Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
With the release of IE8 many people are noticing that there is more than one iexplore.exe process when they run IE. I'll look at why.
When I open up Internet Explorer, just one instance, I get two of them in my process list. No extra tabs or windows open, just the one iexplore. When I close that iexplore, they both go away in the process list. When I open it up again, poof two in processes. One usually runs parallel to whatever website I am on, ie higher memory usage for bigger sites, and the other runs about 16M all the time. I run Spy-bot and Ad Aware regularly. Don't know what is causing this, wasn't there before.
This has actually spooked a few people since IE8 came out.
I can't tell you why it's done, because quite honestly I don't know.
But I can tell you this: it's not a problem, and not a sign of anything like malware.
Let's look at what people are seeing.
If you fire up a single instance of Internet Explorer version 8, and then open up the task manager, you may see something like this in the process tab:
If, instead, we look at the process list using Process Explorer we'll see something like this:
What I immediately notice is that one instance is indented underneath the other. That means that the top one explicitly started the one underneath it - it's that process's "parent".
If I start another instance of IE (via the quick launch bar):
You'll see that the instance of IE8 that I started is not a new top-level process, but was rather added as a child of that same parent IE8 process. (Creating tabs will also create more processes, though not necessarily one-for-one.)
My theory is simply this: with the release of IE8, Microsoft added features to make IE more resilient to crashes. One instance of IE crashing will not affect another, for example. Moreover, if one of those child processes crashes, then I believe it's that parent process's job to recover from the crash. It probably notices and automatically restarts a new child process so that you can continue browsing.
I could be wrong about the specifics, but I'm fairly certain that this "extra" IE8 instance is all about making your browser experience more robust and stable. (Much of this is confirmed by the IE8 team blog.)
More importantly, whatever the reasons, it's nothing to be concerned about. It's not a sign of malware or something bad happening behind the scenes.
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