What Are Windows Services, What They Do & How To Manage Them

I’m sure you wondered at least once: what makes Windows run and offer so many features to so many different applications? An important portion of the answer is Windows services. With the use of services, Windows is able to manage your network connections, plays sound in your speakers, remember your passwords and credentials, display colors on your screen and so on. This article will try to shed some light on what Windows services are and the basics of working with them. To learn more don’t hesitate to read on.

What is a Windows Service?

A service is an application almost like any other. The difference between services and other programs is that they run in the background and don’t have a user interface you can click or tap on. They are intended to provide core operating system features such as Web serving, event logging, file serving, printing or error reporting.

Not all services are developed by Microsoft. Some applications and drivers install their own services. Security suites are a very good example, as they install different services to provide real-time monitoring of your system’s activities, firewall protection, etc. These suites need to use the advantages provided by services. One such advantage is that they can be started during the system boot, before other programs and even before you log in. But the most important advantage is that they can monitor everything that runs on your computer while being perfectly integrated in the Windows core. This way, they can provide a very high level of protection.

Another example of a non-Microsoft service could be a SSH server, often used in offices for secure remote connections or an auto-updating service for your web browser like the Mozilla Maintenance Service.

Knowing what or when a service does something can be useful at times. For example, if you know you’re not going to need its features you can disable it to speed up your system. If you have a router installed to manage your local network, it’s likely that you don’t need the Internet Connection Sharing service to run. Or, if you need a service to run, but it’s not that important, you can set it to start a little bit later, after Windows, startup apps or other, more important services, have started. In my case, one of the services I need but my life doesn’t depend on it, is the Windows Time service, which synchronizes the date and time. So I decided to set it to a Delayed startup.

How to Access the List of Installed Windows Services

There are several ways to get to the services available on your computer. The quick way is to type "services" in the search box from the Start Menu (in Windows 7) and then select either "Services" from Programs or "View local services" from the Control Panel results.

In Windows 8, type "services" in the Start screen and filter by Settings. Then, click or tap the "View local services" search result.

This isn’t the only way to access Windows services. You can also open the Control Panel -> System and Security and double click or tap on Administrative Tools. In the newly opened window double click or tap on Services.

Either way, the result you get is a window similar to the one below.

This is the place where you can view, start, stop and configure Windows services. A small description is available for every Windows service listed. This is a good thing as many of them have very cryptic names.

NOTE: You can also gain access to the services installed on your computer by using the System Configuration Utility or by opening the Task Manager. However, these tools don’t offer the same amount of options as the Services snap-in/window covered in this article.

How to Start & Stop a Service in Windows

Starting or stopping a service is easy: all you have to do is right click the service (or press and hold) and select the desired action. Obviously, you can stop only services that are started and vice versa. Besides Start and Stop there are some other options available: you can also Pause, Resume or Restart the selected service. The last option is self-explanatory. As for Pause: it means that the service is stopped, but only for user accounts that do not have administrative or service privileges, while it still runs for the latter.

Obviously, Resume starts a paused service for those accounts.

How to Configure a Windows Service

First, you need to open the Properties window for the service you want to configure. To do that, right click (or press and hold) on the service and choose Properties. A window similar to the one below is shown.

The first tab is the most interesting: it contains two sections. The first one shares information like the service’s name, the display name, a small description, the path to its executable and, at the end, the option to modify its startup type. The second section shares the status of the service and lets you specify custom start parameters, if needed.

The Startup type can be set to:

  • Automatic: the service will be started at boot time.
  • Automatic (Delayed Start): the service will start after the system has loaded all the other services set to automatically start.
  • Manual: the service will start only when needed.
  • Disabled: the service will never start, even when its functionality is requested by other Windows services or applications.

NOTE: I don’t recommend that you modify these options unless you really know what you are doing. Setting a service to be Disabled is especially dangerous, as other system components may depend on it. This can lead to a malfunctioning operating system or even failure to boot.

Conclusions

Some services can be disabled to speed up your system, but only if you don’t need them and if disabling them won’t cause you problems or inconveniences. You can learn more on this subject by reading the articles recommended below. If you have any questions or stuff to share about Windows services, don’t hesitate to use the form below.