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Starting Steam in offline mode doesn’t work

I have recently moved and are without normal internet on my computer now but I can at least get a limited connection by sharing my phone’s internet connection. After setting up the computer I tried to start Steam with the intention to play some games in offline mode. As expected I got a popup that said that Steam couldn’t connect to the network and asked me if I wanted to start it in offline mode.

 I selected to start in offline mode, but was only greeted by two new error popups where one where hidden below the second one. The first, that was hidden, mentioned that “This operation could not be completed when Steam is in Offline Mode” and the second one said that it couldn’t connect to the Steam network.

When closing the second dialog which was active the first one closed as well and Steam then shut down. I retried starting steam and starting a game from a previously created shortcut but this just resulted in the same error messages.

On the internet I found a long thread on the steam forums that’s been discussing this topic for several years and with the latest posts today. In that thread there are a lot of discussions back and forth about different theories and new people joining in without reading any of the previous posts. However somewhere among all these comments there was a link to another post by user X.nano in another similar thread that explains the cause of the problem and some workarounds.

The basic problem for me seems to be that Windows doesn’t close down steam properly when I shut down the computer. As mentioned by X.nano:

Using Process Monitor, I found that the problem cache is steamapps\winui.gcf, a file which is used mainly to store Steam interface resource files. After taking md5 hashes of the file at various points I found that the file is modified when Steam starts in online mode, and changes back when it exits. However, if Steam is not shutdown cleanly then the online version of the file is left there and this one prevents you from getting into offline mode.

So to prevent this problem from happening you have to shut down Steam manually before you close the computer to make sure it’s closed properly. Another solution that helps you to recover from this situation if you forgot to close Steam manually is to create a backup of winui.gcf after you have exited Steam manually and then restore this backup if you run into this problem again.

Since this file holds various settings for Steam you might need to create a new backup whenever Steam is updated, you add/remove friends or do any other changes to your Steam settings. A third option would be to use a hex editor to update the offline mode part of winui.gcf as described by X.nano in a followup post. Since you are modifying a binary file directly with this approach it’s possible that this method will stop working in the future if the format of this file is changed in future versions of Steam.

Summary (TL;DR)

Problem

Not possible to start Steam in offline mode when not connected to the internet.

Cause

OS doesn’t shut down Steam cleanly when turning off the computer

Workarounds / solutions

Choose one of three different workarounds:

  1. Exit Steam manually before shutting down computer.
  2. Start steam with network connection and shut it down cleanly. Then make a backup of steamapps\winui.gcf. Restore the backup:ed version of this file when Steam fails to start in offline mode the next time.
  3. When Steam fails to start in offline mode update steamapps\winui.gcf with a hex editor following these instructions.
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  1. Ghee Buttersnaps
    6 April, 2012 at 17:04 | #1

    Confirmed to work as of 4/5/12!

  2. TheEpicMareep
    13 June, 2012 at 16:30 | #2

    well, i really need help with this. every time i try to open steam in offline mode, it says that it needs to update, though i check every time i have the internet for updates, and it never has any. even when i do update, then go into offline mode, it says it needs to update! help! my email is: aovheaton@hotmail.co.uk

  3. 13 June, 2012 at 19:50 | #3

    I have never seen this problem you describe myself, so I’m afraid I can not help you with it. I hope you find a solution for it somehow.

  4. Mgis
    10 December, 2012 at 10:18 | #4

    I heard it was patched at 16.08.2012. [src http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=486912%5D Nice job thou.

    Now I’m looking for a description on how to hex edit offline section of the winui.gcf, and every link leads to steamforums, which are offline now ah dammit!
    //I guess installing steam here and taking its file to the offline computer file wont do the trick…,will it?

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