What Is Winload.exe?

Definition of winload.exe and it's related errors

Screenshot of a loading screen

Steven Puetzer / Getty Images

Winload.exe (Windows Boot Loader) is a small piece of software, called a system loader, that's started by BOOTMGR, the boot manager used in Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7, and Windows Vista operating systems.

The job of winload.exe is to load essential device drivers, as well as ntoskrnl.exe, a core part of Windows.

In older Windows operating systems, like Windows XP, the loading of ntoskrnl.exe is done by NTLDR, which also serves as the boot manager.

Is Winload.exe a Virus?

We hope it's clear after reading what you have so far: no, winload.exe is not a virus. Unfortunately, you'll find a lot of information out there that says otherwise.

For example, some antivirus websites and other "file information" sites will mark winload.exe as a type of malware, and may even go as far as to say that the file isn't essential and can be removed, but this is only partly true.

While it's true that a file called "winload.exe" can be an infected file that could have malicious intent, it's important to understand where the file is located on your computer so you can make the distinction between the real file and a possibly malicious copy.

The location for the winload.exe file that's the Windows Boot Loader (the file we're talking about in this article) is in the C:\Windows\System32\ folder. This will never change and is the exact same no matter what version of Windows you're using.

If a "winload.exe" file is found anywhere else, and is marked as malicious by an antivirus program, it very well could be malicious and is completely safe to remove.

Winload.exe Related Errors

If winload.exe has been corrupted or somehow deleted, Windows likely won't work as it should, and may display an error message.

These are some of the more common winload.exe error messages:

Windows failed to start. A recent hardware or software change might be the cause
winload.exe is missing or corrupt
"\Windows\System32\winload.exe" cannot be trusted because of its digital signature
Status 0xc0000428

Don't try to fix a missing or corrupt winload.exe file by downloading a copy from the internet! The copy you find online could be malware, masquerading as the file you're looking for. Plus, even if you were to grab a copy from online, the original winload.exe file (in C:\Windows\System32) is write-protected, so it can't be easily replaced anyway.

The first thing you should do after getting one of the errors above is check your entire computer for malware. However, instead of using a traditional antivirus program that runs from inside Windows, use free bootable antivirus tools. Assuming the winload.exe issue is due to malware, this could be a really simple fix for your problem.

If a virus scan doesn't help, try writing a new partition boot sector and rebuilding the Boot Configuration Data (BCD) store, which should fix any corrupt entries that involve winload.exe. These solutions can be done in Windows 10 and Windows 8 via Advanced Startup Options, and in Windows 7 and Windows Vista with System Recovery Options.

Something else you can try to fix a winload.exe error is running sfc /scannow, which should replace the missing or corrupt system file. Follow that link for a walkthrough on using the sfc (System File Checker) command from outside of Windows, which is probably how you have to use it in this situation.

Another winload.exe error that's unrelated to the above errors may read A component of the operating system has expired. File: \windows\system32\winload.exe. You might see this error if Windows has reached its license expiration date, which happens if you're using a preview version of Windows.

With this type of error, your computer will probably automatically reboot every few hours in addition to showing the error message. When this happens, running a virus scan and file repairs won't do you any good - you'll need to install a full, valid version of Windows with a working product key so that activation can complete normally..

More Information on Winload.exe

BOOTMGR will start winresume.exe instead of winload.exe if the computer was in hibernation mode. winresume.exe is located in the same folder as winload.exe.

Copies of winload.exe can be found in subfolders of C:\Windows, like Boot and WinSxS, and maybe others.

Under UEFI-based systems, winload.exe is called winload.efi, and can be found in the same C:\Windows\System32 folder. The EFI extension is executable only for the boot manager that exists in the UEFI firmware.