Windows Explorer thinks the file you’re trying to delete is still open, but it’s not? This commonly happens with video files that were played back in Windows Media Player but it can happen with any other file, too. The file is either running in the background or it wasn’t closed properly. You can even run into this issue with files you haven’t opened in years! Fortunately, this can be resolved in a few different ways.
Did You Close The Program?
Let’s start with the obvious. Did you just open the file and not close it? If the file is closed, but the program is still running, close it too, then try again.
Have You Tried Rebooting?
Rebooting solves most issues and it will most certainly solve this one. While it can be inconvenient, it requires zero skills or fiddling with stuff like the Task Manager or third party tools. Rebooting also clears your RAM and possibly fixes other nuisances in one go. So try this if you can’t be bothered to look into the cause.
If you have already tried rebooting and it didn’t help, skip the following steps and go straight to third party tools.
End The Application Via The Task Manager
The reason rebooting helps is because the system will start from scratch and — among other things — all processes currently running in the Task Manager will be closed. Instead of rebooting, you can also try to manually end the process or application that holds your file hostage.
The super quick way to open the Task Manager is to click CTRL + SHIFT + ESC. Alternatively, you can right-click the Taskbar or click CTRL + ALT + DEL anywhere in Windows and select Start Task Manager. Switch to the Processes tab, then browse for the application that was used to open it. For example, if you were viewing a video, look for Windows Media Player.
Once you find the process, right-click it and select End Process Tree. This will close all instances of the program, as some — like Chrome — might run more than one. If you cannot seem to find the process, have you tried rebooting, yet?
Unlock The File Using A Third Party Tool
Sometimes, the file remains locked, even though it shouldn’t be. You could manually unlock the file by closing Windows Explorer, then deleting it via the command line. But why do any of the hard work, if you can use a tool?
Unlocker adds itself to the Windows context menu. Right-click the file/s and select Unlocker from the menu. This will load the file/s into Unlocker. Here you can — but you don’t have to — choose an action from a drop-down menu, including copy, move, rename, and delete. Next, click Kill Process or Unlock / Unlock All. Killing the process will also close the application. That should fix whatever issue you were struggling with.
You could also use Microsoft’s own Process Explorer (our review). Another tool for deleting locked files is FilExile. Instead of adding itself to the context menu, you open the file via this application. FilExile can also delete files if the path is too long.
Boot Into Safe Mode
If the above didn’t work or if you’re not interested in installing software, there is one last thing you can try: booting into Safe Mode. The file you’re trying to delete may automatically be loaded by another application. Unlockers should still work if that’s the case, but if malware is involved or if you don’t want to deal with third party tools, this is an alternative route you can take.
If you’re running Windows 7 or below, reboot your computer and repeatedly tab the F8 key until you see advanced boot options.
Windows 8 users click the key combination Windows + i to open the sidebar menu, then click the Power button and hold SHIFT while you press the Restart option. Then click through > Troubleshoot > Advanced options > Startup Settings and select Enable Safe Mode before you click the Restart button.
Once you’re in Safe Mode, navigate to the file in question and try your luck.
Did It Work?
Were you able to get rid of the locked file? What type of file was it and which method worked for you? Please share your solution with the rest of us!
Now if none of these strategies worked, please consult our team at MakeUseOf Answers for more advanced advice.
Image Credits: Delete Key Via Shutterstock