The notification saying you can’t remove a file for whatever reason is one of the most unpleasant problems you’ll encounter when working with Windows. “Cannot delete files: Access is denied” or “The file you’re trying to alter is being used by Windows or another application” are common messages that appear on the screen. Quite often, the cause of this error message isn’t immediately apparent because you don’t have any programs active that would interfere with the file in question.
Because a Windows process or service is still using the file, it becomes locked and cannot be accessed until Windows releases it. One of the worst programs to actually cause this problem is the Explorer.exe process itself getting a lock on a file or even external devices like USB flash drives so you are unable to safely remove them. Malicious spyware, security software, or crashing programs can all be to blame for preventing a file from being removed or transferred.
Here’s a list of 7 different file unlocking and deleting tools to help you get rid of those hard-to-remove files and folders.
Anti-virus software, for example, is difficult to remove because the software seeks to defend itself from dangerous processes by enforcing sophisticated permissions on its files. Knowing this, we’ll run a quick test to see if we can delete an avast! antivirus file called “avast5.ini” while the software is still operating on Windows 7 x64. Even if you are the administrator, attempting to delete this file normally will result in the message “You require permission from Administrators to make changes to this file.”
Most of you will be familiar with Malwarebytes’ outstanding Anti-Malware application, which includes a version of FileASSASSIN, which can be found under the More Tools menu. Using the built-in unlocking technique, it can attempt to unlock file handles, unload modules, stop the linked process, and optionally delete the file. You can also mark the file for deletion on reboot or do a standard delete.
FileASSASSIN is available as a portable or setup installation version, and it’s as simple as running the software and browsing for or dragging and dropping a file into the window. Then click Execute after selecting the unlock and remove option tick boxes. The standalone FileASSASSIN program hasn’t been updated since 2007 and may no longer be as effective as other utilities; the one integrated into Anti-malware appears to be better. Windows XP and higher are supported.
The following is the outcome of deleting avast5.ini: All internal and post-reboot options were used to keep the file. It was deleted using Malwarebytes Anti-FileASSASSIN malware’s function following a reboot.
Crystal Rich, the creators of the excellent USB Safely Remove utility, created LockHunter. It’s easy to use, and it displays you which programs are locking the files or folders you want to delete, as well as giving you the choice to unlock, rename, or copy them. LockHunter also offers a failsafe feature that sends any deleted data to the Recycle Bin for a quick recovery if you make a mistake.
The application must be installed before it can be used. It may be accessed using the right-click menu, which will display an entry titled “What is locking this file?” or “What is locking this folder?” depending on which option is selected. Processes with a lock will appear in the window, and you can select Unlock It! or Delete It! from the Unlock It! or Delete It! menus, or rename and copy from the Other menu. LockHunter is still in beta, therefore it may not be completely stable. It comes in 32-bit and 64-bit versions. Windows 2000 and later are supported.
Deleting avast5.ini yielded the following error: LockHunter was unable to delete the ini file, and there is no option to delete on reboot.
3. IObit Unlocker
IObit is the company behind popular programs such as Advanced SystemCare and Smart Defrag, and Unlocker is another of their easy-to-use programs. The program can just unlock files or folders for manual file management, or it can unlock and automatically delete, rename, move, or copy them. There’s also a Forced mode check box that, if the regular mode fails, will kill all linked processes.
IObit Unlocker requires installing, and you must be mindful of the toolbar and other adware that is presented throughout the process. The program works best when you use the right-click context menu to choose your files or folders and then select the IObit Unlocker option. What you’ve chosen will appear in the top window, and clicking on anything with a Locked status will reveal the processes that have been locked below. Simply select the Unlock and Delete option from the center drop-down menu to delete a file.
IObit Unlocker is compatible with Windows XP and later. Unfortunately, the official IObit download takes you to FreeNew.net, where you must download and install manager to receive the program. You can utilize Downloadcrew’s download link if the CNET download link doesn’t contain an install manager.
The file was successfully erased WITHOUT the requirement for a reboot or the use of Forced mode when deleting avast5.ini! Furthermore, IObit was able to delete the entire folder containing these protected data with ease, when most tools here couldn’t even delete a single file.
Emsisoft, a producer of anti-malware and firewall software, invented BlitzBlank to aid in the elimination of difficult-to-delete files, particularly dangerous files and processes. The program is meant to delete data during the Windows boot process before most software has the opportunity to safeguard or lock a file. Aside from files and folders, the application may also delete registry entries, disable drivers, and execute other files. BlitzBlank is a tool for sophisticated users, as indicated by a warning when you first launch it.
