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5 Ways To Delete A File In Use In Windows


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Windows Explorer thinks the file youre trying to delete is still open, but its 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 wasnt closed properly. You can even run into this issue with files you havent opened in years! Fortunately, this can be resolved in a few different ways.

Did You Close The Program?

Lets 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 cant be bothered to look into the cause.

If you have already tried rebooting and it didnt 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 shouldnt 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?

The tool of choice here is Unlocker @ http://www.emptyloop.com/unlocker/. Be sure to go with a custom installation, so you can opt out of the bloatware that is otherwise installed, in this case the Iminent Toolbar.

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 dont 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 Microsofts own Process Explorer (our review). Another tool for deleting locked files is FilExile @ http://filexile.sourceforge.net/. 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 didnt work or if youre not interested in installing software, there is one last thing you can try: booting into Safe Mode. The file youre trying to delete may automatically be loaded by another application. Unlockers should still work if thats the case, but if malware is involved or if you dont want to deal with third party tools, this is an alternative route you can take.

If youre 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 youre 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!


Edited by anuseems
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Before trying any/all of the above methods to delete a file in Windows - I'd suggest first trying out the Delete key.

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