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The problem you have may not be the problem you think you have.

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This is Leo Notenboom for askleo.net.

A common confusion among many crash reports I get is that Windows will often report a program as having crashed, except that the program reported is:

  • a) not actually responsible for the crash

  • b) reported as the culprit for hundreds, if not thousands, of different reasons

Case in point: svchost.exe.

"Service Host" is actually a helper program that's used to run other programs. The problem is that when any of those other programs experiences a crash or other problem, Windows reports that the problem is with Service Host. This has lead people to blame Service Host, even going so far as to think it's a virus and remove it, when it's simply not the problem.

It's also lead many people, upon solving their own svchost-reported problem, to think that they've found the solution to all svchost related problems. Unfortunately that's simply not the case. As I said, the list of problems that might appear as svchost includes hundreds of possible issues; there simply isn't one solution.

And, of course, virus-writers take advantage of this confusion and add to it by trying to name viruses - svchost. So sometimes svchost is the problem, if we're talking about the right one.

Now, there are most definitely problems that are more common than others. A few years ago a particular virus manifested as a svchost problem. Last year a problem with Windows Update manifested as a svchost problem. Lately there's apparently a problem with a particular printer manufacturer's software that - you guessed it - manifests as a svchost problem.

And in all these cases:

  • svchost is actually not the problem

  • each different problem has a completely unrelated and different solution

I know it's frustrating, and I do wish that Windows did a better job of reporting the root cause of errors in a more complete and understandable way. But for now, we have what we have.

And for the record, svchost is not the only Windows component to suffer from this problem. Any Windows program that is used to load others, or can be augmented by software installed from other sources can have this happen. A great example? Internet Explorer - problems in add-ons, activex controls and yes, viruses and spyware, can all manifest as a problem in iexplore.exe - except it's not Internet Explorer that's at fault at all.

It's just not obvious how to tell.

I'd love to hear what you think. Visit askleo.net and enter 12200 in the go to article number box to access the show notes, the transcript and to leave me a comment. While you're there, browse the hundreds of technical questions and answers on the site.

Till next time, I'm Leo Notenboom, for askleo.net.

Article C3279 - January 26, 2008 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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1 Comment
vincent martino
January 31, 2008 2:17 PM

Leo i am new on the computer i recentlyinstalled Outlook express for my E Mail I have a address book,how do i put the address on a e mail that i want to send to some one else step by step. thanks vincent Martino

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