How Product Keys and Digital Licenses Work on Windows Activation

Activating your Windows operating system is essential to ensure you have a genuine copy and can access all features. Windows activation can be done using a product key or a digital license. Here’s an overview of how these two methods work:

Product Key Activation

A product key is a 25-character code used to activate Windows. It looks like this: XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX. Here’s how it works:

How to Obtain a Product Key
  1. Purchase Windows: If you buy a physical copy of Windows, a product key is included in the package.
  2. Pre-installed on a New PC: If you buy a new PC with Windows pre-installed, the product key is embedded in the PC’s firmware or included in the documentation.
  3. Online Purchase: If you purchase Windows from the Microsoft Store or an authorized retailer, you receive a digital copy of the product key via email.
Activating Windows with a Product Key
  1. During Installation: When you install Windows, you will be prompted to enter the product key.
  2. After Installation: If you didn’t enter a product key during installation, you can activate Windows afterward:
    • Go to Settings > Update & Security > Activation.
    • Click Change product key and enter your 25-character code.
    • Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the activation process.

Digital License Activation

A digital license (also called a digital entitlement in Windows 10) is a method of activation that doesn’t require you to enter a product key. Instead, Windows recognizes your hardware configuration and automatically activates your system. Here’s how it works:

How to Obtain a Digital License
  1. Upgrade to Windows 10/11 for Free: If you upgraded to Windows 10 or Windows 11 from a genuine copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 during the free upgrade period, you received a digital license.
  2. Windows Insider Program: If you’re a member of the Windows Insider Program and upgraded to the latest Insider Preview build of Windows 10/11, you receive a digital license.
  3. Linked Microsoft Account: If you linked your Microsoft account with your digital license, you can use it for future activations on the same device.
  4. Purchasing from the Microsoft Store: When you purchase Windows 10/11 from the Microsoft Store, a digital license is automatically created and linked to your Microsoft account.
Activating Windows with a Digital License
  1. Automatic Activation: When you install Windows, it will automatically activate if a digital license is detected.
  2. Using Your Microsoft Account: If you have a digital license linked to your Microsoft account:
    • Sign in with your Microsoft account during the installation process.
    • Go to Settings > Update & Security > Activation and sign in to your Microsoft account if you haven’t already.

Troubleshooting Activation Issues

If you encounter activation issues, here are some steps to resolve them:

  1. Check Your Internet Connection: Make sure you are connected to the internet, as activation requires online verification.
  2. Re-enter the Product Key: If you have a product key, try re-entering it to ensure there are no typos.
  3. Use the Activation Troubleshooter:
    • Go to Settings > Update & Security > Activation.
    • Click Troubleshoot to run the Activation Troubleshooter and follow the instructions.


Understanding how product keys and digital licenses work is essential for activating and maintaining a genuine copy of Windows. Whether you use a product key or a digital license, activation ensures that your Windows operating system is legitimate and fully functional. By following the correct steps, you can easily activate your Windows and enjoy all the features it offers.