Tip of the Week: Process Explorer

Blog Post created by ken_foster on Aug 4, 2013

Last time I wrote Tip of the Week I told you about how you can get the Windows Task Manager to show you more data. This time, I'm going to show you an even better tool- Process Explorer.


Process Explorer, which is available as a free download from Microsoft TechNet, is a Windows Sysinternals tool that not only shows you what is running on your system, but also lets you see information about which file handles and DLLs a process has open or has loaded. It is useful for tracking down DLL problems, memory leaks, or troubleshooting an application that refuses to start or terminate. If has too many features to cover them all, so today I'm going to show you one of my favorites, and contrast its functionality with that of Task Manager.


One of the limitations of Windows Task Manager is the view of your processes is flat. In other words, you can't tell from the view of what's running if any of the processes you see are parents or children of any other process. That is really good information to have, especially if you need to manually terminate something.


Note the view on the left, which is a typical Windows Task Manager view. The highlighted processes are all related to the DxDesigner and Expedition PCB applications I'm running. The view is completely flat, so I can't see what is related to what. If I wasn't familiar with the product architecture, I couldn't even tell that these were related to each other at all. The view on the right is the same view of the system displayed with Process Explorer. Note how I can now see the hierarchy and know which sub-processes are the children of these applications. (Click on image to enlarge).




Another handy feature is that you can configure your system to replace Task Manager with this tool, so that any time Task Manager is invoked, Process Explorer comes up instead:




This operation is easily reversable by simply toggling the Replace Task Manager feature off.


I've only scratched the surface of this great tool, one that is a staple for us in Customer Support. Give it a try!