How to Force-Quit a Program in Windows

Here's how to close a program in Windows that isn't responding

Ever try to close a program in Windows, but selecting that big X doesn't do the trick?

Sometimes you'll get lucky and Windows will tell you that a program isn't responding and give you some options to Close the program or End Now, or maybe even to Wait for the program to respond.

Other times all you get is a Not Responding message in the program's title bar and a full-screen gray-out, making it really clear that the program is going nowhere fast.

Worst of all, some programs that freeze or lock up do so in a way that even your operating system can't detect and inform you about, leaving you wondering if you have a problem with your mouse buttons or touchscreen.

Instructions in this article apply to Windows 10, 8, 7, Vista, and XP. Separate instructions cover force quitting programs in Windows 11.

There are several ways to "force quit" a program in Windows.

Though they might seem related, many of the methods for forcing a software program to close aren't the same as unlocking a locked file.

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Try to Close the Program Using ALT + F4

The little known but very handy ALT + F4 keyboard shortcut performs the same, behind the scenes, program-closing magic that clicking or tapping that X in the top-right of a program window does.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Bring the program you want to quit to the foreground by tapping or clicking on it.

    If you're having trouble doing this, try ALT + TAB and progress through your open programs with the TAB key (keep ALT down) until you reach the program you want (then let go of both).

  2. Press and hold one of the ALT keys.

  3. While still holding the ALT key down, press F4 once.

  4. Let go of both keys.

It's super important that you do Step 1. If a different program or app is selected, that's the program or app that's in focus and will close. If no program is selected, Windows itself will shut down, although you'll have a chance to cancel it before it happens (so don't skip trying the ALT + F4 trick for fear of shutting off your computer).

It's equally important to tap the ALT key just once. If you hold it down, then as each program closes, the next one that comes to focus will close down, too. This will keep happening until all your programs are shut down and, ultimately, you'll be prompted to shut down Windows. So, only tap the ALT key once to exit the one app or program that won't close.

Because ALT + F4 is identical to using the X to close an open program, this method of force-quitting a program is only helpful if the program in question is working to some degree, and it won't work to close any other processes that this program "spawned" at any point since it started.

That said, knowing this force-quit method can be particularly helpful if the batteries in your wireless mouse have quit, your touchscreen or touchpad drivers are making your life really difficult right now, or some other mouse-like navigation isn't working as it should.

Still, ALT + F4 takes just a second to try and is much easier to pull off than the more complicated ideas below, so we highly recommend you try it first, no matter what you think the source of the problem might be.

Use Task Manager to Force the Program to Quit

Assuming ALT + F4 didn't do the trick, truly forcing an unresponsive program to quit—no matter what state the program is in—is best accomplished via Task Manager.

Here's how:

  1. Open Task Manager using the CTRL + SHIFT + ESC keyboard shortcut.

    If that doesn't work or you don't have access to your keyboard, right-click or tap-and-hold on the Desktop taskbar and choose Task Manager or Start Task Manager (depending on your version of Windows) from the pop-up menu that appears.

  2. Next, you want to find the program or app that you want to close and get Task Manager to direct you to the actual process that supports it.

    This sounds a bit hard, but it's not. The exact details do differ depending on your version of Windows, though.

    Windows 10 & 8: Find the program you want to force close in the Processes tab, listed in the Name column and probably under the Apps heading. Once found, right-click or tap-and-hold it and choose Go to details.

    Task Manager in Windows 10 focusing on Go to Details when Force Quitting an app

    If you don't see the Processes tab, Task Manager might not be opened in full view. Choose More details at the bottom of the Task Manager window.

    Windows 7, Vista, & XP: Find the program you're after in the Applications tab. Right-click it and then click Go To Process.

    You may be tempted to simply End task directly from that pop-up menu, but don't. While this might be perfectly fine for some programs, doing this "the long way" as we're describing here is a much more effective way to force quit a program (more on this below).

  3. Right-click or tap-and-hold the highlighted item you see and choose End process tree.

    Task Manager in Windows 10 focusing on End Process Tree when force quitting an application

    You should be in the Details tab if you're using Windows 10 or Windows 8, or the Processes tab if you're using an older version of Windows.

  4. Click or tap End process tree in the warning that appears. In Windows 10, for example, this warning looks like this:

    Do you want to end the process tree of [program file name]? If open programs or processes are associated with this process tree, they will close and you will lose any unsaved data. If you end a system process, it might result in system instability. Are you sure you want to continue? 

    This is a good thing — it means that not only will this individual program you want to be closed actually close, it means Windows will also end any processes that that program started, which are probably also hung up but much harder to track down yourself.

