Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

What Happens If You Delete System32 in Windows 10?

This question took me by surprise. Seriously.

I mean, why would you even consider it?

Well, apparently there’s a prank or scam running around that encourages people to do exactly that.

Don’t.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

C:\Windows\System32 is Windows itself, and deleting it, if even partially successful, will break your Windows installation. You’ll need to reinstall Windows or restore from an image backup to recover. Suggestions that you should do so are generally pranks that should be completely ignored.

System32 is Windows

The folder C:\Windows\System32 is Windows itself. It contains almost all the files that make up Windows.

A partial listing of the over 4,000 items in the Windows System32 folder
A partial listing of the over 4,000 items in the Windows System32 folder. (Click for larger image.)

When you get right down to it, Windows is “just” a computer program — albeit an incredibly large and complex one. That program is stored on your hard disk as a collection of files. The vast majority of those files live in the System32 folder.

Windows is perhaps better thought of as the folder “C:\Windows” and everything in it, but that overlooks some components stored in other folders, such as “C:\Program Files” and similar. But the System32 folder has most of the files that makes Windows work.

Deleting System32

There’s a good chance you can’t delete all of System32, even if you’re running “as administrator”. You’ll find some of those files are in use, which means they can’t be deleted. The program using them? Windows itself.

As long as Windows is running, those files are locked by virtue of being in active use.

The only way to really delete System32 completely is to boot into another operating system (most easily by booting from a DVD or other external source). Then you might have access to delete the folder and its contents.

After you do so, your machine will no longer boot from its hard drive, since you’ve deleted 90% of the operating system.

The only way to recover would be to either restore from an image backup taken of the drive prior to the deletion, or reinstall Windows from scratch.

Legitimate deleting

There is, of course, a legitimate approach to deleting System32: that’s when you no longer want to run that installation of Windows.

The way to do that — “delete” System32 as well as the rest of Windows — is to install another operating system or reinstall Windows from scratch. That process will replace all the operating system files. If, as some installations do, you’re left with a “Windows.old” folder that itself has a “System32” folder, you can delete that, as long as you know you’ll never want to revert to the previously installed system.

It’s a trap!

As I said, I’m not sure why anyone would even consider doing this. It’s like deciding to remove your car’s engine while hurtling down the expressway at 60 miles an hour: the results won’t be pretty.

From what I’ve heard, there’s a scam or a prank suggesting that System32 is some kind of virus, and should be deleted. Besides just wanting to wreak havoc, the closest explanation I can come up with are those who consider Windows itself a “virus”.

Deleting System32 is not the way to get rid of it.

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Tech problem solving & safety tips with a weekly confidence boost in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow

Slow Computer?

Speed up with my FREE special report: 10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow, now updated for Windows 10.

No strings. No email. Here's the direct download. (Just right-click and "Save As...".)

Podcast audio

Play

8 comments on “What Happens If You Delete System32 in Windows 10?”

  1. That is something I would like to do to those scammers calling from India, claiming to be Microsoft, wanting to fix all those errors my machine is causing to the internet!

    Reply
  2. Leo, you wrote:

    “This question took me by surprise.”

    Leo, you ain’t the only one! I was browsing your list of most recent articles, and came upon the listing for this one…

    …And froze, flat dead in my tracks! Yeesh!

    “Why would anyone even consider it?” is indeed the question, but perhaps a more enlightening — if also very distressing — question might be, “Just how many people have fallen for this?!”

    I shudder merely thinking about it…

    Reply
    • Oh: I forgot to add: Deleting “System32” is bad no matter which version of Windows you have. It most certainly is not confined to Windows 10!

      In fact, Leo, if I may make a suggestion: I hereby move to amend the title of this article by striking out the number “10” from the end thereof, so that the article title, if so amended, will read, “What Happens If You Remove System32 In Windows?”

      Do I hear a second to that motion?

      Reply
  3. A while back my checkdisk function was not working and I fixed it by deleting the chkdsk file in System 32. Then I refreshed the Sys 32 window and the chkdsk file re-appeared, and checkdisk worked after that. I concluded that the deleted chkdsk file had been corrupted, perhaps by a power failure or hard shutdown.

    It occurred to me that users having a similar issue might think that deleting all Sys 32 files might solve any computer issues in the future, thinking Windows will replace any deleted Sys 32 file. You’ve confirmed my instinct that it won’t.

    Cloning ssd’s is my favorite (and recommended) preemptive remedy for stubborn PC problems. I even have two cloud service synchronization folders on an external ssd so that when I copy/paste a file from the C: drive to a sync folder on the ext drive, it immediately uploads to the cloud, providing both local and off site storage in one step. I keep 6 W7 ssd’s amd 3 W10 ssd’s and I re-clone once a month, making sure to scan and clean the source disk beforehand.

    The only catch to this is that a clone, like a restored image, may not boot on a different machine. It may be necessary to purchase an identical, refurbished machine to insure all the cloned/image C: drive backups.

    Reply

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.