Windows Recovery Environment

Windows Recovery Environment
Component of Microsoft Windows
RecEnv logo.png
Windows Recovery Environment in Windows 11
TypeRecovery tool
Introduced inWindows Vista
ReplacesRecovery Console

Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE) is a diagnostic tool based on Windows PE used for troubleshooting serious system errors that prevent booting into a proper Microsoft Windows environment. It is the successor to the Recovery Console, a command-line tool included from Windows 2000 till Windows Server 2003.

It was introduced with Windows Vista as a tool available on the setup disc, however, since Windows 7 it is installed by default with the rest of the operating system to a hidden partition. This allows the boot loader to automatically start the recovery environment whenever it deems it necessary.

History[edit | edit source]

Windows Vista and 7[edit | edit source]

The earliest available build to have an early form of Recovery Environment is Windows Vista build 5112. To access it, boot off from the installation media, and select "Repair problems with Windows startup". However, at this time, only "Startup Repair" is available and will directly launch when launching from the Autorun prompt.

Build 5231 introduces a tool selector with Startup Repair, Registry Editor and Command Prompt and a selector between Windows installations upon launching WinRE.

In build 5259, the entries of the tool selector have been changed to no longer include the Registry Editor, and instead integrating "Microsoft Support", "System Restore" and "Windows Backup Disaster Recovery". Alongside of these changes, a new aurora wallpaper is used. Command Prompt was removed in build 5270.

eHome builds of Windows Vista do not have the option to start WinRE due to having a different SETUP.EXE.

The tool selector has been revamped in build 5308, now featuring icons to the dedicated entries, but with most having the ones from XP, and Startup Repair even has a placeholder icon. Also, Microsoft Support has been removed, while Command Prompt has been reintegrated and "Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool" has been integrated as a new tool. Most of the icons have been updated until the RTM. The wallpaper has been changed again in Service Pack 1.

In Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008, the Recovery Environment is only available as an option on the installation disk. It included options such as Windows Complete PC Restore, Windows Memory Diagnostic and Command Prompt. The client version further adds Startup Repair and System Restore.

Windows 7, and by extension, Windows Server 2008 R2, was the first version to install the Recovery Environment tools into the hard disk, whose tools are present inside the System Reserved partition, and build 6519 is the earliest available build with this capability. This version replaced Windows Complete PC Restore with System Image Recovery.

Recovery Environment in these versions features a screen with the setup background and a window that uses the Windows Classic theme. It has buttons to shut down or restart the computer on the bottom right and displays links to recovery tools that run as separate windows (like Command Prompt) or on separate screens (like System Restore). When accessed from an installation media, a list with available installations to recover appears, where the user can select one and view its options, but when accessed from the OS, Startup Repair is automatically triggered in an attempt to fix issues without using advanced tools, although the user can skip this through a Cancel button to see the rest of the tools.

Windows 8 onwards[edit | edit source]

Windows 8 introduced a redesigned Recovery Environment based on the Metro interface. Recovery tools now include Refresh your PC and quick access to the Advanced Boot Options (known as Startup Settings) and UEFI settings. It refreshed the interface by featuring a new full screen that follows the Metro design lines, and divided the environment into several pages. The home or start page features four links: one to restart the computer into the OS, another to see troubleshooting options, another to shut down the computer, and another to boot to another operating system, which only shows if there are multiple installed. Another link was also added in Windows 10, which is present only when entering from the OS and allows the user to boot into any detected external media with additional options without modifying the BIOS boot order. The Troubleshooting page has two elements: a link to Refresh this PC (Windows 8 and 8.1 only), another to Reset this PC, and another to the Advanced options page, which contains the rest of the tools.

As pages now are full-screen rather than windowed, they lack a theme. However, tools that open in extra windows now use the Windows Basic theme instead of Classic, being one of the few times it can be spotted in the Windows 8.x and subsequent OS families since its removal from desktop use.[note 1]

The new design would remove the installations list when booted from installation media, in favor of automatically diagnosing any existing copies of Windows that were installed to the device. The Startup Repair design would be largely modified to bear a boot-like sequence whilst inspecting the device for issues and performing repairs where possible.

Windows 10 added an option on the main page to boot to a CD, DVD or flash drive. The Refresh and Reset options would be merged into one, offering the option to either keep or remove personal files entirely. An option to roll back to the previous version or Insider build was also added to the Recovery Environment with the release of Windows 10. Since Manganese build 19536, the user no longer needs to enter the credentials of an administrator account if entering through OS-related methods.

The Windows Server family from Server 2012 onwards use the Metro interface for the Recovery Environment (much like their client counterparts), although the Troubleshoot option directly sends the user to what the Advanced Options are in the client versions. The Reset, Startup Repair and System Restore options, as well as UEFI firmware settings, are not available in the Server 2012 family.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. The Windows Aero cursor scheme design seen in Windows Vista persisted up until Windows 8.1, and would later be removed from the Recovery Environment entirely in Windows 10.