Logging Off Microsoft Windows

Windows Vista/7 logoWindows XP logoWindows 3.1-Me logo This article covers Windows 7 and earlier only.

Windows 8 logo Click here for the article on Signing Out of Microsoft Windows 8.


Has your system administrator asked you to log off your computer at the end of the day? Are you not sure what that means? This article is for you.

Sometimes people think it just means just closing all their files and programs. Or, they ask, "Does that mean I must shut my computer down all the way?"

The answer is something in between.

Logging off means saving your files, shutting down all your programs, and then ending your Windows user session by returning to the logon screen. (The logon screen is where you type or click on your name, then enter your password, to get started using your computer. It usually consists of a window that simply says "Press Ctrl+Alt+Delete to begin".)

Here are a few reasons you should log off your computer:

  • Logging off secures your computer and files from people who are not authorized to see them. If you leave your computer logged on when you're away, then anyone can sit down and start messing with, deleting, or copying your e-mail, personal files, or other company data they are not supposed to see.
  • It ensures your work is saved and your files are closed properly. If your desktop computer at work unexpectedly shuts off overnight or during the weekend, you might lose data if you didn't log off.
  • The backup system on your network can't copy data files if they're still open. If you don't log off at night, you might have programs running that have your files held open. If the overnight backup system skips your open files, and then you delete an important file by accident the next day, your data might be irretrievable.
  • If you have a laptop that carry between the office and home, you should log off whenever you leave home or the office. This will ensure files you access over the local network or VPN are closed and saved properly, so that you don't lose your work or corrupt the file if you turn on your computer at the other location and your computer can't reconnect to the file you had open.

Some people use their computer at work only for one program (like a customer management database), which they keep open all day, and think that when they close the program and only see the Windows desktop icons on their computer screen, they have "logged off." But, if you can still do anything else besides log on to Windows (like start programs and open e-mail or websites), then you are not logged off.

No Need to Shut Down

"Shutting down" means turning off the physical computer unit—all the lights go out and the fans stop blowing. When you turn it back on, everything has to load up again, which can take several minutes. Generally, you do not need to shut down your computer at the end of the day. If you do, and a network administrator wants to connect to your workstation remotely after-hours to upgrade software, backup your system, or fix problems, he can't. Also, it's easier on computer hardware to run continuously than to be turned on and off every day, and it uses very little electricity.

How to Log Off

Before you log off, you should close all your programs and save your files. You can skip this step if you're in a hurry, and Windows will notice if you have any un-saved files open and give you an opportunity to save it. But, it's best if you don't depend on that.

You can log off with your mouse or your keyboard. Using the keyboard is much easier and faster, but many people are stuck on using their mouse, so both methods are described here.

Note: Windows-based desktop and laptop computers are very customizable, so yours may not look or act exactly as described here. Later versions may be configured to look or behave fully or partially like previous versions. Also, this article only applies to secure versions of Windows. Windows Millennium Edition, Windows 98, Windows 95, and Windows 3.1 and earlier are not covered.

Log Off Using the Mouse Mouse

Windows 7 Log Off menu

Windows Vista/7 logo Windows 7

Click Windows 7 Start button. You should see Shut down, but don't click on that. There is a tiny arrow Windows 7 Little Arrow just to the right of that. Click that—it's a little difficult, because you have to click only on the tiny arrow, and not on the much larger button it's attached to. When you click the arrow, a new menu will pop up. Click Log off.

Windows Vista Log Off menu

Windows Vista/7 logo Windows Vista

Click Windows Vista Start button. Look for the tiny arrow Windows Vista Little Arrow just to the right of the lock icon. Click that—it's difficult, because you have to click only on the tiny arrow, and not the lock button next to it. When you click the arrow, a new menu will pop up. Click Log Off.

Windows XP logo Windows XP

Click Windows XP Start button then Windows XP Log Off button Log Off.

A small window will pop up. Click Log Off again.

Windows 3.1-Me logo Windows 2000

Click Windows 2000 Start button then Shut Down. A box will appear with a selection list. Choose Log off and click OK.

Windows 3.1-Me logo Windows NT 4.0

Click Windows NT 4.0 Start button then Shut Down. Select Close all programs and log on as a different user and click OK.

Windows 3.1-Me logo Windows NT 3.x

In the Program Manager main window, click File then Logoff then OK.

Alternatively, you can double-click the control box of Program Manager, select Log off in the selection list that appears, then click OK.

Log Off Using the Keyboard Keyboard

On all versions of Windows, do this:

  • Press CtrlAlt+Del
  • Press L (Windows XP, 2000, or NT only) or Alt+L (all versions)

The only time this will not work is in Windows XP when configured for Fast User Switching. If so, you just need one extra keypress.

  • Press CtrlAlt+Del
  • Press Alt+U
  • Press L

Note: If you are logging off of a Remote Desktop session (see below), you must use CtrlAlt+End instead of CtrlAlt+Del.

More Information

Logging Back On

Before you log off, make sure you know how to log on again. You need to know both your user name and password. Some people use their computers for months, never logging off, and don't realize they ever logged on with a password. Then when their computer is rebooted or they have to log off for some reason, they're stuck! Click here for the article on logging on to a Windows-based computer.

Switching Users

If you have Windows Vista or Windows 7, or with Windows XP in some configurations, you will see the Switch user option in the log off menu. When you select this option, it appears as if you have logged off, because your desktop and all your program windows disappear, and the computer presents the logon screen so someone else can log on. But, your Windows logon session is still active in the background. In fact, any programs you are running will continue to run (such as a file transfer or heavy computations in progress), and your files will remain open. When you switch away from your account this way, your logon session is said to be disconnected.

So, you should only switch users if someone needs to access his account on your computer and it's a really bad time for you to close all your stuff and log off. To properly log off your account once you have switched away and allowed someone else to log on to your computer, the other user has to log off, then you must log back on to your account (using your password) and log off properly.

Locking Your Workstation

Windows also offers the option for you to lock your workstation. Your computer might even be configured to lock itself if you haven't used it for a while. This also seems the same as logging off, because you have to type your password again to resume work. As with switching to another user, your programs and files all remain open. Locking your computer is good practice for securing your files and e-mail from snoopers or any kind of disruption, if you are nearby and will return to your computer shortly. But, now that you know why it's important to log off properly at the end of the day, you now know you shouldn't just leave your computer locked when you go home. Unlock it, then log off properly.

Remote Desktop

Windows XP and Windows Vista Remote Desktop Connection icon  Windows 7 Remote Desktop Connection icon

Microsoft has offered Remote Desktop capabilities on Windows-based computers for many years. This means you can run a program called Remote Desktop Connection on one computer to log on to another computer across your office network or over the Internet, and access the programs and files on the other computer as if you are sitting right in front of it. If you do this, all the same rules apply. You should properly log off your Remote Desktop session using the instructions above. If you merely close the Remote Desktop program window, your logon session will continue to run on the other computer as if you had locked the session (in Windows XP), or as if you had disconnected your session (Windows Vista and Windows 7).

Shut Down / Restart

Windows Vista/7 Shut Down button

These are the last two options we haven't covered so far in this article. The Shut down option turns off your computer or device completely, while Restart turns it off, then immediately turns it back on and starts Windows. You might see these options in the same menus you use to log off.

To learn more about this, click here for the article on shutting down and restarting Windows.

Finally, when you go to log off your computer, you might also see options for stand-by, sleep, or hibernate. Click here to read about Stand-by, Sleep, and Hibernation in Microsoft Windows.