The Windows Start Menu search used to be simple, without any tiles and Cortanas getting in the way of you perusing your PC for the files you want. Things got a bit messy in Windows 10, but recent updates have removed problematic features like Cortana from proceedings, and the May 2019 update revamped the search interface, making your searches feel a bit more detailed and granular.
With Cortana out of the way, the Start menu search is a bit more stable and less bloated. Still, it can sometimes stop working, so we’re here to give some pointers on how to fix it.
1. Enable Background Apps
Ever since the Creator’s Update back in 2017, there’s been a bug affecting some Windows 10 users involving the running of Windows app in the background. Specifically, disabling the option to “Let apps run in the background” in Windows 10 would have the unintended effect of rendering the Start menu search function useless.
This bug exists to this day, so you need to make sure that you have the “Let apps run in the background” master switch set to “On”.
To do this, go to “Settings -> Privacy -> Background apps” then make sure the “Let apps run in the background” switch is “On”. From this same screen, you can individually disable any and all Windows apps from running in the background, but it’s crucial to keep that master switch one.
2. Rebuild the Index
There’s a possibility that the search indexing files in your Windows Search have become corrupted, therefore disabling the Search function. Some people have reported this problem since the Windows 10 May Update (v1903), and the following as a possible solution.
Our next tip shows you how to use the Windows Troubleshooter for search and indexing, but first you can try rebuilding the index, which should eliminate any corruptions.
To do this, go to Control Panel, switch on “Large icons” at the top right corner, then click “Indexing Options -> Advanced”.
Finally, click Rebuild in the Advanced Options window. Click OK on the pop-up that tells you this may take some time, and wait for the process to complete.
3. Run Windows Troubleshooter
The simplest solution is to use the tools built into Windows to help you out. Granted, this is far from a 100% solution, but it’s a quick one so it’s worth a shot.
1. Navigate to the Control Panel (click Start, then scroll down the the Windows System folder and you’ll find it there).
2. Change the view to “Large icons” or “Small icons” if it’s not that already, then click “Troubleshooting -> System and Security -> Search and Indexing”.
3. Click “Next” in the troubleshooter, then check the box that applies to your issue (most likely “Files don’t appear in search results”, though if your Windows Search is working, albeit slowly, you should tick the third box down).
4. Finally, click Next to run the scan, which will automatically attempt to fix any problems.
4. Use the System File Checker
Given that this is one of the simplest things you can do to try and repair your Start menu search, we recommend trying it first. Open an elevated Command Prompt (right-click Command Prompt then “Run as administrator”), then type the following command:
This will scan your system files for any errors and corruptions, and automatically attempt to fix them. Give that the Start menu search is a system process, any errors in it should be detected by using the SFC utility.
In addition, one of our readers in the comments suggested that running the SFC utility in Windows 10 Safe Mode solved the problem for them, so that’s worth a shot if doing it in regular Windows 10 fails. Thanks Dave morrison!
5. Disable/Restart Third-Party Antivirus, Enable Windows Firewall
To be clear, we’re not suggesting here that you should disable and completely remove all third-party antivirus software from your device, but based on feedback here and across the Internet, certain programs cause Windows Search to malfunction. Avast is one culprit, so try uninstalling that if you have it, then find an alternative if need be (Windows Defender itself has become a viable, secure option in recent years).
Or (credit to our reader Mayur N.), you could just try disabling your Avast shields temporarily, which should get the Start menu search back. In the case of Avast at least, once you switch the shields back on, the Start menu search may continue working as it should.
On the other hand, enabling Windows Firewall has also helped some users. It seems that Search and indexing is oddly sensitive to your security settings, so tinkering around with them by enabling and disabling things may yield results.
6. Move or Rebuild Swapfile.sys
The Pagefile and Swapfile are two inextricably linked and important functions of Windows 10. The pagefile eases the weight off your PC RAM by allocating a certain amount of hard drive space to functioning as RAM should you run low on memory. The swapfile performs the same function, but specifically for Modern Windows apps, so it’s more targeted in its scope.
Seeing as Cortana is a Modern Windows app, you can try rebuilding the Swapfile to kickstart it – and your Start menu search – back into action. This will also involve rebuilding the Pagefile, as the Swapfile is directly dependent on the Pagefile.
If you want to try this, read our guide on how to move and modify your Pagefile (and therefore Swapfile). While we don’t recommend outright disabling the Pagefile, you can move it to another drive to effectively ‘restart’ it. Or, if you want it on the original drive, you can disable it, reboot your PC, then re-enable it after you’ve rebooted.
If your Start menu search still isn’t working after this, the next tip is a good one to follow up with…
7. Restart Windows Explorer
It goes without saying that the first thing you should try is rebooting your PC, but if that fails, then the slightly more niche solution is to restart the Windows Explorer process. This is responsible for managing files on your PC as well as the smooth functioning of the Start menu.
Press Ctrl + Shift + Esc to jump straight into Task Manager, click “More details” in the bottom-left corner if that hasn’t been selected already, then scroll down to Windows Explorer, right-click it, and hit “Restart.” Have a moment of panic as it looks for a second like your computer might crash, then breathe a sigh of relief as you see that it’s still working, and your Start menu Search button is hopefully fixed!
8. Check Windows Search Service
Another reason why your Start menu search may not be working is because the Windows Search service is not running. Windows Search service is a system service and runs automatically on the system startup.
Check whether the service is running or not by hitting Win + R, typing
services.msc, then scrolling down to find it. If it says “Running” in the Status column, it’s running (obviously). If not, you’ll have to start it manually.
Right-click “Windows Search” and then click “Properties.”
In the Properties window click on the “Start” button to start the service. Also, make sure that the Startup type is set to “Automatic” or “Automatic (Delayed Start).” This ensures that the service will automatically start at every system startup. Once you are done with the changes, click ‘OK.’
Once the service has been started, this is what it looks like in your Services window. For me, this method worked perfectly.
9. Repair Windows Installation
Before you start worrying that this will delete all your personal data and files, there’s a way to refresh your Windows installation while keeping your vital data. It’s obviously still a more extreme measure than some others others on this list, so scroll down to other headings if you want to try some other solutions first.
First, create a bootable Windows 10 installation disk or USB, then launch it. Follow the instructions to upgrade your Windows 10 installation, and make sure that on the “Ready to install” screen you’ve chosen the option to “Keep personal files and apps”. If it’s not selected by default, click “Change what to keep”, then select “Keep personal files and Window settings”. Click Install, and the latest version of Windows 10 will be installed, while holding onto all your data.
This will also reinstall the core files responsible for the Start menu search, and therefore fix it.
10. Or Try “Everything” as a Workaround
If these fixes still haven’t solved your problem, then it may be time for a workaround. Void Tools has released an excellent and very lightweight tool called “Everything” which indexes and searches all the files on your computer instantly.
Having problems with the Photos app in Windows 10? We can fix that too. Or for something a little more cheery check out our list of new and retro Windows 10 screensavers.
This post is updated on May 2020.