How to Boot to Windows XP Safe Mode With Command Prompt

F8 is the key to press to start Safe Mode with Command Prompt

What to Know

  • Turn on your PC and press F8 before you see the Windows splash screen. Select Safe Mode With Command Prompt.
  • Select which operating system you want to start. Most people only have one installed, so it's an easy choice.
  • Log in as an administrator or log in to an account with administrator privileges.

Starting your computer in Windows XP Safe Mode with Command Prompt can help you perform advanced diagnostics and solve many serious problems, especially when starting normally or in other Safe Mode options isn't possible.

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Press F8 Before the Windows XP Splash Screen

Screenshot of the Windows XP Professional splash screen
Windows XP Starting Up.

To begin, turn your PC on or restart it.

Just before the Windows XP splash screen shown above appears, press F8 to enter the Windows Advanced Options Menu.

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Choose Windows XP Safe Mode With Command Prompt

Screenshot of the Windows XP Advanced Options Menu
Windows XP "Safe Mode with Command Prompt" Option.

You should now see the Windows Advanced Options Menu screen. If not, you may have missed the small window of opportunity to press F8 from Step 1 and Windows XP is probably now continuing to boot normally if it's able to. If this is the case, just restart your computer and try pressing F8 again.

Here, you're presented with three variations of Windows XP Safe Mode you may enter:

  • Safe Mode: This is the default option and is usually the best choice. This mode will load only the absolute minimum processes necessary to start Windows XP.
  • Safe Mode with Networking: This option loads the same processes as Safe Mode, but also includes those that allow the networking functions in Windows XP to work. This is valuable if you may need to access the internet or your local network while troubleshooting in Safe Mode.
  • Safe Mode with Command Prompt: This flavor of Safe Mode also loads a minimum set of processes, but will allow access to the Command Prompt. This is a valuable option if more advanced troubleshooting is necessary.

Using the arrow keys on your keyboard, highlight the Safe Mode with Command Prompt option and press Enter.

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Select the Operating System to Start

Screenshot of the Windows XP Operating System Choice Menu
Windows XP Operating System Choice Menu.

Before entering the Windows XP Safe Mode with Command Prompt, Windows needs to know which operating system installation you would like to start. Most users only have a single Windows XP installation, so the choice is usually clear.

Using your arrow keys, highlight the correct operating system and press Enter.

Don't worry if you don't see this menu. Just move on to the next step.

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Choose an Administrator Account

Screenshot of the Windows XP login screen
Windows XP Login Screen.

To enter this mode of Windows XP, you must log on with an administrator account or an account that has administrator permissions.

On the PC displayed in the screenshot above, both my personal account, Tim, and the built-in administrator account, Administrator, have administrator privileges, so either one could be used to enter Safe Mode with Command Prompt.

If you're not sure if any of your personal accounts have administrator privileges, choose the Administrator account by selecting it.

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Make Necessary Changes in Windows XP Safe Mode With Command Prompt

Screenshot of the Windows XP Safe Mode Command Prompt screen
Windows XP Safe Mode With Command Prompt.

Entry into Windows XP Safe Mode with Command Prompt should now be complete.

Make any changes you need to make by entering commands into the Command Prompt, and then restart the computer. Assuming there are no remaining issues preventing it, the computer should boot to Windows XP normally after a restart.

You can "convert" Safe Mode into one with a Start menu and desktop by entering the start explorer.exe command. This might not work because you're most likely using this form of Safe Mode because the normal Safe Mode won't start, but it's worth a try.

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