Restarting Windows 11, 10, and Windows 8 in the safe mode

Prior to Windows 8, the procedure of restarting Windows in the safe mode was relatively straightforward: you would restart the computer, and then you would keep pressing the F8 key, about once every half second, before Windows begins to boot. With a bit of luck, Windows would detect the F8 key and display the black-and-white start menu:

Restarting Windows 7 in the safe mode

In Windows 8 and later, you are supposed to be able to press the Shift+F8 key combination to achieve a similar effect, except that the window of opportunity for the Shift+F8 keys is much shorter now and it may take you a few restart attempts to press it at just the right time.

If Windows does not want to recognize your Shift+F8 keys, don't despair: there is another way. If you use Windows 10 or 11, right-click on the Start button, choose Settings, and select Update & Security. There, select Recovery and finally press Restart now under Advanced startup:

The Restart now button in Windows 10

Contrary to what the button Restart now reads, it does not restart the compouter yet, it only to a screen which you can use to select the restart options:

The Restart options of Windows 8, 10, 11

To continue booting in the safe mode, select the middle option, Troubleshoot, and be presented with another screen of options:

The Troubleshoot options of Windows 11, 10, 8

Select Advanced options there to see yet another screen of choices:

The Advanced startup options of Windows 11, 10, 8

Select Startup settings there, and see yet another screen (are we still counting?)

The Startup settings screen of Windows 11, 10, 8

Press Restart on this screen, and after a few seconds we should (almost) reach the destination: the screen that finally lets us select one of the safe mode options:

The screen of Windows that offers the safe mode options

Choose the desired safe mode option, and after a few seconds Windows 8 should boot into the safe mode! Be prepared to see some things not as they used to be: in the safe mode, Windows loads only the most basic components, to keep the running processes to a minimum. The screen may be black, the desktop icons may be moved, and so on. You should see the text "Safe Mode" displayed in each corner of the desktop:

A part of the Windows 8 desktop in the safe mode

When you are done using the safe mode, just restart Windows, and it should boot into its normal mode, as usual, without any additional intervention from you.

What if you want Windows to keep booting into the safe mode every time, without going through the long sequence of the option screens every time? (You may need to do that if you are troubleshooting some especially difficult case of a misbehaving program). Here is how to set it up. First, open the System Configuration utility of Windows (you can find it easily on the Start menu, under Windows Administrative Tools). Select the Boot tab on the System Configuration screen, and then select the Safe boot box:

The safe mode option on the System Configuration screen

Press OK, and you may be prompted to restart Windows. You can do it right away, or after some time, but from this point on, whenever you restart Windows, it should boot into the safe mode.

How to disable the automatic reboot in the safe mode that we've set up above? Open the System Configuration utility, and deselect the Safe boot option.

Yet another solution to this problem is to force Windows 11, 10, or 8 to behave in the same way as Windows 7. To do that, run Command Prompt "As Administrator", and enter the following command:

bcdedit /set {current} bootmenupolicy legacy

This should make Windows 11, 10, or 8 display the old-style black-and-white boot menu, instead of the fancy new one.

An update: If you have one of the latest builds of Windows 10 or 11, then it probably uses PowerShell instead of the regular command prompt. In such a case, the above command will NOT work! It must be entered into the "old" command prompt window, not into the PowerShell one.

Unfortunately, Windows 10 and 11 does not offer an easy way to open the "old" command prompt. Here is the trick that should get you started:

Click on the Windows Start button, and while the Start menu is displayed, start typing "cmd" (without the quotes). As soon as you type it, it should show Command Prompt as the best match. Press the Ctrl and Shift keys simultaneously, and while keeping them depressed, press the Enter key. This should launch the "old" command prompt "as administrator".

Happy computing!

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