Why turning it off and on again often works

If you’re struggling with software or hardware issues, don’t be surprised if the solution is to turn it off and on again

Monday, 21 March, 2022

In the Channel Four’s ‘The IT Crowd’, tech support staff would routinely answer their phones with the phrase “hello, IT, have you tried turning it off and on again?”

And while the delivery was comedic, it’s amazing how often technology issues really can be resolved with this simple step.

Modern technology is packed with sophisticated firmware and software which often triggers conflicts or unexpected occurrences.

When you consider how many processes a smartphone has to perform simultaneously, or how hard a desktop PC’s CPU will be working, their general dependability is quite remarkable.

When a glitch occurs, it could be due to any number of reasons, some of which couldn’t have been foreseen by the software developers even during extensive pre-launch testing.

The situation may also be unique, in which case a reboot might prevent that fault or issue from ever recurring.

However, there are also other reasons to turn it off and on again.

Total wipe out

Electronic devices tend to store a great deal of information in their short-term memory banks, as they work sequentially through instructions.

Programs also operate along similar lines, executing instructions in sequence.

A reboot effectively resets them to their default state, wiping out whatever caused the conflict or glitch in the first place by restoring start data from non-volatile memory.

However, an immediate restart isn’t always the best course of action, since power may still be circulating around the device. Some machines are designed to remain operational during brief power outages.

Instead, wait a minute to ensure any memory has been wiped, and then restart once components have started to cool.

The longest journey

Diagnosing a fault might take time, involving phone calls to a technical support team or even surrendering control of your machine through a remote terminal app.

However, the first step should always be to turn it off and on again.

Indeed, if you phone a technical support team or helpdesk, that’ll be among their first questions or recommendations.

If the issue relates to home broadband, consider what hardware is involved and then turn it off and on again before requesting assistance.

Wireless routers don’t have software, but they use firmware which can become frazzled through overuse, or encounter an unexpected situation which effectively puts it offline.

Also check whether connectivity issues are universal. If your PC goes offline, is your iPad still connected to WiFi? What about your games console or smart speaker?

It won’t help with hardware issues such as damaged components or persistent overheating, but many software problems can be resolved when you turn it off and on again.

Don’t confuse a soft reset (a reboot) with a hard reset, which restores devices to factory settings and could erase anything from device connections to data storage.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!