  5. Close Task Manager.

That's it! The program should have closed immediately but it could take several seconds if there were lots of child processes connected to the frozen program or the program was using a lot of system memory.

See? Easy as pie...unless it didn't work or you can't get Task Manager to open. Here are a few more ideas if Task Manager didn't do the trick:

Confuse the Program! (Prompting Windows to Step in and Help)

That's probably not advice you've seen elsewhere, so let's explain.

In some cases, you can actually give a problematic program a little nudge off the cliff, so to speak, pushing it into a full-blown frozen state, sending a message to Windows that it should probably be terminated.

To do this, do as many "things" as you can think to do in the program, even if they don't do anything because the program is crashing. For example, click on menu items over and over, drag items around, open and close fields, try exiting half a dozen times—whatever you want, so long as you do them in the program you're hoping to force quit.

Assuming this works, you'll get a window with a [program name] is not responding heading, usually with options like Check for a solution and restart the program, Close the program, Wait for the program to respond, or End Now (in older versions of Windows).

Tap or click Close the program or End Now to do just that.

Execute the TASKKILL Command to...Kill the Task!

We have one last trick to force quit a program, but it's an advanced one. A particular command in Windows, called taskkill, does just that—it kills the task you specify, completely from the command line.

This trick is great in one of those hopefully rare situations where some kind of malware has prevented your computer from working normally, you still have access to Command Prompt, and you know the filename of the program you want to "kill."

Here's how to do it:

  1. Open Command Prompt. There's usually no need to open an elevated Command Prompt, and any method you use to get it open is fine.

    A common method to open Command Prompt in all versions of Windows, even in Safe Mode, is via Run: open it with the WIN + R keyboard shortcut and then execute cmd.

  2. Execute the taskkill command like this:

    taskkill /im filename.exe /t /f

    ...replacing filename.exe with whatever filename the program you want to close is using. The /t option makes sure any child processes are closed as well, and the /f option forcefully terminates the process.

    If in the very rare situation that you don't know the filename, but do know the PID (process ID), you can execute taskkill like this instead:

    taskkill /pid processid /t /f

    ...replacing, of course, processid with the actual PID of the program you want to force quit. A running program's PID is most easily found in Task Manager.

  3. The program or app that you force-quit via taskkill should end immediately and you should see one of these responses in Command Prompt: ​

    SUCCESS: Sent termination signal to process with PID [pid number], child of PID [pid number]. SUCCESS: The process with PID [pid number] child of PID [pid number] has been terminated. 

    If you get an ERROR response that says that a process was not found, check that the filename or PID you used with the taskkill command was entered correctly.

    The first PID listed in the response is the PID for the program you're closing and the second is usually for explorer.exe, the program that runs the Desktop, Start Menu, and other major user interface elements in Windows.

  4. If even taskkill doesn't work, you're left with having to restart your computer, essentially a force-quit for every program running...including Windows itself, unfortunately.

How to Force-Quit Running Programs on Non-Windows Machines

Software programs and apps sometimes stop responding and won't close on Apple, Linux, and other operating systems and devices, too. It's certainly not a problem exclusive to Windows machines.

On a Mac, force quitting is best done from the Dock or via the Force Quit option from the Apple menu. You can also hit the Command + Option + Escape key combination to bring up a Force Quit Applications window.

In Linux, the xkill command is one really easy way to force quit a program. Open a terminal window, type it, and then click the open program to kill it. There's more on this in our list of Linux Terminal Commands That Will Rock Your World.

In ChromeOS, open Task Manager using SHIFT + ESC and then select the program you want to terminate, followed by the End process button.

To force quit an app on iPad and iPhone devices, double-press the Home button, find the app you want to close, and then swipe it up as if you're tossing it right off the device.

Android devices have a similar process: swipe up from the bottom of the screen and then swipe the unresponding app up even further, off the screen. Or, for some Android devices, tap the square multitasking button, find the app that's not responding, and then toss it off the screen...left or right.

  • How do I quickly close windows with shortcuts?

    You can close windows with the shortcut Alt+Spacebar+C. Press and hold the Alt key, then press the Spacebar to reveal the right-click context menu at the top of the program window. Release both keys and press C.

  • What is the Shutdown Command in Windows?

    Use the Shutdown Command in Windows to power off, restart, or hibernate your computer. You can even shut down or restart a computer remotely over a network.

  • How do I disable startup programs in Windows?

    To disable startup programs in Windows, go to Settings > Apps > Startup. Toggle individual apps to activate or deactivate their startup status, then restart your computer.

  • How do I quickly close my web browser?

    To quickly close your web browser on a PC, use the Alt+F4 shortcut. On a Mac, use Cmd+H to hide all active browser windows, or Cmd+Q to quit the program.

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