How to access Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE)

Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE) is a recovery environment based on Windows PE that contains troubleshooting and diagnostic tools to repair an unbootable operating system. By default, WinRE is preinstalled into Windows 10 and Windows 11.

win re system image backup recovery

WinRE has the following features:

  • Start recovery, troubleshooting, and diagnostic tools.
    (System Restore, Startup Repair, Startup Settings, Command Prompt, System Image Recovery, etc., are valuable tools in Windows RE. Also, from the Command Prompt window, you can run Regedit.exe, Notepad.exe, Chkdsk, DISM, Sfc.exe, etc.)
  • Boot from a device (UEFI only).
  • Access the Firmware menu (UEFI only).
  • Choose which operating system to boot, if multiple operating systems are installed on the PC.

WinRE.wim is the image file, usually located in the hard disk’s “Recovery” partition, responsible for loading Windows RE.

Let’s see how to access the Windows Recovery Environment in Windows 10 and 11. You can access WinRE using the built-in options or booting from a Windows 10/11 USB Setup disk.

How to access Windows RE

1) Using Settings

Windows 11

Open Settings, click Settings, Recovery, and click the “Restart now” button adjacent to the “Advanced startup” option.

how to access windows re via Settings → Recovery

Windows 10

On Windows 10, the option is available under “Update & Security.”

Open Settings → Update & Security → Recovery → Restart Now.

how to access windows re via Windows Update → Recovery

This restarts the computer to Windows RE.

2) From the Start menu

To boot into Windows RE via the Start menu, try this:

Click Start, Power, then press and hold the Shift key while clicking Restart.

how to access windows re via Start → Power → Restart


Right-click Start, and click “Shut down or sign out.”

Press and hold the Shift key, and click Restart.

how to access windows re via Start → Power → Restart

This works in Windows 10 and 11.

3) From the sign-in screen

From the login screen, press and hold the Shift key, and click Restart. This boots the computer into WinRE.

Perform System Restore Rollback Offline

From from Ctrl+Alt+Del (Secure Desktop) Screen

You can also use the secure desktop to access the Power button. It works whether you’re logged in to your account or at the sign-in screen.

Press Ctrl + Alt + Del to open the secure desktop screen.

ctrl+alt+del security desktop screen

Click the Power button, press and hold the Shift key, and click Restart.

Note: The above screen appears in the black background on Windows 11.

4) Using the Shutdown.exe utility

You can boot into Windows RE by running the following command from a Command Prompt window, Windows Terminal, or via the Start → Run dialog.

shutdown.exe /r /o /f /t 0

More info:

  • /r Full shutdown and restart the computer.
  • /o Go to the advanced boot options menu and restart the computer. Must be used with /r option.
  • /t xx Set the time-out period before shutdown to xxx seconds. The valid range is 0-315360000 (10 years), with a default of 30. If the timeout period is greater than 0, the /f parameter is implied.

5) Access Windows RE using USB Setup disk

  1. Boot the system using your Windows installation media or Recovery drive if you’ve created one already. If you have none, download the Windows 10 or 11 ISO and create bootable media. If you can’t start Windows, download and create the setup disk from another computer.

    To boot from the USB setup disk, you may need to access the one-time boot menu by pressing the appropriate key on your keyboard after the system is powered on. The one-time boot menu key may vary for each Motherboard model. Check with your board manual for more information.

    Boot USB - one-time boot menu

    Alternatively, enter the BIOS/UEFI settings and change the boot order to a USB disk.

  2. On the Windows setup page, click Next.
    (Tip: At this point, you can press Shift + F10 to open a Command Prompt window quickly, if you want.
  3. Click Repair your computer.
    windows 10/11 setup - repair your computer
  4. This launches WinRE.

6) Access Windows RE after 2 or 3 failed boot attempts

Here is an emergency method that can be used as the last option.

(Thanks to Microsoft’s Raymond Chen for this technique.)

  • Turn off your computer.
  • Turn on the computer. While it is booting, turn off the power. You may need to hold the power button for 4-5 seconds to power the unit off.

Repeat the off/on steps three times.

Turn on the computer and wait. After three failed reboot attempts, Windows goes into recovery mode.

startup repair - diagnosing your pc

You should see the “Automatic Repair” “Diagnosing your PC” screen.

Automatic repair - Startup repair - Windows Recovery

Note: Sometimes, you may see the “See advanced repair options” button instead of “Advanced options.”

Click “See advanced repair options” or “Advanced options” will open Windows RE.

Additional note

WinRE starts automatically after detecting the following issues:

  • Two consecutive failed attempts to start Windows.
  • Two consecutive unexpected shutdowns that occur within two minutes of boot completion.
  • Two consecutive system reboots within two minutes of boot completion.
  • A Secure Boot error (except for issues related to Bootmgr.efi).
  • A BitLocker error on touch-only devices.

I hope that helps. Let me know your comments.

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Ramesh Srinivasan is passionate about Microsoft technologies and he has been a consecutive ten-time recipient of the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional award in the Windows Shell/Desktop Experience category, from 2003 to 2012. He loves to troubleshoot and write about Windows. Ramesh founded in 2005.

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