How to Force-Quit a Program in Windows

How to Force-Quit a Program in Windows

By Tim Fisher as written on

Push to Exit

Push to Exit

Ever try to close a program in Windows but tapping or clicking on 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 whatever 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.

Regardless of what program won't close, or what the specific situation is, there are several ways to "force quit" a program in Windows:

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.

Tip: 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 #1. If a different program or app is selected, that's the program or app that 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).

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 I highly recommend you try it first, no matter what you think 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.

Tip: 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. See What Version of Windows Do I Have? if you're not sure.

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

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

Note: 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 I'm describing here is a much more effective way to force quit a program (more on this below).

3. Right-click or tap-and-hold on the highlighted item you see and choose End Process Tree.

Note: You should be in the Details tab if you're using Windows 10 or Windows 8, or the Processes tab if you're using Windows 7, Windows Vista, or Windows XP.

4. Click or tap the End process tree button 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 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 me 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 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 - whatever you do in this program that 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!

I 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. No need for it to be elevated and any way you 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
...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.

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
...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.
Tip: 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.

Note: 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.

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 Doc or via the Force Quit option from the Apple menu. See How to Use the Force Quit to Terminate a Wayward Mac Application for details.

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. More on this in Gary Newell's 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 & 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 - tap the square multitasking button, find the app that's not responding, and then toss it off the screen... left or right.

I hope these were helpful tips, especially for Windows! Have any tips of your own for killing misbehaving programs? Let me know and I'd be happy to add them.

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