Find Windows Error Messages & More

Ever feel like the error messages you see are in a different language than the one you speak? Even if you understand the words, you’re often left trying to determine the next step. Although some software programs provide excellent error messages, others leave you wanting more information. In this tutorial, I’ll show how to troubleshoot and search error messages.

Actionable Error Messages

Over the years, Windows has improved its error messages. You might have been greeted with the infamous blue screen of death (BSOD) with some hexadecimal code in the early years. Although this can still happen, it’s rare. Those problematic messages have been replaced with friendlier ones with QR Codes. In addition, you have a stop code listed and a reference URL with troubleshooting steps .

Windows error message with QR code.
Error message with QR Code

What’s nice about these messages is you have multiple ways of getting to the required page. Microsoft Excel also provides some context-based error messages when you use Formula Auditing on the Excel Formula Bar.

Cryptic Error Message

The flip side is sometimes you can get an error message that provides little actionable information. You may not even be sure which program caused the error. In those instances, search engines can help. When I get one of these errors, I like to see if I can copy the error text to my clipboard. If that’s not possible, I’ll take a snapshot of the message with either SnagIt or my cell phone camera. I find SnagIt to be more versatile and I can even apply SnagIt tags for categorization.

In this case, I received this error: 1628 Failed To Complete Installation. Simply putting that into Google indicates about 6,760,000 results.

Initial Google search with error text.
Note that you can still see the results count

Right away, I can tell this is a broad error that applies to a lot of software packages. At this point, there are several ways I can refine my initial search in Google. These include:

  1. Filter by time
  2. Filter by phrase
  3. Filter by site
  4. Filter by asset type

Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, you may no longer see how many results are available.

Searching By Time

If you look at the screen snap below, you’ll see a menu option called “Tools” to the far right.

Additional Tools menu search filter.

Clicking Tools presents another option menu. If you click the down arrow, you’ll see a list of time options you can select. While this method is useful, the time period is based on the latter of a published or modified date. This means that some articles may show that they are newer, but it’s the modified date that triggered it. The change could be something immaterial to the article, like a spelling correction or something crucial.

Time filter for Google search results.

When you use any of the options on this second line, you lose record count. And, you can’t use these options together. Making a selection on one menu item deselects the other.

Searching by Site or Domain

This option is one of my favorites and involves using the address bar. The address bar can be used with the time option too. If you glance below, you’ll see I appended my search with The site command tells Google to return documents from Dell. I find if an error happens enough, a company has written something about it.

One caution is that you can’t have a space after the colon. If you do you’ll get results from other sites that reference Dell.

Added site:  qualifier to Google search.

If you look above, there is a problem. See it? It’s the last entry where I’ve highlighted jon1628. This happened because my initial search wasn’t in quotes. It’s too generic and picks up this noise.

Searching by Phrase with Quotes

To limit the noise, you can improve your initial query and put it in quotes. Google will now go out and look for that exact string in quotes. You’ll notice I kept the site reference to Dell but did not use quotes. Essentially, I’m telling the search engine to search for that exact error message.

The search engine did get me my desired result. And if you’re wondering why there is a second article? It’s an advertisement. There is a tiny marker above the red arrow.

Exact match results with ad.
Ads don’t get filtered out

Personally, I’m not a fan of fix-it software programs. Many overpromise and create other problems.

Microsoft Error Lookup Tools

I should mention Microsoft also has two tools that can come in handy when looking up Hexidecimal error codes. Instead of being a straight number like “1628”, they can include letters as well. An example would be 0x0000001A. The first of these tools can be downloaded from Microsoft.

The program works from the command line and looks up the error number from several Windows source files such as winerror.h. In the image below, I’ve entered Err_6.4.5.exe 0x80070002, which is outlined in red. 0x80070002 represents the error code I was researching. The second boxed area represents the results.

Microsoft Error Lookup Tool.

There are a couple of other items to note. In the screen snap, it indicates 8 matches. If you look to the right side, you’ll see various .h files referenced. The other item is that error codes have multiple formats and lengths. In other words, the error can be represented as:

  • 0x80070002 (hex)
  • -2147024894 (decimal)
  • 0x2 (short hex)
  • 2 (short decimal)

It’s best to use the longest version since it’s more specific. Think of it like adding area and country codes onto a phone number.

While the lookup tool provides more info, I prefer another built-in Windows tool called CertUtil.exe. It’s also a command-line utility designed to work with certificates. It just happens to look up error codes too. The other reason I like it is because it’s not as verbose. In the screenshot below you can see where I entered all 4 error codes from above. Each instance gave me the same description

To get the results, I entered CertUtil /error followed by a space and a version of the error code. For example:

CertUtil /error 0x80070002

Hopefully, these tools can help you find some meaning in your error messages. If not, take a look at the tutorial I did using ChatGPT to decipher error messages.