by lunarg on March 16th 2015, at 13:34

There are a lot of misconceptions about the %WINDIR%\SoftwareDistribution folder, home to the Windows Update data files. This can be seen by the myriad of posts and comments found all over the internet. So here's the real deal about cleaning out the Windows Updates cache.

Note that Windows Update automatically cleans out the cached updates at a regular interval (depending on the age of the cache, etc). If you're running production servers, you usually don't have to manually clean out the cache, unless you have acute disk space trouble. But sometimes it may be necessary to accelerate the process, and that's when the methods of the article come into play.

Don't delete SoftwareDistribution

First of, never *ever* delete the SoftwareDistribution folder. There's never a good reason to manipulate or delete files and/or folders in there, unless you really have an issue with Windows Update. If you only want to remove cached updates, do not delete it, and utilize one of the methods below.

Microsoft's supported way

The only truly supported way is to use Disk Cleanup, incorporated in every Windows-client version (Vista, Win7, Win8, ...):

  1. Start Disk Cleanup: open Explorer, right-click the C-drive, Properties, and then there's the Disk Cleanup button.
  2. If you're not running elevated, wait for the scan to complete, then click the Clean up System Files button. This will redo the scan.
  3. When the scan is completed, you will be able to select to delete Windows Updates, which basically deletes the cached updates.

This is the preferred way to clean out the cache, but if you can't use Disk Cleanup, read on to the next part.

Somewhat less supported but safe way

If you're unable to use Disk Cleanup (e.g. Server-editions: 2008/2008R2/2012/...), there's one other way to manually remove the updates:

  1. First, make sure no update process is running, or you'll get into trouble.
  2. Open elevated Explorer, navigate to %WINDIR%\SoftwareDistribution\Download.
  3. Delete the contents of the folder, not the folder itself.

Do not touch any other folder or file in the SoftwareDistribution folder.

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