more on explorer.exe

I just noticed that my recent post on how to start and shutdown Explorer got a lot of hits.  I was looking at the referer logs and it seems a lot of people have more questions about Explorer.  I will answer some of them:

Q: What is explorer.exe?
A: Most succinctly Explorer is the shell.  When you start Windows and it is just sitting there at the desktop with the Start menu everything you see, at the highest level, is Explorer.  A lot of the code for shell stuff lives in shell32.dll, but explorer.exe contains some code for things like the Start menu and the tray.

Q: What is the difference between iexplore.exe and explorer.exe?
A: The explorer frame is capable of browsing the file system (My Computer, c:\, etc) as well as the Internet.  iexplore.exe starts Internet Explorer, which is the explorer frame browsing the Internet, with all the correct buttons and other UI elements.  explore.exe starts the shell the first time it is run.  If you run explorer.exe again, by doing something like Start->Run->explorer.exe->OK, it launches a file system view with all the corresponding buttons and widgets. 

Q: How do I start Internet Explorer from a command line?
A: Well, you can call iexplore.exe (it usually lives in “%programfiles%\internet explorer\”) and pass an URL as the parameter, or you can just use the ‘start’ command:

     d:\> start
     d:\> “%programfiles%\internet explorer\iexplore.exe”

    I recommend using start.

By far, however, the largest number of hits were from people just searching google for “explorer.exe”.  My guess is they either wanted to get a copy of explorer.exe or they simply had no clue at all what it was and were seeking a description.  I hope this helps them too.

Comments (14)

  1. Andrew says:

    Using start, it launches Firefox, loads fine, but i get a popup from windows saying

    "Windows cannot find ‘‘. Make sure you typed the name correctly, and then try again. To search for a file, click the Start button, and then click Search."


  2. Raymond Chen says:

    You can say "start iexplore" and it will find IE.

    Andrew, the error message you’re getting is a known bug in Firefox. For more info, go to google and search for "Windows cannot find ‘‘. Make sure you typed the name correctly, and then try again. To search for a file, click the Start button, and then click Search."

  3. travis says:

    these registry keys will fix your firefox:







  4. jeffdav says:

    I had suspected ‘start’ would try to use the default browser, since my guess is it just calls ShellExecute() but I have not verfied either of those things. 🙂

  5. PeterS says:

    Hi, I’m one of those people that was searching google for “explorer.exe” and came across your blog. The reason I was searching was that I am currently experiencing a problem with Windows Explorer – the frame that browses the file system. If I close this frame none of the shortcuts on the desktop or startmenu etc will reopen it. If I shut my computer down, the Windows shutdown proceedure reports an access violation. Sorry I haven’t written down the message.

    I was hoping that SP2 would correct the problem but this hasn’t been the case. Any ideas ?

  6. jeffdav says:

    Peter – It is unclear to me from your description what has gone wrong. You say the frame that browses the file system cannot be re-opened from the desktop or startmenu. You should be able to get to the file system on Windows XP by clicking Start->My Computer.

    Is there a specific directory you want to launch repeatedly? You can create a shortcut to a directory by finding it once via My Computer, then when you are viewing the directory, click on the icon in the Address bar and drag it to the desktop.

    If you see an AV when shutting down the computer, it is important to note the process. If it is happening in explorer.exe, it could be a third party plug-in loaded into explorer. Try running Ad Aware or some similar program to see what is going on.

  7. PeterS says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Sorry if I was unclear.

    After start up of the computer, if I open the file system with Start-> My Computer or any other method and then close the file system window, I then have problenms reopening it.

    I have tried Start-> My Computer, My Network Places, Control Panel etc + the short cut to the Recycle Bin off the desk top + all my short cuts off the desk top to specific directories.

    I have found that rebooting will allow me to open it again – I try to remember not to close the window.

    I have also found that if I put a CD in the drive, a pop up dialogue usually asks me what I want to do with the CD. One of the options is to view the files using Windows Explorer. This will reopen the file system window for me without having to reboot.

    I regularly use Adaware and Spybot and scanning just now revealed no nasties – my access to the internet is via a network and we have virus protection, firewalls etc on the server and on my workstation.

    With regard to the AV message – it doesn’t always result in a dialogue appearing, but almost always produces a beep to indicate something has happened that probabbly should not be happening.

    I was hoping to be able to unistall explorer and reinstall it without having to do a full reinstall of XP but reading over your blog site is giving me the impression that explorer is the very heart of XP and I’m probably due for a transplant !


  8. jeffdav says:

    The first problem–you can only launch explorer to browse the file system once–has me at a bit of a loss. Nothing in my experiance can definatly explain it. Can you launch IE without problems every time? You should be able to navigate IE to a file system folder: Start->Internet Explorer->alt+d->c:->[ENTER].

    The second problem–AV on shutdown–I still believe to be caused by some extension or other loaded into the explorer process. Unfortunatly there is no way to just remove and reinstall the shell… short of reinstalling windows completely. Reinstalling is always a drastic step I like to try to avoid, however.

    Explorer does beep at wierd times sometimes, like if you use the enter key to select an item to navigate to from history.

  9. PeterS says:

    Hi Jeff , not sure if you have access to error reports that go back to Microsoft and whether you would be able to locate a specific one, but I was just browsing my file system and Explorer had a problem so had to shut down. The report error dialogue came up so I accepted hoping to get a reference to give you but none was there. It managed to restart without a problem though

  10. sachin awasthi says:

    My explorer.exe has a virus and i think as a result the machine is getting very slow …..

    what is the solution other than re-installing the windows ……

    nortons had detected it but cannot repair it …

  11. yossis says:

    i’m using win2k.

    my explorer.exe crashs everytime i press control panel.

    how can i fix this?

    can i reinstall explorer.exe alone?


  12. Jim H says:

    OK… Here’s one for you… Why would explorer.exe, when viewing in the performance tab of the task manager, *ocsilate* between low and high CPU consumption? And continue to increase until after an hour or so it consumes 100% of the CPU time! I can kill the explorer.exe task and restart it. It will start over again at low numbers but eventually take over the CPU again! I’ve reinstalled WinXP three times but it eventually does it again!