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Internet Explorer runs deeper than most people realize. Portions of what we think of as IE are in fact part of Windows itself.

Why is it that when I run Ccleaner (weekly) it always shows about 4K of temp files in IE, but I don't use IE except once per month to check for the Tuesday updates?

Some years ago there was a big ruckus about removing Internet Explorer from the operating system, and Microsoft saying that it was impossible or impractical or something along those lines. They may have made some of the more visible parts of it go away to keep the legal folks at the time happy, but the fact is parts of what you think of as Internet Explorer are actually part of the operating system.

Why? Because those parts of Internet Explorer are used by more than just Internet Explorer.

I'd actually encourage you to have a look at those temporary files and see just what they contain. I'm betting that you'll first be surprised at what you find, since you won't have expected it, and then you'll realize exactly what's going on.

"It was pretty clear from the beginning that HTML was going to be a very powerful and useful way to encode more than just web pages."

Internet Explorer consists of many separate components. For the sake of example, I'm going to oversimplify it into two parts:

  • Everything that's involved in understanding and displaying HTML

  • Everything else; like the IE user interface and menus.

It was pretty clear from the beginning that HTML was going to be a very powerful and useful way to encode more than just web pages. Anything that might be displayed as a page - say a book, help file, even the "user interface" of another application could be encoded and displayed using HTML.

So the part of IE that's used to understand and display HTML was separated out in such a way that other applications could use it. In fact, several operating system components use it, which made at least this part of IE impossible to remove without adversely affecting those other programs that used it.

But regardless, if you write a program that wants to display or use HTML in interesting ways, you can actually use software already installed in Windows to handle the task. It just so happens that Internet Explorer (the visible program you use) happens to use that same service.

And, apparently, that service can manage temporary files.

The net result is that those temporary files may well be from some other program that happens to use portions of Internet Explorer for its own purposes.

Like I said, have a peek at exactly what those temporary files are, and I'll bet that they look very familiar - from being shown in some other program you didn't realize was relying on IE's HTML code.

For completeness: when you install another browser like Firefox or Opera, they bring along their own HTML handling code. That's one reason some websites display differently in different browsers. On the other hand, some browsers like the MSN browser, the AOL browser, and products like the Maxthon browser, are actually built on top of the IE HTML code that is present in Windows.

Article C3842 - August 18, 2009 « »

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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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7 Comments
Curtis Young
August 20, 2009 10:26 AM

Hi Leo,

I set up software exceptions under the security applet in the control panel to disable several microsoft products based on their file hash. For example, iexplorer.exe. This seems to have eliminated many issues. The trade off is windows update will not work using Firefox. It has never bothered me, since Windows Update is denied as is any *.dll I believe to be associated with it.

From your previous posts, I make the assumption you are a fan of the security patches sent out via Windows Update.

I have not found any issues (several years) and I believe undesireable software has been blocked (or simply will not run) which would have been supported if I left the machine in its "native" mode.

Chris
August 20, 2009 8:00 PM

Its the other way around Curtis.... Windows Update patches areas that used to be exploitable, making them UN-exploitable by the same version of the application. By opting out of Windows Update, you are simply widening that possibility that your machine could get infected/exploited, but that's entirely up to you...

Some people can keep fairly safe internet lives by keeping extremely low profiles on the net and avoiding almost all areas where you can be "used" by another party.

Software and NAT firewalls could help with port scanner searching your ISP's IP range, but once they get through that, your machine is open for business to 100s, if not thousands of exploitable pieces of code. I say Good Luck and God Speed!

RJ Roy
August 24, 2009 9:36 AM

Now, I know that to some degree, Windows Explorer uses aspects of Internet Explorer. Could browsing your HD, then, potentially create temporary files?

I don't believe so, with the exception that IE is often the default viewer for images (.jpgs for example) and for ".html" files. If you double click one of those then IE will itself fire up.
Leo
25-Aug-2009

Butch Brady
August 25, 2009 11:40 AM

i do have Firefox and i have been trying to get update to work and now i understand why not."what other browser do you suggest? your site has been a lot of help to me cheers

Pookey
August 25, 2009 8:26 PM

Have a Look for a Windows Genuine Advantage Firefox Plugin (its hard to find) it will let you goto Windows Updates.

LegendsOfBatman
June 13, 2011 12:02 AM

Thanks for that answer, Leo. I have been wondering that same thing, myself.
I do wonder, however, why MS insists that the OS depends on IE, when obviously it does not, because it appears to work in Europe, without IE.

The only thing that has been removed from those versions of Windows is IE's user interface - the "guts" of IE are still there. As I said, they're required by too many other applications.
Leo
14-Jun-2011

Ian_UK
July 16, 2011 6:09 AM

Many thanks for this information. I noticed the phenomenon when I started using the disk clean routine in Norton Utilities and wondered why there were so many temp. IE files when I use Firefox.

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