Fatal Error: What It Is and How to Fix It

Take these steps when a fatal exception error closes your program

A fatal error is a type of error that forces a computer program to close or the entire operating system to shut down suddenly. This type of error is commonly associated with the blue screen of death in Windows, but less severe fatal exception errors only cause a single program to close.

In some cases, fatal errors are spontaneous and temporary, and you can safely continue using the computer without any additional problems. If fatal errors persist, and especially if these errors reoccur when using the same program or performing the same task, there could be a problem with either the hardware or software on the computer.

How Fatal Errors Appear

Fatal error messages typically appear when a program suddenly shuts down because of some type of failure, or when a Windows computer suddenly displays the blue screen of death before shutting down, or when a macOS or Linux computer suffers a kernel panic.

A fatal error on a laptop.
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When a fatal error occurs, a message like one of these appears:

  • FATAL ERROR: Unhandled xxx Exception at xxx
  • A fatal exception xx has occurred at xxxx:xxxxxxxx
  • Fatal error detected, unable to continue. Terminating due to uncaught exception.

When you experience a fatal error message, whether or not it looks exactly like these examples, write down what you see. The specific type of error, and the series of numbers and letters that are often included, can help track down the problem.

What Causes a Fatal Error?

When you run a program on an operating system like Windows, and the program encounters something unexpected, it generates a message called an exception. These exceptions allow programs to run smoothly and operate normally, even when something unexpected happens.

When a program is given or generates an unknown or unexpected exception, the result is a fatal error. This same type of problem can also be referred to as a fatal exception, or a fatal exception error.

Depending on the severity of the error, you may be given the option to continue running the program, or the program may terminate automatically.

How to Fix a Fatal Error

Fatal errors can be caused by a variety of unexpected interactions between different programs, between programs and drivers, between programs and the hardware, and physical faults or defects in the hardware.

Follow these fixes to get to the bottom of the fatal error.

  1. Search for the error code to find specific instructions. Some fatal errors are fairly basic, but most error messages provide a code that can help you find specific information about the problem. If the error looks like this:

    • A fatal exception 0E has occurred at xxxx:xxxxxxxx

    The 0E is a code that might point you in the right direction. Run a search for the specific fatal exception error code, and see if you can find specific instructions.

    The other code, which usually follows the format of two sets of numbers separated by a colon, may also help. This code is less likely to yield results, but it's worth a quick search before you move on.

  2. Update the software. The developers may have released a patch designed to fix the specific problem. Most programs and apps either download and install updates automatically, provide you with an option to manually download and install updates, or prompt you to visit the developer's website and download the update.

    If you can't figure out how to update the software, check out our list of free software updater programs. These programs keep all your programs up to date.

  3. Update the drivers. Unexpected interactions involving drivers can cause fatal errors, and other problems, so it's always a good idea to keep the drivers up to date.

    If the drivers are up to date, roll back the drivers to earlier versions. There's a chance the old drivers were fine, but an automatic update introduced the fatal error. Check to see if any drivers were updated immediately before the problems started, and roll those back first.

  4. Uninstall any recently installed programs. There may be an unforeseen conflict between the programs, or something could have been corrupted during the installation process. After uninstalling the recently installed programs, check to see if the fatal exception error still happens. If it doesn't, reinstall the programs. If the problem comes back, submit a bug report to the developer.

  5. Restore Windows to an earlier state. If you saved system restore points from before the fatal errors appeared, restore Windows to one of those points. This step rolls back any changes made during that time span, which will fix the fatal error problem if it isn't related to a hardware glitch.

  6. Disable unnecessary background programs. You don't see these programs on the taskbar, but you can open the task manager to shut them down manually. In most cases, background programs can be left alone. However, there are cases where one of these programs may conflict with a different program in an unexpected way, causing a fatal error.

    Don't shut down programs you're unfamiliar with. You can safely shut down any program you originally opened, but closing unfamiliar or system-level apps and background processes may destabilize the operating system, necessitating a reboot.

  7. Delete temporary files. Temporary files save when programs are running, but sometimes these files aren't deleted when the program closes. If corrupt temporary files are the cause of the fatal exception errors, then removing these files will fix the problem.

  8. Free up space on the hard drive. Check how much space is on the hard drive, and delete old files if the drive is full. Leave about 10% of the total storage space free for smooth operation.

  9. Run chkdsk. If the fatal errors are caused by a problem with the hard drive, then running chkdsk can identify the error and either fix it or at least let you know what's going on.

  10. Rule out heat problems. If your computer overheats, it generates several fatal errors in addition to a variety of other symptoms.

    Verify that the fans work and aren't clogged with dust or debris. If you're comfortable taking the computer apart, check the internal fans and the heat sink. Carefully use canned air or a vacuum to remove any dust or debris that prevent the fans or heat sink from functioning efficiently.

    If you use canned air, hold the can upright to avoid spraying liquid inside the computer. Don't touch the components inside the computer if you aren't wearing a properly set up ground strap. If you aren't comfortable poking around inside a computer or laptop, seek professional assistance.

  11. Test the random access memory for problems. Memory errors generate fatal errors, although you may see a memory exception or an out of memory exception error instead. Run a memory test application. If you discover that the RAM is faulty, replace the defective component or components.

  12. Check the rest of the hardware. If you experience recurring fatal errors, and everything has checked out so far, you might have a subtle problem with some of the hardware in the computer. In some cases, replacing components like the hard drive or motherboard can fix fatal errors.

This level of diagnostics is complicated, so you may have to seek professional assistance.