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Printer spooling: what is it and how to fix it?

You’ve hit print, but you arrive at the printer to see no printout. You walk back to your computer and check the status of the print job. The print queue shows your stuck job with a status of either “Printing” or “Paused - Spooling”.

You then ask yourself, “What the heck does ‘Printer spooling but not printing’ mean?” Probably shortly followed by quoting Office Space.  The word print appeared in this introduction eight times.

Think of print spoolers like third base coaches in baseball…

What is a print spooler?

The print spooler is a dedicated program/software that essentially manages the order of the documents to proceed to the print queue. When you select print, your program talks to the print spooler service to work out how to render (or draw) your print job so the printer will understand it and put the colors in the right spots on the page. There are all different types of spoolers in computing (once upon a time there were literal tape spools running inside computers), so the print spooler, you guessed it, takes care of just your print documents.

If I may have a little fun, think of print spoolers like third base coaches in baseball. I know right, printers and baseball, could I make this more exciting? The print spooler service tells the documents when they’re up next, i.e. can run to home base. They will hold up a document if there’s another job ahead of it currently printing. You can’t have two players on a base, and printers can’t print multiple documents at once.

What this means is that the print spooler allows you to send a document to the printer while another one is printing. But it holds it in the queue until the current job has been printed in full. This means you don’t have to wait for a previous job to finish printing before you select print. It’s the computer’s way of letting the printer know there’s another job in the queue. And it’s how the printer retrieves the print jobs.

What does printer status spooling mean?

Printer status spooling essentially means another document is printing, and yours is waiting for its place in the queue. The reason for this is that printers don’t have anywhere near as much memory as computers, and need an intermediary program to conduct and wave the print jobs to home plate. Computer speed stores the jobs in the queue, and printer speed takes over when a document has left the queue and is now printing.

You’ll commonly come across print spoolers with Windows systems but there are alternatives.

One of the most used outside of Windows is the Common UNIX Printing System (CUPS) which lets a computer act as a print server and does the print spooling and scheduling. CUPS uses the Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) to manage print jobs and queues.

CUPS is often what’s used for printer spooling on macOS and Linux systems.

The connection between the computer and the printer has failed somehow.

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Why do print jobs get stuck with the status “Spooling?”

In a nutshell, the connection between the computer and the printer has failed somehow. And this can happen for a variety of reasons.

Due to some error, the print job is not able to travel outside the print queue and hence is jammed up in the spooling status.

And because printers don’t have the same memory as computers, the data for the print job isn’t remembered by the printer, so the connection needs to be reestablished.

If lots of users are using the same printer, then the print queue can become quite long, and that also might explain why you get what feels like a perpetual spooling status.

How to troubleshoot printer spooling errors

If you have PaperCut, your print jobs spool in the order they entered the system. This is particularly helpful in a Find-Me printing environment where you have multiple printers/print queues.

For how to troubleshoot, it depends on the cause of the issue. We have the following Knowledge Base articles on ways to solve printer spooling problems:

To learn more about PaperCut products, click below.



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