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's this program running on my machine?

What’s this program running on my machine?

As you use your Windows machine there may be many programs
running – some of which you can see and some of which are running
in the background. In Windows 95, 98 and Me, pressing
CTRL-ALT-DEL will present you with a list of the programs
running on your machine. On Windows NT, 2000, XP and 2003,
running task manager (right click on the clock or any open
space on the task bar and select Task Manager) and selecting
the Processes tab will show you that list.

It’s probably a longer list than you expected.

So what are all those programs running on your machine?

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

Some will be fairly obvious based on their name. For
example a program called “msnmsngr” is MSN Messenger, the MSN
Instant messaging program. “CMD” is the “Command Prompt”. But
CSRSS? LSASS? SVCHOST? For these and many of the others we
don’t immediately recognize we need to look a little
deeper.

One of the tools I use the most is
Process Explorer (procexp) by the folks out at
Sysinternals.com. Think of it as
task manager on steroids.

Just running procexp will answer the question for a number
of programs running on your machine. Procexp will list them
much like task manager did except with much more available
information including a description if there is one.

The columns available to be displayed in procexp are
extensive – one that I’ve added to my default display is
“Command Line”. Much like a previous article about
What’s This DLL? simply
knowing where the program was loaded from on disk will often
tell us what application it is a part of. For example it didn’t
dawn on me what “ypager” was until I saw that it had been
loaded from “\Program Files\Yahoo!\Messenger”. That made it
fairly clear that it’s Yahoo’s instant messaging client.

“Just running procexp will answer the question for a number of programs running on your machine.”

If it’s not obvious from the description or the command
line then my next step, again much like the DLL search, is
Google. For example search on
“LSASS.EXE” provided me with a site that told me it was the
“The Windows Local Security Authority Server Process” the
component of windows that handles local security related
requests. In other words, a key component of the operating
system itself.

I also recommend
Microsoft’s Support Site. The problem
with both it and Google is simply that there are often a lot
of unhelpful entries to wade through. LSASS, for example,
returns a plethora of articles on the Microsoft Support site
dealing with specific issues relating to LSASS but not a clear
definition of what it is. Nonetheless, both can be valuable
aids if you can sort the wheat from the chaff.

Most of programs can be identified by the steps above, at
least to the point of understanding what application they
belong to or whether they are part of the operating system.

One program, “svchost”, usually has multiple copies running
at the same time on Windows NT, XP, 2000, and 2003. Labeled only
as “Generic Host Process”, it deserves a little more attention
that I’ll save for a separate article.

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...".)

44 comments on “What's this program running on my machine?”

  1. Heard about your site on one of the PC oriented radio shows. Heard someone ask about a slow PC. Host recommended your site. I had the problem too and went to your site. Your recommendation to try Process Explorer allowed me (a novice)to locate a problem with my firewall (on/off cycling process, CPU up to 100% every 20 seconds). Went to firewall software and reset firewall enable…fixed problem immediately. THANKS SO MUCH!

    Erle

    Reply
  2. Heard about your site on one of the PC oriented radio shows. Heard someone ask about a slow PC. Host recommended your site. I had the problem too and went to your site. Your recommendation to try Process Explorer allowed me (a novice)to locate a problem with my firewall (on/off cycling process, CPU up to 100% every 20 seconds). Went to firewall software and reset firewall enable…fixed problem immediately. THANKS SO MUCH!

    Erle

    Reply
  3. In my Ctrl-alt-del there is a program simply called “A”. what is it? please email me a response A.S.A.P. thanks
    -Allan

    Reply
  4. Darned good question. I assume you are running Win9x? Grab a copy of Process Explorer from sysinternals, referenced in the article. Run it and you’ll at least be able to see where “A” is on your hard drive. From there you can begin to investigate, again as outlined in the article. I also assume you’ve already run virus and spyware scans.

    Leo

    Reply
  5. I accedently shut down a proces in taskmgr and now all the tabs (like programs and network … ) are gone, i can’t make them reapear. I’ve tryed to use system restore but it doesn’t work. What should I do?
    This is realy annoying.
    thanks in advance.

