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Windows 10 Windows Update Malfunction

Published by marco on

tl;dr: If Windows 10 fails to install updates several times, you may have a corrupted update database. Follow the steps listed here to fix things. It will take quite a while, but it works out in the end.

Several months ago, I upgraded to Windows 10 on my laptop. Things went OK[1] and I was basically able to continue working uninterrupted.

Windows Insomnia

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that my laptop was almost always “awake” in the morning and seemed to be quite busy doing stuff when I wasn’t using it.

At Encodo, we have some group policies that determine when updates are to be applied and will wake up the machine to do so. I figured it was probably something like that and paid it no further mind. When the insomnia persisted, I checked the Windows Update settings again and saw a whole list of updates to install.

I told Windows to restart, install the updates and be done with it, once and for all. I went off to do something else and found my machine once again busy doing something, hours later. Suspicious, I found more pending updates, looking suspiciously like the ones I’d just installed.

Corrupted Update Database

I restarted again, this time watching as Windows very quickly restarted—without installing anything at all. My Windows very definitely had a problem. It thought it had updates to install—a lot of big ones, actually—but couldn’t actually install them. (Probably because they were already installed.)

The big missing package was “Upgrade to Windows 10 Enterprise, version 1511, 10586.”, as well as a lot of Micorosft Office-related packages. Searching for help, I ended up on this page, Windows 10 Error 0x80200056, where I found an answer from August 7, 2015.

I was hoping for something a little more recent, but apparently this problem has been plaguing users for almost a year. The answer pointed to corrupted Windows Update Components and describes how to shut off the related services, rename the corrupt databases and re-enable services.

A Giant Update

After following the instructions and after a restart, Windows Update will start to download and apply a ton of updates—it seems now to be unaware of what had already been installed. Corrupted is corrupted, so you have to go through with it; a Windows that restarts every 1.5 hours trying in vain to install updates is not going to cut it.

Be warned, though, if the corrupted package that you have is the same as the one I listed above (1511, 10586), then you’re in for quite an upgrade process. Windows 10 will—for all intents and purposes—re-install itself. The updates took about an hour to apply before I was back at a desktop. I once again have a Windows.Old folder and I almost lost my local user settings.

Read on if you, too, suffer from a lost profile after this process.

Missing Local Settings

 Temporary ProfileWhen I first logged in, everything was back to defaults. I was disappointed, but figured that the gigantic upgrade had simply reset everything. In fact, my profile was still around and Windows was trying to tell me about it, although a bit too subtly—and with a message that didn’t render properly in the 150%-resolution mode to which it had defaulted.

The message is cut off—and clicking the Action Center shows me other messages, but not this relatively important one. At any rate, I was able to figure out that it was telling me to open the Event Viewer. There, I saw several errors.

 Unable to load Registry

The first message was pretty scary

Windows was unable to load the registry. This problem is often caused by insufficient memory or insufficient security rights.

DETAIL − The process cannot access the file because it is being used by another process. for C:\Users\marco\ntuser.dat

The Windows registry is pretty important, but what the message actually meant was that the user registry couldn’t be loaded. That became clearer in the next message:

Windows cannot load the locally stored profile. Possible causes of this error include insufficient security rights or a corrupt local profile.

DETAIL − The process cannot access the file because it is being used by another process.

It was unclear which process was using the file that Windows wanted to open. What else could have been running at that time? This also explained the rather mysterious directive above that “to fix this, sign out and try signing in later.” This is Windows’s way of acknowledging that it was probably standing on its own tail and had locked itself out. “Later” is a touch vague, though.

The next message was more reassuring but it was unclear what was supposed to happen. I’d logged out and logged back in, as directed, and still had the same problem.

Windows has backed up this user profile. Windows will automatically try to use the backup profile the next time this user logs on.

Here’s the final error message, repeating what I’d already seen in the desktop notification. Still, I had hope that Windows would eventually right itself.

Windows cannot find the local profile and is logging you on with a temporary profile. Changes you make to this profile will be lost when you log off.

Instead of just logging out, I went back to the good, old tactic of just restarting Windows—“have you tried turning it off and on again?”—and was greeted with my old profile! First, I had to endure the Windows 10 greetings and requests for patience. This led to a nervous few seconds that I would have a clean profile again. In the end, though, everything was back to normal—albeit after a long, unproductive day.


I’m not done yet. As it appears, there are still more updates to apply, I’ve lost a few settings and will also have to run the “Disk Cleanup” again to remove the old Windows and a lot of temporary files. But I’m hopeful that my Windows Update problems are over, at least for now.[2]

[1] Several weeks after the upgrade, an update came down the pike that screwed up my wireless network driver so it more than occasionally dropped off the network. I could always reconnect by toggling wireless on and off several times until my network showed up again, but you can see how that would get quite tiresome.
[2] And hey, optimist that I am, maybe even my wireless-network problems will gone as well.