Windows Server 2012R2 stuck at “Updating your system”

Update 2017.01.24: Several people have reported that adding a blank pending.xml file helps, so I have added it to the list.

Problem

After installing updates through Microsoft Update, the reboot never completes. You can wait for several days, but nothing happens, the process is stuck at X%:

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Troubleshooting

I will try to give a somewhat chronological approach to get your server running again. I do experience this issue from time to time, but thankfully it is pretty rare. That makes it a bit harder to troubleshoot though.

Warning: this post contains last-ditch attempts and other dangerous stuff that could destroy your server. Use at your own risk. If you do not understand how to perform the procedures listed below, you should not attempt them on your own. Especially not in production.

First you wait, then you wait some more

Some updates may take a very long time to complete. More so if the server is an underpowered VM. Thus, it is worth letting it roll overnight just in case it is really slow. Another trick is to send a Ctrl+Alt+Del to the server. Sometimes that will cancel the stuck update, allowing the boot sequence to continue.

Then you poke around in the hardware

Hardware errors can cause all kinds of issues during the update process. If you are experiencing this issue on a physical server, check any relevant ILO/IDRAC/IMM/BMC logs, and visit the server to check for warning lights. A quick memory test would also be good, as memory failures are one of the most prevalent physical causes of such problems.

If that does not help, blame the software

It was Windows that got us into this mess in the first place, so surely now is the time to point the finger of blame at the software side?

Try booting into Safe Mode. If you are lucky the updates will finish installing in safe mode, and all you have to do is reboot. If you are unlucky, there are two ways to make Windows try to roll back the updates:

  • Delete C:\Windows\WinSxS\pending.xml
  • Create a blank pending.xml file in C:\Windows\WinSxS
  • Run DISM /image:C:\ /cleanup-image /revertpendingactions

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Then reboot. If a boot is successful, see if installing the updates in batches works better. Or just do not patch. Ever. Until you are hacked or something breaks. Just kidding, patching is a necessary evil.

Up a certain creek without a paddle…

If you are unable to enter Safe Mode, chances are the OS is pooched. I have experienced this once on Win2012R2. No matter what I did, the system refused to boot. From what I could tell, a pending change was waiting for a roll-back that required a reboot, and was thus unable to complete the cycle, ergo preventing the server to boot before it had rebooted. If that sounds crazy, well, it is. Time to re-image and restore from backup. The No. 1 suspect in my case was KB3000850, which is a composite “Roll-Up” containing lots of other updates. This may cause conflicts when Windows Update tries to install the same update twice in the same run, first as a part of the Roll-Up, and then as a stand-alone update. This is supposed to work, but it doesn’t always work.

You could try the rollback methods listed above in the recovery console. If that does not work, try running sfc /scannow /offbootdir=c:\ /offwindir=c:\windows from the recovery console. Maybe you will get lucky, but most likely you won’t…

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On a side note, KB3000850 has been a general irksome pain in the butt. It is best installed from an offline .exe by itself in a dark room at midnight on the day before a full moon while you walk around the console in counter-clockwise circles dressed in a Techno-Mage outfit chanting “Who do you serve, and who do you trust?“.

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  1. Bob Covell’s avatar

    I was up the creek with out a paddle and didn’t have any luck with the final option.

    For those in the same situation you can try to boot off the DVD and enter the repair section from there. I had to load my drivers for the virtio HD to be viable. After that I was able to run the above DISM command against “F:” in my case.

    Rebooted, took a bit. Got the 100% screen for updates and now have a login.

    Reply

  2. George Glazer’s avatar

    Bob’s suggestion with Dism formed for me. The Dism command just sat there for an hour though and there was no disk or CPU usage after a while. I ended up killing it with Ctrl-C and then it said command completed successfully, Rebooted and it did some updates and then came to the login screen. Thanks!

    Reply

  3. Michael Russo’s avatar

    See the post at Thursday, March 10, 2016 1:29 PM by
    Sam2547378 here: https://social.technet.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/7364c2ff-1d52-4767-bfec-d97d42921d5c/interrupted-vm-stuck?forum=winserverhyperv

    It actually helped a lot also – I think putting a blank pending file in place can help avoid having to reinstall!

    Reply

  4. MattyD’s avatar

    After deleting/renaming any pending*.xml files and running the DISM cleanup I didn’t get anywhere,

    Creating a blank pending.xml file did the trick.

    From CMD prompt in directory “C:\Windows\WINSXS” run the command:

    echo > pending.xml

    Reboot!

    Reply

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