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Analyze Windows event logs efficiently

Windows Event Logs — Event Log FAQ

What is Windows event log?

Event logs are special files that record significant events on your computer, such as when a user logs on to the computer or when a program encounters an error. Whenever these types of events occur, Windows records the event in an event log. Users might find the details in event logs helpful when troubleshooting problems with Windows and other programs.

Unlike UNIX syslog, Microsoft event log is not a text file and it is impossible to view it with simple text editors. Microsoft Windows event log is a binary file that consists of special records – Windows events.

Microsoft Windows runs Event Log Service to manage event logs, configure event publishing, and perform operations on the logs. Windows Event Log service exposes a special API, which allows applications to maintain and manage event logs.

Windows event logging was introduced in Windows NT operating system (version 3.1) in 1993. This Windows edition came with three Windows logs: Application event log, System event log and Security event log. Modern versions of Windows come with more than a hundred of Windows eventlogs, and third party applications can create and integrate into Windows logging their own event logs.

How to view event logs?

You can view eventlogs using Event Viewer (comes with Windows operating system) or third-party Windows event viewers. We recommend using our Event Log Explorer software – it provides a lot of  advanced features for event log management.

What is Windows Event Log Service?

Windows Event Log Service is a Windows service that manages events and event logs. It supports logging events, querying events, subscribing to events, archiving event logs, and managing event metadata. It helps to display events in both XML and plain text format. This service is enabled and starts automatically by default. You should not stop or disable this service. Stopping Windows Event Log service may compromise security and reliability of the system.

What are Windows event log files?

Windows Event Log Service lets users to save (backup) event logs to files. Windows NT, 2000 and XP/2003 save event logs to EVT format. Windows Vista/2008 and better save logs to EVTX format. Having backup event files are essential for incident investigation.

Windows event logs are also files, but they are commonly locked by Windows (Event Log Service) and it is impossible to open these files on "live" system. But if the computer is started from another disk or the system drive from the analyzed machine is connected to another computer, you can read event logs as files. The default location of event logs on Vista/2008 and better is "C:\Windows\System32\winevt\Logs\". Windows Event Viewer allows you to open event file as follows: 

Click Open Saved Log in Actions pane of Event Viewer.

Select your event log file and it will appear in Windows Event Viewer as a log. 

Our Event Log Explorer software also works with event files and does it even better than Event Viewer, e.g. it lets you read even damaged event files.

What is Windows Application event log?

The Application log contains events logged by applications or programs. For example, a database program might record a file error in the application log. Program developers decide which events should be logged. E.g. Microsoft SQL Server logs details about important events linked with SQL server, e.g. "out of memory", "backup failure" etc. One application log commonly contains events logged from different sources (applications), so it is incorrect to rely solely on event ID when analyzing the Application log. You should always rely on event ID along with event source. Some applications, such as Internet Explorer, Power Shell create own event log instead of using Windows application event log. Such logs look exactly like standard Windows event logs and Event Viewer (as well as Event Log Explorer) can read these event logs. Application logs are commonly useful for application support teams.

What is Windows System event log?

The System log contains events logged by Windows system components. For example, the failure of a driver or other system component to load during startup is recorded in the system log. The event types logged by system components are predetermined by Windows. Similarly to Application log, System event log lists events from different sources (system components) so you should not rely only on event ID when analyzing System log, instead you should rely on event ID along with event source. System logs are essential for system administrators and technicians.

What is Windows security event log?

The Security log contains events such as valid and invalid logon attempts, as well as events related to resource use, such as creating, opening, or deleting files or other objects. Administrators can specify what events are recorded in the security log. For example, if you have enabled logon auditing, attempts to log on to the system are recorded in the security log. Be careful with setting up the audit policy. E.g. Windows lets you audit access to all files on NTFS disks in such a way that any access to a file will be logged as a new event. This may generate hundred events a second, overwhelm event log and reduce system performance. So when tuning audit access policy, make sure that only certain files and folders will have auditing properties. Security logs are essential for system and security administrators and forensic examiners.