Step-by-Step: Windows Update - Disabling Auto-Restart for Automatic Updates

This article pertains to Windows Server 2003, Windows 2000 (SP3 and later), and Windows XP (SP1 and later).

Windows Update is a good thing.  A very good thing.  However, the default setting in Automatic Updates can cause you a lot of problems.  I know it did for me.

When you set Automatic Updates to "Automatic (recommended)", it "Automatically download recommended updates for my computer and install them: Everyday at 3:00 am".  This sounds pretty good, but you should know that after the updates are installed, if the update needs to, Windows will automatically restart your computer after a 5 minute warning.  If you have any documents or work open, you will lose all of it.  Windows will simply restart and all your work is gone.  Personally, I like to close all my programs and save all my work before I leave a computer, but sometimes, I forget and leave a document open or some programs running and the next morning, after an automatic restart, everything is lost.  This is really really bad.

One option is to choose the lower level of Automatic Updates which is "Download updates for me, but let me choose when to install them."  This is good if you know computers, but if you're like me, you are probably the designated computer geek for the family and take care of all their computers.  With this setting, updates would never be installed.  However, the first setting that automatically restarts is not going to make your family members happy either.  Here's the solution: to configure Windows Update to automatically download and install updates, but DO NOT AUTOMATICALLY RESTART.  This should be a selectable option, but it's not.  But don't fear, I'll show you how to setup Window Update to behave this way. 

Just a note, disabling auto-restart will only disable auto-restart if somebody is logged in.  If nobody is logged in, the computer will still restart, which makes sense.  If nobody is logged in, then it doesn't hurt to restart, unless you run a server (potentially).  Let me explain.

For workstations, I think it is better to have the updates automatically installed and then prompt you to restart (I'll show you how).  But you have to think about this for servers.  If your server is a dedicated server and nobody uses it, then automatically restarting after an update is not a bad idea.  The faster an update gets installed, the safer we all are.  However, you need to make sure that all your services such as web, mail, FTP, and databases are set up to start automatically.  If you manually start any of your services, then the auto-restart will leave your services down.  I suggest that for servers you make all your services automatically start and let Windows Update automatically restart your computer.  Which means you don't need this guide.....  except for your workstations :)

First make sure Automatic Update is set to "Automatic (recommended)".  After you do so, click "OK" to close the settings box.

Start --> Settings --> Control Panel --> Automatic Updates


Next, we open up the Group Policy Editor.

  • Start --> Run
Type in "gpedit.msc" 


You'll see this:



  • Computer Configuration --> Administrative Templates --> Windows Components --> Windows Update


Double-click on "No auto-restart for scheduled Automatic Updates installations".


In the "Setting" tab, click "Enabled" and then either "Apply" or "OK".


You can also click on the "Explain" tab to see what the settings mean.

This is what it says:

"Specifies that to complete a scheduled installation, Automatic Updates will wait for the computer to be restarted by any user who is logged on, instead of causing the computer to restart automatically.

If the status is set to Enabled, Automatic Updates will not restart a computer automatically during a scheduled installation if a user is logged in to the computer. Instead, Automatic Updates will notify the user to restart the computer.

Be aware that the computer needs to be restarted for the updates to take effect.

If the status is set to Disabled or Not Configured, Automatic Updates will notify the user that the computer will automatically restart in 5 minutes to complete the installation.

Note: This policy applies only when Automatic Updates is configured to perform scheduled installations of updates. If the "Configure Automatic Updates" policy is disabled, this policy has no effect."


In the Group Policy Editor, you can see the status of the setting as "Enabled".


Close the Group Policy Editor and you're done.

Now Windows Update will install the updates and then you can choose to restart after you save your work and close all running programs. 

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