How to fix “Failed to install catalog files” error

I was installing Service Pack 3 for Windows XP and suddenly it gave “Failed to install catalog files” error and interrupted process. I am big fan of figure it out method instead of classic nuke and reinstall Windows so took my time fixing it.


  • error appeared during install process, after initial system check but before any changes were made;
  • error appeared at creating system restore point stage which made issue even more weird because system restore was disabled;
  • both offline install package and online update gave same error, excluding corrupted setup files.


After some googling I found extensive Microsoft Knowledge Base article aptly named You cannot install some updates or programs. Article covers numerous and quite different errors related to updates, as well as over ten suggestions on fixing.

There is no direct relation between specific errors and fixes so I had to read everything and figure out where to start. Most common culprits seemed to be cryptographic service and security catalog. Catalog stuff sounded like a closest match to error.

Steps to fix

Security catalog is part of Windows that handles digital signatures for updates, system file protection and other stuff. It resides in two folders:

  • C:\Windows\system32\CatRoot
  • C:\Windows\system32\CatRoot2

Fixes suggested:

  • deleting CatRoot2 (safe operation as it is re-created by Windows on next boot);
  • manual cleanup in CatRoot (not safe to delete) and other folders related to updates.

Exact steps I took for cleanup:

  1. Deleted CatRoot2 folder. Some files inside were locked by system so I had to use FileASSASSIN and schedule pending delete.
  2. Deleted all tmp*.cat files in CatRoot subfolders.
  3. Deleted all kb*.cat files in CatRoot subfolders.
  4. Deleted all oem*.* files in C:\Windows\INF folder.
  5. Deleted all files and folders in C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution folder.

After that SP3 installed perfectly.


Security Catalog is not known to cause much trouble but it can create issues. Cleanup is not as easy as with usual temporary files because deleting too much may break Windows Update completely.

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  • gökhan #

    best solution, thank you
  • Rarst #

    @gökhan Glad it was useful to you. :)
  • Travis #

    Thanks so much for posting this. Worked for me as well.
  • Rarst #

    @Travis You are welcome. :) It seems to be one of less known troubles so I am glad that my roundup works for others as well as it did for me.
  • Daniel #

    Just used above steps and it worked. Thank you.
  • Rarst #

    @Daniel You are welcome. :) Seems my recipe is about right enough to help without tons of additional stuff MS offers to try.
  • Vamshi #

    Hi, Its worked fine we are able to install SP2 on server 2003 also with the above concept
  • Rarst #

    @Vamshi Win2003 is close to XP in mechanics so it's not unusual for same recipes to work. Good luck to your server. :)
  • sammie #

    Thanks. Worked great for me for getting past the "catalog files" error when updating from XP Home SP2 to SP3. I was getting other strange errors with XP SP2 (lost network card, auto login of Skype, loss of ability for user login (but OK in safe mode). Now all OK. Don't really know if deleting (corrupt) Cat stuff or the installation of SP3 was the cure, but either way, I'm a Happy Punter. Thanks again for posting fix.
  • Rarst #

    @sammie You are welcome. :) Rest of stuff fixed was probably because SP3 replaced some previously broken system files. It overwrites like half of OS (especially if unpatched).
  • Kilgore Trout #

    Well, that seems to have worked. Thanks for the solution. I was having a really frustrating time with this. :)
  • Rarst #

    @Kilgore Trout Heh, I so understand. :)
  • Debbie #

    Thank you for posting this solution. I've struggled with trying to get a machine upgraded to SP3 for over a week. This solution was the one to finally take care of the problem.
  • Rarst #

    @Debbie It would be pure evil to not share it. :) Glad it resolved issue for you as well.
  • PaulM #

    We used this to install updates KB961118 and KB967715. This was an issue for hours of troubleshooting. No other solutions were working. Thanks so much!
  • Rarst #

    @PaulM You are welcome. :) Thanks for info that it can come up on non-SP updates as well.
  • Steve Berlin #

    WOW! Wish I had found this site 6 hours ago! You rock!!!!! THANKS!!!!!
  • Rarst #

