What Is a System Error Code?

Definition of a system error code & what they mean

A system error code is an error number, sometimes followed by a short error message, that a program in Windows may display in response to a particular problem it's having.

How System Errors Are Used

Just as a doctor may use a certain word to describe a list of symptoms to a patient, the Windows operating system issues an error code to describe a problem it has with a software program, which in turn makes it easier for a software developer to understand what has happened, and therefore how to fix it.

System Error Codes Are Unique

A system error code is not the same as a Device Manager error code, a STOP code, a POST code, or an HTTP status code (a.k.a., a browser error code or an internet error code).

Some system error codes share code numbers with these other error code types, but they are completely different errors with different messages and meanings.

A system error code is sometimes simply called an error code, or an operating system error code.

What Is the Reason for a System Error Code?

System error codes are provided to software programmers as part of the programming interface with the Windows operating system. In other words, they are predefined error codes and messages that programmers can use with their software to tell you (the user) that the program is experiencing a particular problem.

Not all software uses these predefined system error codes. Some programs have their own sets of error numbers and messages, in which case you can refer to their official website or manual for what they all mean.

What Do the Different System Error Codes Mean?

One example of a system error code could be receiving Error Code 206 when you try to save a file in a music editing program. The explanation for this particular error is that:

The filename or extension is too long.

In this case, shortening the name of the file before saving it will avoid the error.

Here's another example that describes Error Code 1632:

The Temp folder is on a drive that is full or is inaccessible. Free up space on the drive or verify that you have write permission on the Temp folder.

This error code most likely describes a situation where the hard drive is too full. Deleting temporary files or clearing up space in other parts of the hard drive might be an easy solution here.

See System Error Codes: 1 to 15841 for a complete list of these types of errors, plus what they mean, the messages that accompany them, and the values that may appear instead of the code number.

More Information on System Error Codes

The same system error code may be used in hundreds of different instances in Windows. Thus, the codes are generic because they apply to lots of different circumstances.

For example, instead of having variations of Error Code 206 for each file extension or folder location, Windows uses the same one to apply to each circumstance where the file name/extension is too long.

Therefore, just knowing the code won't be sufficient in understanding how to fix the problem. In addition to the system error code, you should understand the context in which it was found.

As an example, assume you've received Error Code 112, which means there's not enough space on the disk. Just knowing the code will do you no good unless you also know where it occurred, such as which disk it's referring to. Pair that knowledge with what you were doing when the error was displayed, like if you were trying to add additional files to the hard drive. The solution, then, will be much easier to understand and address.

What to Do After You See a System Error Code

It really depends on the system error code as to what you should do afterward. In the first example given above, the solution for the error is pretty self-explanatory: change the name of the file because it's apparently too long. However, it isn't always that easy.

For example, if an application throws Error Code 6, meaning The handle is invalid, it's likely you won't know what to do, let alone what it means. In these cases, before doing anything, you should always try again to see if the error happens twice. If it doesn't, it could have been a temporary fluke that doesn't need any attention. If it does, then your best course of action is to contact the software developer's or distributor's technical support for advice about next steps.

  • What is System Error 5?

    You may get a “System Error 5" message when a command fails to execute in the Command Prompt. You may need administrator privileges, so open an elevated Command Prompt and try running the command again.

  • How do I check for system errors?

    Use Apple Diagnostic or the Windows Error Checking tool to scan your hard drive for errors. For Linux, run the FSCK (File System Consistency Check) utility.

  • What causes the “Operating System Not Found” error?

    This error can occur when your hard drive is damaged or you have misconfigured BIOS. To fix the “Operating System Not Found” error, you may need to change the boot order in your system BIOS.

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