What are Windows services, what do they do and how do you manage them?

You must have wondered at least once about what makes Windows run and offer so many features to so many different apps? One crucial part of the answer is provided by the Windows services. By using its services, Windows can manage network connections, play sound through the speakers, remember passwords and credentials, display colors on the screen and so on. In this article, we are going to describe what Windows services are and the basics of working with them. If you want to learn more about Windows services, read on:

What are Windows services?

A service is an application almost like any other. The difference between services and other programs is that they run in the background and do not have a user interface that you can click or tap on. They are intended to provide 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 services. Security suites are an excellent example, as they install different services to provide real-time monitoring of your system's activities, anti-malware protection, firewall protection, etc. They need to use the advantages offered by services. One such advantage is that they can be started during the system boot, before other programs and even before you log in. However, the most important advantage is that they can monitor everything that runs on your computer while being perfectly integrated into the Windows core. This way, they can provide a high level of protection.

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

Knowing what or when a service does something can be useful. For example, if you know that you are 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 is likely that you do not need the Internet Connection Sharing service to run.

Alternatively, if you need a service to run, but it is not that important, you can set it to start a little bit later, after Windows, startup apps or other, more critical services, have started. In my case, one of the services we need but our lives do not depend on it, is the Windows Time service, which synchronizes the date and time for Windows and apps. So we decided to set it to a Delayed startup.

How to access Windows services?

There quite a few different ways of accessing the Windows services. However, we do not intend to describe them all, because we already did it in one of our previous guides, which you can find here: 9 ways to access Services in Windows (all versions).

However, if you do not have the time to read the full guide, know that one fast way of opening the Services in any recent Windows version, is to use the search. Enter the word services in the search field from the taskbar in Windows 10, start typing services on the Start screen from Windows 8.1, or type services in the search field from the Start Menu in Windows 7. In all these operating systems, click or tap on the Services or "View local services" search results. Then, the Services window opens.

The Services window is the place where you can view, start, stop and configure all the Windows services.

How to view information about a Windows service?

In the Services window, for each of the services listed, you can see five things:

  1. Name - The name of the service can be helpful if you want to get an idea of what that service does. Unfortunately, though, this name is often too cryptic to help you understand what the service is all about.
  2. Description - The description of the service shows some brief information about the service's purpose or identity.
  3. Status - Tells you whether that service is running or if it is stopped.
  4. Startup Type - Shows you how that service is started by Windows. Services can be launched automatically, automatically but with a delay, manually, or they can be disabled, which means that they are never started. We will talk more about the startup type of Windows services and how to configure it, later in this tutorial.
  5. Log On As - Lets you select whether the service is started using the Local System account or using another user account that you manually specify.

Note that you can also see the same information in the Properties of each service, by double-clicking (or double-tapping) on its name in the Services window.

How to start or stop a Windows service

Starting or stopping a service is easy: all you have to do is right-click the service (or tap and hold) and select the desired action. To execute a service, press Start.

If you want to stop a running service, you have to press the Stop option.

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. Naturally, Resume starts a paused service for those accounts.

The action you chose is applied only to your current computing session. After you restart Windows, the selected service resumes to its default state.

NOTE: There is an alternative way of starting or stopping a service: you can also do it from the service's Properties window. Right-click (or press and hold) on the service and then on Properties. Then, in the General tab, you should find the same options as in the right-click menu.

How to change the startup type of a Windows service

To change the way a Windows service starts, you must first open its Properties. To do that, right-click (or press and hold) on the service and then on Properties.

In the service's Properties window, the General tab shares information about the service's name, the display name, description, the path to its executable and 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.

You can set the Startup type to be:

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

Although you can do it, we recommend you not to change the Startup type for your services, unless you know what you are doing. It is especially dangerous to set a service to be Disabled, as other system components may depend on it. This can lead to a malfunctioning operating system or app, or even failure to boot.

Also, if you need some guidance on what services are safe to disable, you should read these articles:

Do you manage the services on your Windows PC?

Some services can be delayed or even disabled if you need to squeeze every bit of performance and to speed up your system. However, that is possible only if you do not need those services right away or not at all, and disabling them does not cause you problems or inconveniences. The question we have in mind right now is: are you managing the Windows services by yourself on your PC or do you prefer to leave them all untouched? Comment below and let's discuss.