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Exit and Restart Explorer.exe Cleanly in Windows 7 and Vista

To restart Explorer to test a registry setting without a reboot, we usually terminate the Explorer shell (explorer.exe) using Task Manager. The Task Manager method is like forcibly killing the process instead of terminating it cleanly.

Jeff, a Software Design Engineer at Microsoft, posted a great tip on how to cleanly start and stop explorer.exe in Windows XP.


If you are running Windows XP and want a cmd prompt with no strange environment variables set, do the following: Ctrl + Shift+Esc → File → Ctrl + New Task (Run…)

This will open a cmd window with only the basics. This is useful if you have killed Explorer and need to restart it. Explorer will keep the environment of the cmd window that started it.

If you want to cleanly shutdown Explorer without having it automatically restart: Start → Shutdown → Ctrl + Alt + Shift + Cancel.

Although the above method (originally written for Windows XP) would work for the Classic Start menu in Windows Vista and Windows 7, not everyone uses the Classic Start menu.

This article tells you how to exit explorer in Windows Vista and Windows 7 using the New Start menu.

Exit and Restart Explorer.exe Cleanly in Windows 7/Vista

For a Windows 8 or 10 version of this article, check out the post How to Exit Explorer and Restart Explorer in Windows 10 and Windows 8?.

Aaron Margosis of Microsoft tells you how to cleanly stop Explorer.exe on Windows Vista and Windows 7 if you’re using the default Start menu. This is using a hidden GUI option that’s present in Windows Vista and Windows 7 Start menu.

The hidden option named Exit Explorer shows up when you follow these steps:

Click the Start button. Press and hold the Ctrl & Shift keys and right-click on an empty area in the Start menu. You’ll see a Popup menu containing the two options, namely Exit Explorer and Properties.

Windows Vista Start menu

Note that the above Popup menu can be launched by holding the Ctrl and Shift keys and then right-clicking on the Start menu power button itself.

Windows 7 Start menu

After selecting the Exit Explorer command, the shell (Start menu, Taskbar, and the Desktop) will terminate, and the other applications continue to run. You need to manually start a new explorer.exe process by launching the Task Manager. Use the Ctrl + Shift + Esc key sequence to launch Task Manager.

From the File menu of Task Manager, choose New Task (Run…), type explorer.exe , and click OK.

Keyboard shortcut for automation:

To launch the above popup menu using the keyboard, use the following key sequence:

Key sequence – Option #1: {CTRL} {ESC} {RIGHT} ({CTRL} {SHIFT}) {APPKEY} {X}

Key sequence – Option #2: {CTRL} {ESC} {RIGHT} ({CTRL} {SHIFT}) {F10} {X}

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