Before you get to know as how to get your Windows product key, you should know what actually this key is all about. Well this key is a usually unique, alphanumeric code of any length required by many software programs during Windows installation. This help software manufacturers ensure that each copy of their software was legally purchased. So if you pay for a program, then it probably requires a product key during install.
In addition to product keys, some software makers, including Microsoft, often require product activation to help further ensure that software is obtained legally. Open source and free software programs usually do not require a product key unless the manufacturer implements its use for statistical purposes.
Product Key is like a Password
A product key is like a password for a program. This password is given upon buying the software and can only be used with that specific application. Without the product key, the program will most likely not open past the product key page, or it might run but only as a trial of the full version. All Microsoft Windows operating system versions require the entry of unique product keys during the installation process, as do all versions of Microsoft Office and most other Microsoft retail programs.
Microsoft product keys are often located on a product key sticker, and in most versions of Windows and other Microsoft software, product keys are 25-characters in length and contain both letters and numbers.
In all versions of Windows since Windows 98, including Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP, product keys are of the 5×5 set (25-character) form as in xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx. Older versions of Windows, like Windows NT and Windows 95, had 20-character product keys that took the form of xxxxx-xxx-xxxxxxx-xxxxx.
Since product keys are required during installation, finding that you’ve lost a product key could be a serious problem if you need to reinstall a program. Fortunately, you probably don’t need to repurchase the software but instead just find the key you used when it was first installed.
How to get your Windows product key?
If you need to reinstall Windows or upgrade your motherboard, here is how to find or extract your Windows product key.
Finding your Windows 10 Product Key with Key Finder software
The unique product key entered for an operating system or a software program is typically stored in an encrypted format in the Windows Registry, at least in Windows. This makes finding one very difficult without some help. There are special programs called product key finders that will locate these keys, so long as the program or operating system hasn’t already been erased.
Windows 10 is different to its predecessors, in that the key finding programs that worked so well in Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8.1 aren’t much use now. Using a paid program such as Recover Keys, or free versions like Magic Jelly Bean KeyFinder or ProduKey may return a code, but there’s a very good chance that this will be a generic number used by the manufacturers, and not one that will work to activate your PC. If you wish to go down this route, then note that it usually works for Windows 7 and 8.1 systems without issue.
First Download and install the relevant app, then launch it on your PC. Each should have a ‘Scan now’ button or similar. Select this and the program will search your system for any product keys it can find, not necessarily just for Windows, then display the results. You can now write this down and try it when installing the operating system.
Finding your Product Key if you upgraded for free or bought a digital copy from Microsoft
If you took advantage of the free upgrade to Windows 10 that Microsoft offered during its early days or bought a digital version of the OS from the Microsoft store, then you’ll have what’s called a Digital Licence (or Digital Entitlement) rather than a physical one.
This means that the Product Key is linked to your account, rather than kept on a sticker attached to the bottom of the PC.
So, should you find yourself stuck at the ‘It’s time to enter the Product Key’ stage of the installation process, simply click on the ‘Do this later’ option in the lower left corner of the screen and finish the process by logging into your Microsoft account. Just bear in mind you’ll need access to the internet for this to work.
If you have a working Windows 10 PC of your own to hand then you can check whether you have a Digital Entitlement or not by going to Settings then Update & Security then Activation and seeing if it states that ‘Windows is activated with a digital licence linked to your Microsoft account’.
This means that so long as you use your Microsoft account to login to your device during the installation process, you won’t need a code to activate Windows 10 as it will do so from your account instead.
If you haven’t linked your Microsoft account, then follow these steps to do so;
- Open the Settings app then Click on Accounts then Click on Your info
- Click ‘Sign in with a Microsoft account instead’ link
- Sign in with your details and enter your current Windows password. Then either create a PIN or click ‘Skip this step’
Finding your product key if you bought a new PC or a physical copy of Windows
The other way to find your Product Key is to look for the 25-character code that came with or on the packaging that accompanied your device. This will either be a card inside the box, a sticker on the DVD, or printed upon the Certificate of Authenticity (COA) attached to the PC.
Note that many times certain brands like HP, does not put product key on laptops or PCs for security reasons. As with the Digital Entitlement or Digital Licence, the product key is stored ‘somewhere in the computer’ and will activate automatically if needed. This is supposed to work even if the hard drive fails.
Microsoft states that it ‘doesn’t keep a record of purchased product software keys so if you’ve lost the packaging, and the sticker no longer displays the code, then you might be in difficult situation.
Also remember since Microsoft has your computer’s ‘digital signature’ from the initial upgrade it recognises the combination of components when you do a clean install and automatically activates Windows. This means you can safely skip the screen which asks for a product key at the start of the installation process.
So, even if you skip that screen on installation, Windows 10 should activate as long as you haven’t made any major changes to your PC. Upgrading from a hard disk to an SSD won’t affect anything, nor will changing your graphics card. While, upgrading your motherboard and processor will probably count as ‘significant’ and you’ll have to get the Microsoft’s support if you find that Windows is no longer activated, or you’re reinstalling it.
About Downloading Product Keys
There are lots of online sources that offer to download product keys and you can use for various software programs. Many sites also claim erroneously that a program they provide can generate a product key for you.
The way they sometimes work is by having you replace a DLL or EXE file on your computer with one that was taken from a legitimate copy of the software; one that is using the product key legally. Once the file replaces your copy of it, the program might now be a never ending “trial” or will work fully if you provide the given product key that goes with the pirated software.
Another way product keys are illegally distributed is simply through text files. If the software does all of the activation offline, the same code can be used by multiple people for multiple installations without raising any flags. This loophole is why lots of software programs activate their products online by sending the product key information elsewhere to validate it.
Programs that generate product keys are called keygen programs and they usually contain malware along with the product key applier/activator. This is one of the main reasons keygens should be avoided. So before you get your product key from such sites be aware that its illegal to do so and might harm your Windows PC. (with inputs from various sources)