    @Steve Berlin You are welcome. :)
  • webster #

    Q; i have an hp nx6125 which is refusing to see the hard drive at times,if i try to load win xp2 it passes an error which says"failed to install catalog files xp" and @ times it say setup did not find any hard disks installed.i am not a technical person.Plzzzzz help
  • Rarst #

    @webster It's bit hard to explain but motherboards can operate SATA hard drives in two modes IDE (legacy) and AHCI. XP is oldish so it won't do clean install (if that's what you are doing) with AHCI unless drivers are provided. On other hand I am not sure this is your problem. Could be just as well hardware issue or anything in between. I strongly suggest you contact HP support (if you have that option) or start looking for friendly computer geek who will sort it out for you.
  • Bob #

    Excellent work. Help me load SVC pack 3 on a clients computer that had this issue. Added to my list of XP fixes.
  • Rarst #

    @Bob Glad it was of use. :) Windows is already two versions ahead but XP has such a strong base that I wonder how many more clients with this issue we'll see in following years.
  • e.r.lehmann #

    Nice solution... the link and soltion by Microsoft suggests that the error lies with corruption relating to the Cryptographic Services key: 'you cannot install some updates' http://support.microsoft.com/kb/822798
  • e.r.lehmann #

    Along the same vane, I've seen perfectly good installs totally blown because of permission errors in the registry... key: 'When you try to install Windows XP Service Pack' http://support.microsoft.com/kb/949377
  • Rarst #

    @e.r.lehmann Thanks for your input and links! Method in post seems to help often, but is certainly not universal.
  • “Access denied” error when installing service pack | Rarst.net #

    [...] to Windows XP service packs installation issues decline by now… But according to stats on my failed to install catalog files post it only increased lately.Among numerous comments on that post e.r.lehmann had mentioned that [...]
  • Misty #

    Thanks so much. This is the only thing that worked for me. :)
  • Rarst #

    @Misty You are welcome. :)
  • Mike Fisher #

    Boy, I followed your suggestions to the letter and still got the error again. Do you have any other ideas for a wayward nearly time to fresh install situation? Thanks, mike fisher
  • Rarst #

    @Mike Fisher I can only suggest you go through complete support article, linked to in post. My steps are what helped in specific situation and what seems to fix common issues. There can always be more.
  • Deb #

    I was excited to find your suggested solution and the positive responses. Unfortunately, after following all steps, I still get the "failed to install catalog files" error. Tried the fix twice now and no go. Will have to keep looking. Thanks.
  • Rarst #

    @Deb Sorry to hear that. As with Mike above I can only advise to go over Microsoft support article, linked to in post. It had last been updated very recently and there might be more recent causes and fixes to this issue.
  • Arnel #

    To delete the CatRoot2 folder without using FileASSASIN, disable the Cryptographic Services or run "net stop cryptsvc" in the Command Prompt, delete the folder, then start it again or run "net start cryptsvc" in the Command Prompt.
  • Rarst #

    @Arnel Thanks for info! Curiously we have a large pack of SP3 updates at work upcoming, so might come in handy.
  • hill #

    Thanks a million
  • Amigo #

    I tried deleting catroot2 but nothing happened, deleting catroot worked, so I reinstalled windows again and went to catroot and I looked at the .cat files and found that the update I was having fails to install was already there so I just deleted its .cat file and it worked smoothly without any futher actions, yes why did windows wanted to download it when it had a .cat file ? my image of windows was custom made so anything is possible. my problem was with KB975558 and it .cat file in catroot is KB975558.cat. Also guys, try MS page, they have like 8 solutions and you can click on "Fix it" option on MS page and you will get a file to download and it will try the 1-5 soultions for you, if that didnt work try 6-8 manually. MS page: So evry person has different problem thus same error for all, thanks for the info dude.
  • Amigo #

