Activate Windows 10

Activation helps verify that your copy of Windows is genuine and hasn’t been used on more devices than the Microsoft Software License Terms allow.

Checking your activation status

You'll first want to find out if your Windows 10 is activated and linked to your Microsoft account.

It is essential that you link your Microsoft account to the Windows 10 license on your device. Linking your Microsoft account with your digital license enables you to reactivate Windows using the Activation troubleshooter whenever you make a significant hardware change.

To check activation status in Windows 10, select the Start button, and then select Settings > Update & Security and then select Activation .  Your activation status will be listed next to Activation.

Check  activation status in Settings

You'll see one of these activation status messages on the Activation page:

Activation status

Description

Windows is activated

Windows is activated with a digital license

Windows is activated with a digital license linked to your Microsoft account

  • You are activated.

  • Your Microsoft account is already linked to your digital license.

Windows is not activated

  • You are not activated.

  • You will see an error message explaining the failure.

  • You might need to purchase Windows 10 to activate.

If you need to purchase a license for your device, see "Purchase a Windows 10 license."

If you have purchased a license for this device already and still receive an error message, continue to Methods of activation.

To link your Microsoft account, follow these instructions:

  1. Sign in as an administrator to add your Microsoft account. To confirm you're using an administrator account, select the Start  button, then select Settings  > Accounts  > Your info . Under your name, you’ll see Administrator. If you’re not an administrator, see Create a local user or administrator account.

    Go to your info in Settings

  2. Confirm that the administrator account is also your Microsoft account by checking to see if an email address is displayed above Administrator. If an email address is displayed, this is a Microsoft account. If not, you’re logged in with a local account. If you don’t yet have a Microsoft account, see How to create a new Microsoft account.

  3. Once you confirm that you’re an administrator and using your Microsoft account, go back to the Activation page, select Add an account, enter your Microsoft account and password, and then select Sign in.

After your Microsoft account has been added, on the Activation page you’ll see Windows is activated with a digital license linked to your Microsoft account.

Methods of activation

Depending on how you got your copy of Windows 10, you'll need either a digital license or a 25-character product key to activate it. Without one of these, you won't be able to activate your device.

  • A digital license (called a digital entitlement in Windows 10, Version 1511) is a method of activation in Windows 10 that doesn't require you to enter a product key.

  • A product key is a 25-character code used to activate Windows. What you'll see is PRODUCT KEY: XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX.

After determining which activation method you use, follow the steps in the corresponding Activate using a digital license or Activate using a product key.

Your activation method depends on how you got your copy of Windows 10.

If you got Windows 10 by...

Activation method

Upgrading to Windows 10 for free from an eligible device running a genuine copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1

Digital license

If you associated or signed onto a Microsoft Account or associated your MSA with your digital license, that will be your MSA containing the digital license.

Buying a Windows 10 Pro upgrade from the Microsoft Store app and successfully activated Windows 10

Digital license

When purchasing from Microsoft Store, a confirmation email was sent to confirm the purchase. That email address (MSA) will contain the digital license.

Being a Windows Insider and upgrading to the newest Windows 10 Insider Preview build on an eligible device that was running an activated earlier version of Windows and Windows 10 Preview

Digital license

The email address that you used for your Windows Insider login will likely be the MSA containing your digital license.

Buying genuine Windows 10 from the Microsoft Store app

Digital license

When purchasing from Microsoft Store, a confirmation email was sent to confirm the purchase. That email address (MSA) will contain the digital license.

Buying a PC that came with Windows 10

Product key

Find your product key either on the device packaging or on the Certificate of Authenticity (COA) attached to your device.

Buying a box copy of Windows 10 from an authorized retailer

Product key

Find your product key on a label inside the Windows 10 box.

Buying a digital copy of Windows 10 from an authorized retailer

Product key

Find your product key in the confirmation email you received after buying Windows 10 or in a digital locker accessible through the retailer’s website.

A digital license will be given to your device for Windows 10 based on the valid product key you entered.

Having a Volume Licensing agreement for Windows 10 or MSDN subscription

Product key

Your product key is available through the web portal for your program.

Buying a new or refurbished device running Windows 10

Product key

Your product key is preinstalled on your device, included with the device packaging, or included as a card or on the Certificate of Authenticity (COA) attached to the device.

If you bought a refurbished PC, the refurbisher, not Microsoft, must provide you a product key.

Buying from the Microsoft Store online

Product key

Find your product key in the confirmation email that contains the order history.

If you don't have a digital license or a product key, you can purchase a Windows 10 digital license after installation finishes. Here's how:

  1. Select the Start  button.

  2. Select Settings  > Update & Security   > Activation  .

  3. Select Go to Store.

This opens the Microsoft Store app where you can purchase a Windows 10 digital license.

Activate using a digital license

Digital licenses are associated with your hardware and linked to your Microsoft account, so there's nothing you need to find on your PC. You're all set once your PC is connected to the internet and you log in to your Microsoft account. 

If you are using a digital license linked to a Microsoft account, you can run setup and skip the product key option by selecting I don’t have a product key. When you sign in with your Microsoft account and connect to the internet, you will be activated.

If you have a digital license for your device, you can reinstall the same edition of Windows 10 on this device without entering a product key.

Make sure that Windows 10 is activated before you try to reinstall it. To find out, select the Start  button, and then select Settings  > Update & Security  > Activation . You’ll be able to confirm that your Windows 10 has been activated and that your Microsoft account is associated with your digital license.

Check  activation status in Settings

Here are the possible messages that display on the Activation page:

Activation status

Description

Windows is activated with a digital license

Your Microsoft account is not linked to your digital license. Follow instructions for Linking your Microsoft account.

