How to Restart Explorer.Exe Via Cmd.Exe

By Aaron Parson

File Explorer -- formerly known as Windows Explorer -- controls the desktop, the taskbar and all folder windows within the Windows operating system. When Explorer freezes, some or all of these components stop responding. Rather than reboot your computer and lose unsaved work, run the command prompt and use the taskkill command to quit Explorer and then reopen it. This trick won't work if your PC has frozen to the point that it can't open the prompt, but when it does work, most programs continue running without interruption.

Step 1

Press "Windows-R," type "cmd" and press "Enter" to open a command prompt window. Windows 8 also has a link to the command prompt in the "Windows-X" shortcut menu, but this menu might not open if Explorer has frozen completely.

Step 2

Run the command "taskkill /f /im explorer.exe" without quotes to quit Explorer. The "/im explorer.exe" part of the command identifies the program to close, and the "/f" switch instructs taskkill to forcibly close the program. Without including "/f," the command won't work on Explorer. When Explorer closes, your desktop, the taskbar and all open folders vanish, but the command prompt remains on screen.

Step 3

Type "explorer.exe" without quotes and press "Enter" to restart Explorer and bring back the desktop and taskbar. Some taskbar tray icons might not reappear after restarting Explorer. To refresh the icons, close any open programs, log out of your Windows account and log back in.

Tips & Warnings

  • If the "Ctrl-Shift-Esc" shortcut to open the Task Manager works despite Explorer having frozen on Windows 8, you don't need to use the command prompt: Click "More Details," choose "Windows Explorer" on the "Processes" tab and press "Restart."
  • The directory in which your command prompt starts does not matter. Both commands used to restart Explorer work from any directory.
  • If you successfully close Explorer but can't get it to restart, you need to reboot your computer. Press "Alt-Tab" to switch between open programs and save any open files. Return to the command prompt and type "shutdown /r" to reboot.
  • When a computer freezes so completely that you can't even access the Task Manager or command prompt, try "Ctrl-Alt-Del" to reach an emergency system menu. If this command also fails, press the reset button on your computer or hold the power button for five seconds to turn off the machine. Wait a few seconds before powering a computer back on after switching it off forcibly.