Why are there duplicate entries in Task Manager, and how do I clean it out?

When it comes to multiple instances in task manager, the most commonly referenced program is something called SVCHOST. Here’s a peek into my machine:

Mutliple SVCHOST instances in task manager

You can see I have eight instances of SVCHOST running. In fact, it’s such a common question that I’ve discussed it specifically in a prior article What is svchost, and why is there more than one copy running?

The fact is that some programs are just designed to have multiple copies running. SVCHOST is a great example, as it’s a utility “host” program for a variety of different services that run within windows. Each one may (or may not) cause a new instance of SVCHOST to appear. That’s simply how the software was written.

I can’t speak to CCSVCHST.EXE from your example, though it appears to be a part of Norton internet security. I would assume that it too is there twice by design, and terminating or preventing one instance from running would potentially break some important aspect of what Norton does. Again, having two instances of CCSVCHST.EXE is likely because that’s how the software was written and what it expects.

IEXPLORE.EXE is an easier scenario to understand, since it’s mostly under your control. IEXPLORE.EXE is Internet Explorer. Open IE once, and you’ll get one IEXPLORE.EXE in your task list. Open it again (via the start menu or desktop icon) – and you’ll get two. Open it again and you’ll get three. Start closing them and one by one they’ll disappear.

They’re there because you asked for them.

Again, this is actually really common as people fire up multiple browser windows to look at multiple sites and do multiple things all at the same time.

With IE there’s a catch that can be really confusing, though. Note that I said to start it again “via the start menu or desktop icon”. That starts a new copy of IE from scratch. However, if in a running copy of IE you type CTRL+N for “New Window” you’ll get another IE window, but it’ll be from the same IEXPLORE.EXE process. In other words, you won’t see a new IEXPLORE.EXE created when you type CTRL+N, even though it’ll pretty much look the same as having started a new IE from scratch via the Start Menu. Like I said, a tad confusing if you’re trying to keep track.

So that’s one way to control the number of processes created for IE at least – use CTRL+N instead of the start menu to open multiple windows.

But aside from browsers, most programs don’t provide that kind of functionality. They fall into either of two camps:

  • Multiple Instance: like IE, when you start a second copy, you get a second copy. You’ll see two entries in Task Manager.

  • Single Instance: when you start a second copy it first looks to see if another copy is already running. If so, it switches to the first copy, closing the second you tried to start. In effect, while the second copy is running for a second to perform the check, you are forced into having and using only one copy of the program at a time. Task Manager itself is a great example. If you try to run it twice, you’ll still end up with only the single copy running.

Now, about those processes that won’t go away when you close them.

In many cases it’s actually a “feature”, though I’m more likely to consider it an annoyance.

I see it most often in Outlook, and here’s how it works: depending on how you “close” the application, it actually closes the window but not the program. As you’ve seen, the program continues to run without any visible window on the screen.

Why? The typical reason is that the software designers are betting that you’re very likely to run it again, and leaving it running will make it look like it was able to start up much faster the second time.

As for me, I’d prefer to make that decision myself, thank you.

What I learned with Outlook (through trial and error, I’m afraid) is that if you close it by just closing the window (clicking on the “x” in the upper right, or typing ALT+F4) the window will close but the application may keep running. On the other hand if you click on the File menu and then click on Exit, the entire application actually closed.

For all I know that’s changed by now, and I’m also fairly certain that other applications may not react the same way to that same magical incantation. But it’s worth experimenting with, though be sure to give the applications some time to disappear as well. Quite often they’ll make their window disappear instantly, to look like they closed very quickly, but the process may hang around for a while performing cleanup and other tasks before it finally exits.

Ultimately, though, it’s also not really a problem unless you’re experiencing some symptom that can be traced down to the application still running. In my case, it was years ago when I was trying to copy Outlook’s PST file and couldn’t because even though not visible the program was still running and had it locked.

For 99% of users, I honestly wouldn’t spend a lot of time being concerned about it.

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