We have a small server running Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition, SP2 that only has 12GB of HD space. The C:\WINNT\SoftwareDistribution\Download\ folder is taking up over 1 GB of space.

Is it safe for me to delete the items in this folder?


3 Answers 3


That folder is where Windows stores Windows Updates. It is generally safe to delete its contents so long as you have no pending updates. That is, if you have not performed any recent updates or at least have made sure to reboot and complete any recent updates, then you can delete them.

  • 2
    +1 - It's a download cache, nothing more. Reboot and clear it out.
    – afrazier
    Feb 27, 2012 at 15:50
  • Yup, Windows Update will re-download anything it needs (I have wasted some bandwidth in this regard). :) Of course you need to be sure that it is not in the middle of updating locked files, hence making sure to reboot. (It would be the same as installing a program that asks you to reboot, and deleting the contents of the temp folder before rebooting. You may have deleted a file it needs.)
    – Bobson
    Feb 27, 2012 at 16:05

May as well remove the whole SoftwareDistribution folder used by Windows Update Service. Open a command line with administrator privileges and run:

net stop wuauserv
cd %systemroot%
ren SoftwareDistribution SoftwareDistribution.old
net start wuauserv

Check for updates (will take longer then normal as it rebuilds it's database) and make sure it's all working then if desired backup and delete the SoftwareDistribution.old folder. No reboot is necessary.

  • 2
    That is too much. Deleting the whole SoftwareDistribution folder will require Windows Update to re-scan the system to determine what updates are installed and what are needed. This can take quite a while with XP, 2003, etc. Also, WU settings (such as language, beta options, etc.) will be lost and need to be re-set.
    – Bobson
    Feb 27, 2012 at 16:07
  • 1
    Usually this is only done to solve windows update errors and corruption.
    – Moab
    Feb 27, 2012 at 17:59

Instead of doing what the others are advising you, I think it is much better and safer to use the Disk Cleanup tool bundled with Windows.

You can use it to cleanup system files, including the Windows Update cache. It will make a better job than you and save some headaches in the long run.

Read the Extra Cleaning - Delete Unneeded System Files & Programs section in this tutorial: Free Up Wasted Space with Disk Cleanup.

You will see that Disk Cleanup can safely delete for you more than just the Windows Update cache. It can delete the Windows Defender cache, thumbnails, user history files, etc. And, most of all, it will do the deletion safely, in a way that won't cause issues afterwards.

It is a very useful tool and very much ignored by users.

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