    Reply
  6. About missing tabs in taskmanager:
    I had the same problem. Rebooting didn’t help me, but I simply double clicked on the ‘frame’, the grayish border(?) and the tabs all came back. Double click again to make them disappear again.
    /P-skijj

    Reply
  7. Armor2net Personal Firewall, a program for the Windows operating system that helps protect computers from the threats on the Internet and World Wide Web. With Armor2net Personal Firewall in place, end-users can breathe a sigh of relief.
    For more information, please visit: http://www.armor2net.com

    Reply
  8. my computer is running slow, so i open windows task manager. i see all the processes when i didnt even open alot of programs yet. the processes just appear and i want to ask how to make them decrease when i start my desktop.

    Reply
  9. my computer is running slow, so i open windows task manager. i see all the processes when i didnt even open alot of programs yet. the processes just appear and i want to ask how to make them decrease when i start my desktop.

    Reply
  10. It depends on what the processes are, which is why this article was written – to help identify them. Many are important parts of the operating system itself, others are a waste of time. Once you know which is what, how you turn them off will, once again, depend on exactly what each process is.

    There’s no blanket answer, I’m afraid.

    Reply
  11. Hi!

    I have been reading many of your articles and am pleased with the clarity. I cannot seem however to find the article on svchost.exe. Call me thick if you will but I must be missing it.

    Frustrated because I have three computers now all at standstill whill this exe files eats away at my CPU. In one case I am getting 100% red in the task manager!!!

    I have read so much rubbish for days now contradicting themselves about this listening to everyone else saying the same problems with a myriad of unhelpful answers.

    I know very well what it is what I want to know is how to kill whatever is possesing it!!!

    Can you help?

    Please???

    Martin

    Reply
  12. Hello I have 2 program icons on my desktop i wish to delete–i right click them and hit delete and it pauses and it said they are being run by a program and can’t delete—-check in task manager and nothing obvious is in there. I restart in safe mode and same result—is there a way to see what program is running these 2 items so I can delete them???? thanks—great web site by the way—so much info i am on overload—

    Reply
  13. Big problem here. I instant messaged a friend’s cell phone from my PC. Unfortunatly, the same message has been sent to her over and over on her cell phone all day long!!! No one seems to know how to stop it and each text message is costing her money. can you help?

    Reply
  14. I can’t seem to get rid of msn (i think it’s version 4.7) It won’t remove from my add/remove programs lists…. I had originally tried to remove it so I could use versions 7.5, but 7.5 won’t work on my laptop and 4.7 won’t go!
    I am not familiar with most of the technical stuff with computers.. but I can usually add and remove proigrams no probs!
    thanks Karlye

    Reply
  15. i have some programs running on my windows xp that are running under the users name, ive run spy bot, ive downloaded the process explorer and it wont see them, if i use task manager to stop the process, it just restarts itself, ive searched the registry for refernces to the file names running and got rid of them there but they still show up in task manager, i found the some files in Windows/system32 but you can delete it because there in use, if i go to safe mode you cant find them in the windows explorer, im frustrated, the file names are veumb.exe and xcpji.exe. the second file is in the start up folder and you can get rid of it there either. can someone help? i didnt find anything in the articles to get me movin but this is a great site

    Reply
  16. Whenever I shut down, I get the “End Now” box telling me there’s a program running that needs to stop before I can shut down. There is an option to Cancel (to return to windows) or “End Now” (and I will lose any unsaved information …” The name of the program is Sample–that’s it — just “Sample” — what on earth is “Sample?” For months — in vain, I’ve searched this computer inside and out and I cannot find anything called “Sample” that resembles a program. Sometimes I think I get it narrowed down to a graphic program of some sort-who knows? I cannot get rid of it – it a persistant rascal and even survived a major crash last Sunday! If you can solve this one for me – I’ll dance at your wedding, or your retirement party, whichever comes first.

    Reply
  17. I would use Process Explorer, referred to in the article, to see if you can identify which of the processes might be titled “Sample”.

