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What are Hotfixes?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Hotfixes are bits of code in the form of small files that patch bugs or problems in software, most notably in Microsoft™ operating systems (OSs). As vulnerabilities are discovered, Microsoft releases hotfixes or patches to keep the software as secure as possible. Microsoft also uses the term Quick Fix Engineering (QFE) to refer to hotfixes.

Hotfixes are automatically downloaded and installed when end-users have the “automatic update” feature of Windows enabled. Barring this, an occasional trip to Microsoft’s website is warranted to manually check for hotfixes. Patches might be rated to let the end-user know if the bug is critical or if the vulnerability only presents a low-level threat. Hotfixes are also explained so that the end-user knows what bug or vulnerability they address. Not all users will require all patches, and files can be downloaded and installed at the user’s discretion when updates are made manually.

A Service Pack (SP) is a collection of hotfixes bundled together. Windows XP was updated with two Service Packs, making the last distributed version “XP SP2,” though an SP3 may be released in 2008. Each subsequent Service Pack should incorporate all previous hotfixes so that if updating an original version of XP, for example, only the latest Service Pack should be required.

Keeping up with patches as they are released saves the end-user time and provides maximum security. However, in the case of a failed hard drive a new installation might be necessary. When an operating system is newly installed from the original CD, all hotfixes issued after its manufacture must be downloaded and (re)installed. This can take considerable time.

One way to alleviate this problem is to create an updated installation disk by slipstreaming all hotfixes to date along with the original installation files to a new CD. In doing so patches and Service Packs are incorporated into the new installation process. As time passes additional hotfixes will need to be added to the CD or installed after the fact, but this method still significantly reduces time and effort when faced with reinstallation.

Keeping up with hotfixes is crucial to maintaining the health and security of your computer system. Web browsers, firewalls, anti-virus and spyware programs should also be current. If you prefer to keep the automatic update features of these programs disabled, it might be a good idea to bookmark the manufacturer’s websites and set a weekly scheduler as a reminder to manually check the sites for patches or updates.

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Discussion Comments
By allenJo — On Nov 02, 2011

@NathanG - I’d just like to point out that hotfixes are not strictly Windows software patches. They can be any software patch from a vendor. Microsoft just made the term popular.

In our software company, we regularly release hotfixes to our existing software for our clients. These fixes are uploaded to our website where clients can install them and fix bugs or other issues in the software.

What I like about them is that they don’t require a complete install of the software; they just update what the clients already have, so they can be installed very quickly with a minimum of fuss.

By NathanG — On Nov 01, 2011

@Mammmood - I love the automatic update feature. Without it, I’d be forced to rely on my own memory to know when to go to Microsoft’s website and download a patch.

I also wouldn’t necessarily know which patch to download. With automatic update I can get an XP hotfix installed in the background while I am working, and it saves a lot of time.

By Mammmood — On Oct 31, 2011

@MrMoody - That is a horror story. In my opinion any “fix” that requires you to wipe out your hard drive is the fix of last resort. At least you had a backup.

I like the slipstreaming of hot fix patches. Think about why this would be important. Some of those hotfixes address Internet security issues in Windows XP. If you don’t slipstream your existing patches to CD, then you would have to install those patches by downloading them from the Internet again.

In the meantime, your Windows XP installation is operating without those Internet security holes being patched up. You’re vulnerable. What if, before you get all the patches downloaded, you get hit with an Internet attack? You’re computer will be down.

Also the downloads of the new patches could take time – even hours. That’s hours where you are operating without optimal security. If you slipstream hotfixes, you don’t need to be online to install the patches. Just use your slipstreamed CD and you’re done.

By MrMoody — On Oct 30, 2011

One of the worst horror stories I had with Windows hotfixes was when I had XP and needed to install a bunch of SP2 hotfixes to my computer.

I clicked on the wizard to let it run through the install, and it got most of them, but failed to install a few of the critical patches. So I tried again...and again and again.

I rebooted, I uninstalled and reinstalled, and did everything I could think of. Still, those critical patches failed. I even emailed Microsoft and got a response. They tried to walk me through the process to resolve the issue but could not.

Why wouldn’t the critical patch install? It certainly wasn’t optional, so I had to get it installed one way or another.

Finally, I went nuclear. I backed up the personal data on my hard drive, completely wiped out my hard drive and did a fresh install of Windows XP. The critical patch finally installed afterwards.

By wander — On Oct 30, 2011

@lonelygod - While it may not speed up your hotfixes, as downloading them rests entirely on your Internet speed connection, and installing them on how fast your computer is, you should be able to schedule your updates in a way that doesn't interrupt you. For example if you are installing Windows XP hotfixes you can make a set schedule for when you want to do it.

To make a schedule for your Windows XP hotfix installs you need to get into the Windows Update feature of your computer and from there you can have it notify you of updates daily, weekly, even monthly if you prefer. You'll still have to download and install things, which will take a lot of time, but at least it will be at your convenience.

By lonelygod — On Oct 30, 2011

Does anyone know how to speed up the process of installing hotfixes? My Widows OS is always automatically updating with the latest Windows hotfixes and it can take hours to download and install them all.

I know that things like security hotfixes are important for my system, but I don't like how the operating system my computer just takes over and starts installing things on me. Sometimes I end up losing work from other programs and occasionally my computer crashes during the installs which means I have to start over again. It can be a real pain. Any tips would be welcomed.

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