When Google Chrome won't start up

As a Windows user, I prefer Google's Chrome browser because it strikes me as the best browser for Defensive Computing. As such, I use it all the time.

Yesterday, I had my first serious problem with Chrome. After rebooting Windows 7, Chrome would not start up. Worse still, there were no errors. Just nothingness. 

As I slowly panicked, I realized that there are two large issues at play here. 

1. For one, Chrome is free, so there is no technical support.

By and large this is a fair trade-off, but at times like this, I would have gladly paid for expert help. My copy of Chrome was lived-in. That is, it had a huge number of carefully organized bookmarks, not to mention my preferred extensions and theme. Starting from scratch would have been a big loss. 

In Google's defense, Chrome does allow users to backup their bookmarks, extensions and more to Google servers. I have been hesitant to do so, out of fear that Google knows too much about me already. 

2. The other big issue is backup. Windows, being designed back when Fred Flintstone was computing, doesn't allow for applications to be backed up.

Sure, you can backup files and partitions, but the design choices Microsoft made back in the old days result in our not being able to back up applications. When they are installed, Windows apps put files in any folders they please and then they update the black box that is the Registry willy nilly. 

This is why I avoid legacy Windows applications whenever possible and opt for portable software instead (my favorite source is PortableApps.com). I actually care very little about the portable nature of portable apps. Instead I care that they can be backed up, in their entirety, just by copying a folder. Neat, clean, simple and elegant. That's the way things should work.

It's folly to depend on software that you can't back up. Yet, I live this folly with Chrome because the version from PortableApps.com does not automatically self-update. Updating is a cumbersome manual procedure and Chrome gets revised too often for me to maintain it manually, even on one computer. 

So, I'm left to my own devices to resuscitate my broken copy of Chrome. 

DEBUGGING

An online search finds a Google page called Google Chrome won't open at all. It blames the problem on antivirus or firewall software. That was not my problem. 

Although I know nothing about how Chrome works internally, I've done enough debugging to know that there is probably an error log somewhere, stuffed full of error message goodies. 

I right click on the Chrome shortcut, get the Properties and click on the Open File Location button. This takes me to folder

C:\Users\myuserid\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\Application

Sure enough, there is a file in that folder called debug.log and it's just what I was looking for, an error log in plain text. In Notepad, it looks like gibberish, but displayed in a better text editor, such as Notepad++, the errors are easy to read. 

There seem to be a pair of errors generated every time I try to run Chrome. The first pair is below.

0706/215116:ERROR:client_util.cc(394)

  Failed to load Chrome DLL from

  C:\Users\myuserid\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\

  Application\20.0.1132.43\chrome.dll

0706/215116:ERROR:client_util.cc(442)

  Could not find exported function

  RelaunchChromeBrowserWithNewCommandLineIfNeeded  

If Google documents the format of messages in the debug.log file, I couldn't find it. 

At first, I took the 0706 at the front to be an error message number. Only when the problem spanned days did I realize that it's the date in MMDD format. Likewise, the number after the slash is a time of day in what appears to be HHMMSS format. 

So, now I have a clue.    

As is the norm with free software, tech support for Chrome is provided at an online forum. By and large, my experiences with this sort of thing has been that it's the blind leading the blind. According to Google, "Other users and Google Guides participate in these forums and answer questions." I'm skeptical, but give it a shot. 

At the forum for Windows users to report a problem and get troubleshooting help, I enter the details of my problem. After 13 hours, there was no response, so I took things into my own hands.

Update: Still no responses after 1.5 days.  

I was aware that Chrome maintained two versions of itself, each in a different folder. To enable updates while the browser is running, it probably installs new versions into new folders and the next time Chrome starts up, it somehow knows to run the newer version.  

With this in mind, there were two important sub-folders in the directory

C:\Users\myuserid\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\Application 

One sub-folder was named 20.0.1132.47, the other was 19.0.1084.56. 

The problem was clear, Chrome was trying to load a dll from a folder called 20.0.1132.43, and, there is no such folder. Half of Chrome thinks that it is version 20.0.1132.43, while the other half of the browser thinks it is version 20.0.1132.47.

This may have resulted from the way I use Chrome.

On the problematic computer, Chrome had been running for many days, maybe a couple weeks, if not longer, without being restarted (it's a laptop that gets put to sleep). My guess is that Google's update process can't handle a copy of Chrome that gets updated multiple times without being restarted in-between. Again, just a guess. 

My first attempt at fixing things resulted in the 19.0.1084.56 folder being deleted by Chrome. Fortunately, my second attempt fixed the problem.

After copying the entire C:\Users\myuserid\AppData\Local\Google\ folder for good luck (without the registry the usefulness of this backup is questionable) I gave Chrome what it wanted. That is, I renamed the 20.0.1132.47 folder to 20.0.1132.43. 

That's all it took to fix things. 

Curious what version Chrome now thought it was, I immediately clicked on the wrench, then About Google Chrome. The reported version was 20.0.1132.47, but then it went into update mode for a second, and then wanted to be relaunched to complete the update. 

After re-launching, the version number was still 20.0.1132.47 but now there was an "m" afterwards. Google has a blog that documents the Chrome releases, but the announcement of version 20.0.1132.47 said nothing about an "m". A quick search found others confused about this too.    

GOING FORWARD 

Hopefully, my experience can help others with the same problem.

There are others out there. I found users of multiple operating systems who have experienced the same thing. Specifically, Chrome has failed to start up on Linux (here and here), on OS X (here), and on Windows (here), including Windows 8 (here). 

The person who experienced this on Windows 8, interestingly, solved it the same way that I did. 

Should this happen to you (on Windows), look in folder 

C:\Users\youruserid\AppData\Local\Temp 

for a file called chrome_installer.log. According to a person responding to the Windows 8 thread, it has additional debugging information.  

Finding someone to review it, however, is a problem. 

Update: September 10, 2012. Thanks to assistance from Google, there is now a full explanation for the underlying problem that I experienced here. Although Google's software broke, it wasn't Google that broke it. And, there is a Defensive Computing step that Windows users can take to avoid the problem. See Why Google Chrome would not start.

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