Windows is activated with a digital license linked to your Microsoft account

Your Microsoft account is already linked to your digital license.

If Windows 10 isn’t activated on your device, see Get help with Windows 10 activation errors for more info.  

If your digital license is not linked to your Microsoft account, follow the steps under Checking your Activation status, Linking your Microsoft account.

Once you have your account linked, then you can run setup to reinstall Windows 10. For more info about how to create installation media to reinstall Windows 10, go to the Microsoft software download website. When creating installation media, make sure to choose the edition of Windows 10 that matches the edition already installed on your device.

During reinstallation, if you’re asked to enter a product key, you can skip this step by selecting I don't have a product key. Windows 10 will automatically activate online after the installation is complete. If you linked your digital license with your Microsoft account, be sure to sign in to the Microsoft account that is linked to the digital license. 

When you make a significant hardware change to your device, such as replacing the motherboard, Windows 10 might no longer be activated. 

Make sure you associate your Microsoft account to your digital license to prepare for hardware changes. The association enables you to reactivate Windows using the Activation troubleshooter if you make a significant hardware change later. For more info, see Reactivating Windows 10 after a hardware change.

If you don't have a digital license, you'll use a product key to activate.  

Activate using a product key

A product key is a 25-character code, that looks like this:

     PRODUCT KEY: XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX

During installation, you'll be prompted to enter a product key.  Or, after installation, to enter the product key, select the Start  button, and then select Settings  > Update & Security  > Activation  > Update product key > Change product key.

Change product key in Settings

To locate your product key, see the product key table in Activation methods, What activation method do I use, a digital license or a product key?

Note: Microsoft only keeps a record of product keys if you purchased from the Microsoft online store. You can find out if you purchased from Microsoft in your Microsoft account Order history. For more help, see Find your Windows product key.

If you have a product key, then you can use Change product key to activate Windows 10 in each of the following scenarios. Below is supplemental information that might help you with activation:

You’ll need to use a valid product key to activate Windows 10 on a device that has never had an activated copy of Windows 10 on it.

You’ll also need to use a valid product key if you're installing an edition of Windows 10 that wasn’t previously activated on the device. For example, you'll need a valid product key to install and activate Windows 10 Pro on a device that had Windows 10 Home installed.

During the installation, you’ll be asked to enter a valid product key. After the installation is complete, Windows 10 will automatically be activated online. To check activation status in Windows 10, select the Start button, and then select Settings  > Update & Security  > Activation .

Check activation status in Settings

If Windows 10 isn’t activated on your device, see Get help with Windows 10 activation errors for more info.

Note: In some cases, you might need to enter the Windows 10 product key that either came with the device packaging, was included as a card, or that appears on the Certificate of Authenticity (COA) attached to the device. If you don't have a Windows 10 product key, you'll have the option to buy one during installation.

When you buy a refurbished device running Windows 10, you'll need to activate Windows using the product key on the Certificate of Authenticity (COA) that's attached to your device. 

If your original hardware manufacturer (OEM) changed the motherboard for you, your PC should reactivate automatically. If it doesn't activate, your OEM might have provided a COA card with a 25-character key under a gray scratch cover. Follow these steps to get activated.:

Note: To remove the gray coating that conceals the product key, gently scratch it off using a coin or your fingernail.

  1. Select the Start  button, and then select Settings  > Update & Security  > Activation .

  2. Select Change product key.

  3. Type in the product key found on the COA and follow the instructions.

    Change product key in Settings

During reinstallation, you’ll be asked to enter a product key. When you type in your product key, you will have an activated edition of Windows 10. 

If you finished setup and did not enter your product key, you can still enter your product key. Select the Start  button, and then select Activation  > Update product key > Change product key.

Change product key in Settings

When you make a significant hardware change to your device, such as replacing the motherboard, Windows 10 might no longer be activated. 

If you do not reinstall Windows, then you can select the Start  button, and then select Activation  > Update product key > Change product key to reactivate your device. Otherwise you can enter your product key during installation of Windows.

If your original hardware manufacturer (OEM) changed the motherboard for you, your PC should reactivate automatically. If it doesn’t activate, your OEM might have provided a COA card that has a gray coating over a 25-character key. Follow these steps to get activated.

Note: To remove the gray coating that conceals the product key, gently scratch it off using a coin or your fingernail.

  1. Select the Start  button, and then select Settings  > Update & Security  > Activation .

  2. Select Change product key.

  3. Type in the product key found on the COA and follow the instructions.

Change product key in Settings

For more info, see Reactivating Windows 10 after a hardware change.

Need more info?

If your license doesn’t match the Windows edition that you bought or are entitled to, Windows will not activate. Check to see which edition you purchased, Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro. To see the edition, select the Start  button, then select Settings > Update & Security > Activation .

Check your Windows edition in Settings

If you purchased the edition called Windows 10 Home, you’ll need to again install Windows 10 Home. If you don’t want to continue with Windows 10 Home and would like to change editions, see Upgrade Windows 10 Home to Windows 10 Pro.

If you’re a Windows Insider and have been running Windows 10 Insider Preview builds you’ll automatically receive new builds that have been activated, provided Windows was activated on your device before upgrading to the new build. 

To check activation status in Windows 10, select the Start  button, and then select Settings  > Update & Security  > Activation .

Check activation status in Settings

If Windows 10 isn’t activated on your device, see Get help with Windows 10 activation errors for more info.

If you’re not already part of the Windows Insider program and you’d like to join, select the Start  button and then select Settings  > Update & Security  > Windows Insider Program > Get started.

Join Windows Insider Program

Note: If you're reinstalling Windows 10 Insider Preview, and the same edition of Windows 10 or Windows 10 Insider Preview (builds newer than 10240) was already activated on your device, your digital license will automatically activate Windows.

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