of the window size it's sometimes easier to find the more succinct executable name.