    I don't see the link in my post so here it is: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/822798
  • Rarst #

    my image of windows was custom made so anything is possible.
    I am not a fan of customized Windows images. I had seen many and experimented myself and I think it's hard to get right without potentially introducing issues. And benefits are not really worth it (at least for me, I have a lot of actions post OS installations like software setups automated).
    and you can click on “Fix it” option on MS page
    Thanks for info! FixIt thingies can be efficient. Or at least time saving by quickly excluding stuff that doesn't help. :)
  • Exter #

    your a lifesaver !!
  • Sanjib #

    Thanks a lot Dear!! Worked like a magic.. God bless..
  • Miglen #

    worked like a charm! thank you, kind sir
  • symbianfreak #

    worked like a charm. :) just a thought... I couldn't find any tmp*.cat files in the mentioned folder so I simply skipped this and went to the next step.
  • Rarst #

    @symbianfreak Yep, temporary files are not necessary generate or cause the issue. But they might, thus the point in the list. :)
  • brandon #

    i may be late but this still works! thx man. had me stumped!
  • Jimmel #

    after following all the above mentioned steps......i still got the same old service pack in my laptop...why is that?
  • Sergey #

    Andrey, You saved my day with this advice. Your persistence and determination to get to the bottom of things is incredible. I just want to say thank you
  • Rarst #

    @Jimmel Are you still getting the same error? In that case please see Microsoft KB article linked in post for more things to try. @Sergey You are welcome. :)
  • Jeri #

    I have to add my thanks as well! I Googled the problem, found your instructions and dove right in. Worked perfectly! Thank you so much for taking the time to help others.
  • Rarst #

    @Jeri You are welcome. :) I never had thought this article would keep helping so many people for so long.
  • Me #

    Nice post. Worked great on Windows Server 2003. Also, an easy way to delete the windows files is to boot from the Parted Magic bootable CD. Parted Magic can browse the file system and delete any files from within it's GUI.
  • Josh #

    I was getting this access denied error on a machine I had just imaged over from an old P3 box to a somewhat newer core2 box. I thought something had possibly gone corrupt during the image. Contradictory to my previous experiences with installing SP3, sometimes you just have to let windows do what it thinks is best. In my case, that meant not forcing SP3 on the os until windows updates thought it was ready for it. My guess is a previous update was required before SP3 could install successfully, though I have never seen that before when running the offline installer.
  • Darren #

    Not sure when this page was created, but still working for me (25/09/11). Many thanks for posting this, trying for several days for a solutions that worked!
  • Rarst #

    @Josh That is somewhat strange, SP3 should have everything since SP2 (this the name)... So unless install was pre-SP2... Anyway, as long as it worked in the end. @Darren You are welcome. :)
  • Dan #

    Thanks man ! This is really usefull information :D ! Where is the donate button ?
  • Rarst #

    @Dan Don't have one. No ads at moment either... You will have to endure benefiting from this post for free. :)
  • pasadenapal #

    Hey Rarst, dude I've been looking for a solution to this for 2 months, I wish i came upon your post before, don't know how I missed it. followed your directions and worked like a charm, thanks again.
  • Shane #

    Got this problem after a Windows Repair. Your solution worked like a charm. You Rock.
  • Joro_D #

    Very very helpful!
  • venkat #

    I am trying to install SP3 with CD. I get an error with Flash.ocx registering at setupderr.log. "Setup is being restarted" keeps looping. Any idea how to exclude flash from install sequence?
  • Rarst #

    @venkat Sorry, never encountered anything like that.
  • Aries #

    I can't thank you enough... Without each other, We're nothing.
  • Jeff #

    Thank you very much for your solution. I also struggled for over a week trying to get XP SP3 installed (after downgrading my machine from Vista to XP). There were two more suggestions on Microsoft's site that looked very involved (certificates and stuff). I was so happy to see that your solution was easy and did the trick. Thank you again. I'm hoping to enjoy XP on this 2006 computer for another year or so until Microsoft stops supporting it altogether. Time to ghost the machine while it's clean and running Win XP SP3.
  • Vince #

    Rarst, thanks very much for your solution. It works!!! You just made my day great! Bless you!
  • Alex #

    Thanks Rarst!!! your instructions above for resolving the "failed catalog files" while installing SP3 worked like a charm. thanks again for taking the time to post such detailed steps to follow. AVP
  • Dan #

    Your solution worked perfectly for me. Thanks for doing the work. To others - Don't forget to reboot after the listed steps and before running the SP3 update/install. Cheers