Internally, NTFS treats folders as a special type of file.
Therefore, the word "file" in this article indicates either a file or folder.
Cause 1: The file uses an ACL
You may not be able to delete a file if the file uses an Access
Control List (ACL). To resolve this issue, change the permissions on the file.
You may have to take ownership of the files to be able to change the
Administrators have the implicit ability to take
ownership of any file even if they have not been explicitly granted any
permission to the file. File owners have the implicit ability to modify file
permissions even if they are not explicitly granted any permissions to the
file. Therefore, you may have to take ownership of a file, give yourself
permissions to delete the file, and then delete the file.
You cannot use certain security tools to display or to modify permissions because the file has a non-canonical ACL
To work around this issue, use another tool (for example, a later
build of Cacls.exe).
The Access Control Entries (ACEs) in an ACL have
a certain preferred sequence depending on their type. For example, ACEs that
deny access typically come before ACEs that grant access. However, nothing
prevents a program from writing an ACL that has ACEs in any arbitrary sequence.
In some earlier versions of Windows, issues occurred when Microsoft Windows
tried to read these "non-canonical" ACLs. Sometimes, you cannot modify these
ACLs correctly by using the Microsoft Windows Explorer graphical security
editor. This issue has been corrected in later versions of Windows. If you are
experiencing this issue, use the most recent version of Cacls.exe. Even if you
cannot display or edit an ACL in place, you can write a new ACL that lets you
to gain access to the file.
Cause 2: The file is being used
You may not be able to delete a file if the file is being used.
To resolve this issue, determine the process that has the open handle, and then
close that process.
Depending on how the file is opened (for example,
it is open for exclusive access instead of shared access), you may not be able
to delete a file that is in use. You can use a variety of tools to help you
determine the processes that have open handles to files whenever you
For more information about tools to help the processes that have
open handles to files, click the following article numbers to view the articles in the Microsoft Knowledge Base:
How to display a list of processes that have files open
How to use the OH tool on the Windows NT 4.0 Resource Kit
The symptoms of this issue may vary. You may be
able to use the Delete
command to delete a file, but the file is not actually deleted
until the process that has the file open releases the file. Additionally, you
may not be able to access the Security
dialog box for a file that is pending deletion. To resolve this
issue, determine the process that has the open handle, and then close that
Cause 3: File system corruption is preventing access to the file
You may not be able to delete the file if the file system is
corrupted. To resolve this issue, run the Chkdsk utility on the disk volume to
correct any errors.
Bad sectors on the disk, other faulty hardware,
or software bugs can corrupt the file system and put files in a problematic
state. Typical operations may fail in a variety of ways. When the file system
detects corruption, it logs an event to the event log and you typically receive
a message that prompts you to run Chkdsk. Depending on the nature of the
corruption, Chkdsk may or may not be able to recover file data; however, Chkdsk
returns the file system to an internally consistent
additional information about using the Chkdsk utility, click the following
article numbers to view the articles in the Microsoft Knowledge Base:
Error message: The file or directory is corrupt...
explanation of CHKDSK and the New /C and /I switches
Cause 4: Files exist in paths that are deeper than MAX_PATH characters
You may not be able to open, edit, or delete a file if there are issues with the
Resolution 1: Use an auto-generated 8.3 name to access the file
To resolve this issue, you may want to use the auto-generated 8.3
name to access the file. This resolution may be the easiest resolution if the
path is deep because the folder names are too long. If the 8.3 path is also too
long or if 8.3 names have been disabled on the volume, go to Resolution
2. For additional
information about disabling 8.3 file names on NTFS volumes, click the following
article number to view the article in the Microsoft Knowledge Base:
How to disable the 8.3 name creation on NTFS partitions
Resolution 2: Rename or move a deep folder
Rename the folder so that the target files
that are deeper than the MAX_PATH no longer exist. If you do this, start at the
root folder (or any other convenient place), and then rename folders so that
they have shorter names. If this step does not resolve this issue (for example,
if a file is more than 128 folders deep), go to Resolution 4.
Resolution 3: Map a drive to a folder in the structure of the path
Map a drive to a folder inside the structure of the path of the target file or folder. This method shortens the virtual path.
For example, suppose you have a path that is structured as follows:
In this path, the total character count is over 255 characters. To short the length of this path, to 73 characters, map a drive to SubfolderName4.