Because BlitzBlank is a portable program, it’s ideal for use with the USB toolkit. To remove a file, go to the Designer tab, click in the Type column, and select File or Folder from the drop down, then go to the Object column, click on <File Path>, and either type in or browse for the file or folder using the “…” button. You can delete, move, or copy items in the Action column, and you can replace them with a Dummy or create a backup. You can add several entries by simply typing the new item on the following line. When you click Execute Now, the software will ask you to reboot.
All Designer actions are fed into the Script tab, where they can be changed, saved, loaded, or pasted in from a previous session. BlitzBlank is compatible with Windows XP through Windows 8, both 32-bit and 64-bit, and is included in Emsisoft’s Emergency Kit , a useful, free, and portable malware removal solution.
After a reboot, deleting avast5.ini resulted in the file being successfully erased.
Unlocker is without a doubt, and has been for quite some time, the most popular locked file removal software available. In addition to assisting with the removal of files that have permission or file protection issues, it also tries to remove any process handles that may have a lock on a file, rendering it unremovable. Alternatively, if that fails, you’ll be given the option to kill the process that was identified as the source of the lock, allowing you to delete it.
After you’ve installed it, you’ll have a handy right-click context menu entry where you can select Unlocker from the menu by right-clicking on a file or folder. Whether you receive the simple remove helper dialog above or the main window, which shows the processes causing an issue and gives you the choice of unlocking the handles on the file or killing the process causing the lock completely, depends on whether there are any locking handles on the file.
The application is available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions, as well as a portable version, albeit the portable version is currently one release behind the setup installer. The adware choices that need to be blocked during an install are something to keep an eye on.
Using rename, remove, or move to delete avast5.ini resulted in the file remaining intact, even after a reboot.
6. File Governor
NoVirusThanks File Governor is similar to Unlocker in that it can try to destroy a file while also unlocking the handles associated with it, including DLL file handles. If unlocking the handles doesn’t work, you can kill the process that’s creating the issue as long as it’s not a system critical process, which is why knowing which processes are safe to kill and which aren’t is important when using these tools.
File Governor is available in both portable and setup versions, with the portable version still allowing you to add a right-click entry to your Windows context menu. To have the application analyze your file, use the right-click option or start the program and select “Search for locked files.” Any processes that have a lock on the file will appear in the window, and you can unlock the handles or terminate, destroy, copy, or transfer the process.
Browse for and Force delete, Delete on reboot, or Rename a single file from the Tools menu. File Governor is compatible with Windows 2000 and beyond.
Deleting avast5.ini result: Force delete, Delete on reboot and Rename all failed to remove the file.
7. Pocket KillBox
KillBox is a little single executable of less than 100K, however, it has been abandoned, with no website and no hope of updates or corrections. It does, however, cram a lot of functionality into that small package, including a regular file delete way, a Delete on reboot method, and a Replace with a dummy or chosen file on reboot technique. Another useful tool is a pop-out process killer (accessed by selecting Processes >> in the menu bar), which can auto-kill tasks every 5 seconds and includes a handy little temp file cleaner as well as easy access to the HOSTS file, the registry editor, and services.
You can look for or drag and drop many files onto the window at the same time. Dropping a folder into the drop down list will include the files in the folder as well as the directory itself. To begin the deletion process, select the delete method and then click the red icon. It’s compatible with Windows XP to Windows 7.
Deleting avast5.ini result: Using Standard, Delete on reboot or Replace on reboot failed to remove the file.
Editor’s Note: UnLock IT / MoveOnBoot and UnlockMe from EMCO were two more tools we looked at. Unlock IT is a visually appealing tool with themes, however, it can only unlock process handles and cannot directly delete, move, or rename files. MoveOnBoot is a 35MB installer that is supposed to delete or transfer files on a reboot, but it didn’t touch the test file!! UnlockMe seemed to be a handy tool, but it crashed often every time we tried to erase a file. Delete Doctor and FilExile were also examined, and both are more generic delete applications that lack the more complex choices required to remove recalcitrant files.
IObit Unlocker astonished us because it was the only tool that could erase the test file (and its entire folder) without requiring a reboot, although BlitzBlank and the Malwarebytes version of FileASSASSIN required a reboot. If you’re using Unlocker and you can’t get rid of something, those other programs are worth looking into.