While installing updates on Windows is a simple process, the background mechanism governing all of this is quite complex. There is also a lot of misinformation on the internet about how to fix problems related to Windows Update.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that all Windows updates can be installed right away by simply deleting the SoftwareDistribution folder stored in C: Windows. This is completely wrong. Yes, you can save space (from 500MB to several GB), but deleting the folder will not remove installed updates.
Also, it is not recommended to delete the SoftwareDistribution folder unless absolutely necessary. There is a DataStore subfolder that contains a large database of all available Windows updates. This database will probably be a couple of hundred MB in size. Deleting this database simply deletes the Windows Update history for the computer.
To prove this to myself, I ran a test. I opened Control Panel, clicked Windows Update, and then clicked View Update History from the menu on the left.
This screen simply presents a complete list of installed updates with status, severity, and installation date. When we delete the SoftwareDistribution folder, this dialog will be completely blank, as if you have never installed any updates. Before I show you this, click the Installed Updates link at the top for instructions on how to uninstall the update.
As you can see, I currently have several hundred updates installed for Office, Windows, Silverlight, etc. Now if you follow the instructions below to delete the folder, you can go back to the View Update History dialog box and you will see that it is now empty.
However, if you click on Installed Updates again, you will see that all updates that were previously listed and are still listed there. This is because we just deleted the history of log updates, not the updates themselves.
In this dialog, you can uninstall the update, but only one at a time. Just click on update and then click on “Uninstall”. Unfortunately, it is not possible to uninstall all updates at once unless you are using System Restore.
If you use System Restore and restore your computer to a previous restore point, any updates that were installed after that restore point are gone. However, to remove all updates, you need a restore point created immediately after installing the OS. Even if a restore point was created at this point, the old ones are usually deleted over time to make room for new restore points.
However, if a lot of space is allocated for system recovery, you can immediately roll back the updates a couple of months ago.
After deleting the contents of the folder, you will need to re-visit Windows Update through Control Panel and check for updates. The entire database will be built from scratch, and you may notice that Windows displays “Check for Updates” for a very long time. This is because a list of all updates applicable to the OS needs to be re-downloaded and then compared with the updates currently installed on the system.
Delete SoftwareDistribution folder
To delete this folder, you must first stop Windows Update and BITS services in Windows. To do this, click Start and type services.msc in the search box.
Then right-click the Windows Update service and select Stop. Do the same for the Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS) service.
Now navigate to the next folder shown below and you will see several folders listed there. The main ones we’ll talk about are Downloads and DataStore.
C: Windows SoftwareDistribution
If you are trying to free up only hard disk space, then you should only delete the contents of the Download folder, although in theory this is not necessary. The Download folder actually contains all updates that have been downloaded but not yet installed. After installation, updates are removed within 10 days. So in theory, this folder should shrink in size shortly after you’ve installed all Windows updates.
The DataStore folder contains a database with a complete history of Windows updates for the computer. After removing it, the update history dialog will be empty, as I showed above, but all your updates will remain. You really should never delete the DataStore folder unless you were told to, or if Windows Update is completely corrupted or misconfigured.
Please note that you will not be able to delete certain folders and the ReportingEvents. In case you cannot delete the folder, just open the folder and delete all the contents inside. I got an error while trying to delete the DataStore folder, so I just went inside the folder and deleted the database file and all other files in the folder.
Check for Windows Update
If you deleted the SoftwareDistribution folder, you will need to go to Windows Update again to check for updates. It will show that you have never checked for updates since the update history is gone.
Click the Check for Updates button and be prepared to wait a little while the database is recreated.
So, the main point here is that you cannot get rid of all Windows updates at once unless you have a really old restore point saved on the system. Second, you should only delete the Downloads folder in the SoftwareDistribution folder if you want to save space, or simply install all the latest updates and wait 10 days to see if they are removed automatically.
Third, you should only delete the DataStore folder if there is something really wrong with Windows Update, for example, no new updates are showing for several months, etc. Hopefully this will give you a better understanding of how Windows Update works and how files are stored. If you have any questions, please leave a comment. Enjoy!