Helpdesk challenge – how to delete files that refuse to be deleted

Deleting files

Deleting a file – what could be easier? Well, some files just won’t play ball. If you’re trying to delete a file that stubbornly refuses to go away, there are some tricks that can help you out.

Deleting a file – what could be easier? Well, some files just won’t play ball. If you’re trying to delete a file that stubbornly refuses to go away, there are some tricks that can help you out.

Sometimes, when attempting to delete a file, you may see an error message that tells you it’s not destined for the trash can after all.

The messages can include old favourites like:

  • Cannot delete file: Access is denied
  • Make sure the disk is not full or write-protected and that the file
    is not currently in use
  • Cannot delete folder: It is being used by another person or program

These can be particularly baffling if you don’t have the file open and in use, and haven’t locked it to protect it from deletion.

Unlocker can delete files

You can use Unlocker to delete stubborn files

Deleting problematic files with Unlocker

If you very much don’t have the file open or in use, but want to be rid of it, you can give yourself a helping hand with a handy piece of software called Unlocker.

Unlocker is simplicity itself to use. You can install it for free, and from then on when you right click on a file you’ll see an additional Unlocker option. Click on this, and it will let you remove a file for good.

If you attempt to delete a file the conventional way, and have no luck, Unlocker will pop up with a message asking you if you’d like to remove the file through Unlocker itself.

A word of warning – Unlocker has proven to be problematic when used on 64-bit versions of Windows 7, though an updated variation called Unlocker1.9.1-x64.exe works just fine on this OS.

Alternatively, software like Lockhunter can help out in a similar way.

Have you encountered difficulties removing stubborn files or folders that throw up error messages, but won’t be thrown out themselves? Let us know your experiences and tips in the comments below.

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14 replies

  1. Comments have been made elsewhere (on the Download.com site for example) that Unlocker installs malware. Yes, it does, but if you deselect the installation of the toolbar (by unticking all three boxes from the bottom upwards) in the setup process it is OK.

    Warning: There is a portable version of Unlocker, but when I wrote this comment the download link from the publisher’s site was redirected to a poisoned site, so ensure you are downloading only from the publisher’s site before proceeding! I suggest you save the file and do not immediately run it – that way your anti-virus/anti-malware software can check it before you install it. (I could not download this version at all as the poisoned site was reached whatever route I tried – I will try again later.)

    Regards, Pete.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Pete, wise words of caution! Bundled bloatware like toolbars that gets added at download sites is always worth treating with caution, as malware can often lurk within

  2. In my experience free software is always suspect. Rich Parris does not refute petes comments.

    I am amazed that Which should advocate any software that may cause an additional issue for the user.
    Thanks Which I will be making sure I steer well clear of this one !!

  3. If Windows says a file or folder is still in use, it probably is. If you were editing a document in that folder and have closed the document but Word is still running it is still using the folder. In this case closing Word usually solves the problem. Or Windows Explorer or anything else. If you can’t find the culprit, delete the file or folder after the next reboot.

    A quick search for “Unlocker” gave this link as the second item: http://forums.cnet.com/7723-6132_102-558941/unlocker-contains-malware/ – you don’t need to follow the link, just read the name!

  4. Software does not install properly in WIN7 – tride 2 dif. version of which none of them where working (option unock does not show when right click on a file)… also tried Iobits file unlocker which where not able to unlock files for deletions on my NAS server… any cluse anyone?

  5. Try ” Long Path Tool ” is also useful in situations where you see these error messages: Cannot read from source file or disk, there has been a sharing violation, cannot delete file or folder, the file name you specified is not valid or too long, the source or destination file may be in use
    and many other file managing errors that you encounter in your computing use.

  6. Try and download ” Long Path Tool ” is also useful in situations where you see these error messages: Cannot read from source file or disk, there has been a sharing violation, cannot delete file or folder, the file name you specified is not valid or too long, the source or destination file may be in use and many other file managing errors.

  7. I sometimes manage to create directories (folders) that refuse to be deleted. So I use the following keyboard method, tweaked for Windows 8 from a youtube video:

    WIN + X – for options list
    Command Prompt (Admin) – to go into DOS
    CD /D DRIVE LETTER:\ – change to root directory of drive holding faulty folders, e.g CD /D J:\
    DIR /A /X /P – list directories only, short DOS name as well as long name, pause between screens
    CD SHORT DOS NAME – move to directory holding faulty folder, e.g. CD ADFS24~1
    DIR /A /X /P – to get short DOS name for faulty folder
    RD SHORT DOS NAME for faulty folder, to remove it permanently, e.g. RD CDV654~2
    EXIT

    What could be simpler?

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