    Reply
  18. I WANT TO END SOME OF THE PROCESSES RUNNING ON MY COMPUTER BECAUSE THEY ARE MAKING MY COMPUTER SLOWER… HOW DO I KNOW WHICH ONES NOT TO END, WHICH ONES ARE VERY IMPORTANT, AND WHICH ONES I CAN END???

    Reply
  19. Hello. I keep getting this little task pop-up thing with a little white box with a blue horrizontal line across the top in my task bar. The whole thing just randomly pops up and then disappears after a few seconds—it’s too fast for me to click on it to see what it is. It also disrupts my screen saver. I turned my computer off and I had that “end now” box that came up before I could shutdown. Apparently there were two programs running I had no idea about: __PIAWIA and Windows Forums Parking Windows.

    Are these viruses? How do I get rid of them?

    Any help would be most appreciated. Thank you!

    Reply
  20. —–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
    Hash: SHA1

    A couple of ideas:

    http://ask-leo.com/how_do_i_read_a_message_that_flies_by_too_quickly_on_my_screen.html

    and

    http://ask-leo.com/how_can_i_track_what_programs_come_and_go_on_my_machine.html

    And of course make sure your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs both
    have up to date databases.

    Leo
    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE—–
    Version: GnuPG v1.4.6 (MingW32)

    iD8DBQFF3eY3CMEe9B/8oqERAjQzAJ0bP/I6xzarbDi61CUwq8gHmeeBRgCeNbSV
    Cwr4U+jU5nXP2O1MwgsAgXU=
    =Cy2r
    —–END PGP SIGNATURE—–

    Reply
  21. What is the program running in the background? On the task bar there is a task w/ a box in it. When I click on the task nothing happens. Before I was able to log off the computer and it would disappear but now it constantly stays on the screen. Can it be a virus?

    Reply
  22. My wife downloaded two screen savers, 🙁
    When she tried to install something went wrong.
    now the two .exe files are on the desktop (where she DL them) and we can’t delete/move them and no screensaver to run.

    When we try to delete them we get a message telling us that another program or person is using them.

    I have tried several online Virus/spyware, etc and although they found and cleaned a few things it did not fix this one and we still can’t get rid of them.

    I tried to look them up in the task mgr and I see no listing or anything out of the normal.

    Can you help????

    Reply
  23. Why when I go to shut down my pc does this pop up
    come up that says other people are on your computer and if you shut down now they will lose information? Has some person or persons hacked into my computer?

    Reply
  24. I am tring to speed up my computer, I have a HUGE list on the “started” services from control-adm tools-services. I am scared i may delete the wrong ones. I did you answer this question ‘I WANT TO END SOME OF THE PROCESSES RUNNING ON MY COMPUTER BECAUSE THEY ARE MAKING MY COMPUTER SLOWER… HOW DO I KNOW WHICH ONES NOT TO END, WHICH ONES ARE VERY IMPORTANT, AND WHICH ONES I CAN END???” Does deleting the history on your pages make it slower or faster? Help

    Reply
  25. i have deleted my history ,cookies , removed stuff i dont use thru the removal tool in control panel, delete recycle bin,run spy ware, defragment tool. What else can I do to Speed up things.

    Reply
  26. k so i am listing this on many sites trying to find an answer to this process. running on my win 2000 laptop its called trickler_bic_do. if anyone has an idea on this process’s origins it would be helpful. when this is running system resoures are used upp at an alarming rate until reduced to zero and cpu stays pegged full load. it can be ended but starts back up just as fast. not seen as virus by many many checkers or ad adware or ect… any help would be useful

    Reply
  27. wen I try to close my computer it says I have a program running, when I try to close this program it says task manager warning trying to end this process could cause losing data. How do I get this off my screen.

    There’s no blanket answer – it depends on which program is not responding.

    Leo
    19-Nov-2009

    Reply
  28. There is a program called runner running on my system. It causes a small, grey rectangular shape on the desktop. When one ALT-TAB it just says Runner. What is this?

    Reply
  29. I never thought of myself as a Geek, I’m 70 years old, but I do have to say I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at Task Manager esp when something is running and I don’t know what it is; but, if it isn’t showing up on Task Manager I had no idea how to locate it. So, I’m going to try this. I am hoping I can interpret what it says Process explorer.

    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.