Resolution 4: Use a network share that is as deep as the folder
If Resolution 1, 2, and 3 are not convenient or do not
resolve the issue, create a network share that is as deep in the folder tree as
you can, and then rename the folders by accessing the share.
Resolution 5: Use a tool that can traverse deep paths
Many Windows programs expect the maximum path length to be
shorter than 255 characters. Therefore, these programs only allocate enough
internal storage to handle these typical paths. NTFS does not have this limit
and it can hold much longer paths.
You may experience this issue if
you create a share at some point in your folder structure that is already
fairly deep, and then create a deep structure below that points by using the
share. Some tools that operate locally on the folder tree may not be able to
traverse the whole tree starting from the root. You may have to use these tools
in a special way so that they can traverse the share. (The CreateFile API
documentation describes a method to traverse the whole tree in this
Typically, you can manage files by using the software
that creates them. If you have a program that can create files that are deeper
than MAX_PATH, you can typically use that same program to delete or manage the
files. You can typically delete files that are created on a share by using the
Cause 5: The file name includes a reserved name in the Win32 name space
If the file name includes a reserved name (for example, "lpt1")
in the Win32 name space, you may not be able to delete the file. To resolve
this issue, use a non-Win32 program to rename the file. You can use a POSIX
tool or any other tool that uses the appropriate internal syntax to use the
Additionally, you may be able to use some built-in commands to
bypass the typical Win32 reserved name checks if you use a particular syntax to
specify the path of the file. For example, if you use the Del
command in Windows XP, you can delete a file named "lpt1" if you
specify the full path of the file by using the following special syntax:
For more information about deleting files with reserved names under
Windows NT and Windows 2000, click the following article number to view the article in the Microsoft Knowledge Base:
How to remove files with reserved names in Windows
For more information about deleting files with reserved names under
Windows XP, click the following article number to view the article in the Microsoft Knowledge Base:
How to remove files with reserved
names in Windows XP
If you open a handle to a file by using the typical
Win32 CreateFile mechanism, certain file names are reserved for old-style DOS
devices. For backward compatibility, these file names are not permitted and
they cannot be created by using typical Win32 file calls. However, this issue
is not a limitation of NTFS.
You may be able to use a Win32 program
to bypass the typical name checks that are performed when a file is created (or
deleted) by using the same technique that you use to traverse folders that are
deeper than MAX_PATH. Additionally, some POSIX tools are not subject to these
Cause 6: The file name includes an invalid name in the Win32 name space
You may not be able to delete a file if the file name includes an
invalid name (for example, the file name has a trailing space or a trailing
period or the file name is made up of a space only). To resolve this issue, use
a tool that uses the appropriate internal syntax to delete the file. You can
use the "\\?\" syntax with some tools to operate on these files, for example:
del "\\?\c:\path_to_file_that contains a trailing space.txt "
The cause of this issue is similar to Cause 4.
However, if you use typical Win32 syntax to open a file that has trailing
spaces or trailing periods in its name, the trailing spaces or periods are
stripped before the actual file is opened. Therefore, if you have two files in
the same folder named "AFile.txt" and "AFile.txt " (note the space after the
file name), if you try to open the second file by using standard Win32 calls,
you open the first file instead. Similarly, if you have a file whose name is
just " " (a space character) and you try to open it by using standard Win32
calls, you open the file's parent folder instead. In this situation, if you try
to change security settings on these files, you either may not be able to do
this or you may unexpectedly change the settings on different files. If this
behavior occurs, you may think that you have permission to a file that actually
has a restrictive ACL.
Combinations of causes
Sometimes, you may experience combinations of these causes, which
can make the procedure to delete a file more complex. For example, if you log
on as the computer's administrator, you may experience a combination of Cause 1
(you do not have permissions to delete a file) and Cause 5 (the file name
contains a trailing character that causes file access to be redirected to a
different or nonexistent file) and you may not be able to delete the file. If
you try to resolve Cause 1 by taking ownership of the file and adding
permissions, you still may not be able to delete the file because the ACL
editor in the user interface cannot access the appropriate file because of
In this situation, you can use the Subinacl utility with the
switch (this utility is included in the Resource Kit) to change
ownership and permissions on a file that is otherwise inaccessible, for
subinacl /onlyfile "\\?\c:\path_to_problem_file"
This command is a single command line it has been wrapped for
This sample command line modifies the
file that contains a
trailing space so that the
account is the owner of the file and this account has full control over the
file. You can now delete this file by using the Del
command with the same "\\?\" syntax.