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Open Documents Suddenly Become Read-Only

Subscriber John McQuillan ran into a problem with one of his document files. It seems that Word periodically, and without warning, converts a file to "read only" while it is being used. It doesn't do this right after opening the file, but at different times while using the document, and most of the time after the file had already been saved a couple of times. Suddenly, the status of the file would change on its own, and when John tried to save again, Word wouldn't let him because the file was read-only.

We've not been able to discover the real cause for this problem, but one of our subscribers reported that she experienced the same problem with some Word 97 documents. It wouldn't happen to all the documents, but once it did happen to a particular document, it would keep happening to that document no matter what she did. The only way she was able to get around the problem was to turn off the automatic backup file feature in Word (Tools | Options | Save tab, clear Always Create Backup Copy) while working in that document.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (223) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

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Comments for this tip:

Chris    18 Feb 2015, 12:13
Yep, turn off Preview pane and no more read only, nice one MickeySoft!
Justone    13 Feb 2015, 08:24
Thanks a Lot for SOLUTION Read Only from

naveen 02 Jul 2013, 10:35
Ted    11 Feb 2015, 10:39
On windows 7 there is a built-in remedy !

Type 'take ownership' in Search Programs and Files and it will take you to Access Control.

Follow the instructions and all will be solved ....

I've just done it and it works.
Henry    09 Feb 2015, 16:13
This happened to me while using excel on my mac, if you have a "/" in the file name it will mess it up but you can fix it by just changing the name so it doesn't have a slash
Piotr    09 Feb 2015, 11:18
Quite nice workarounds/solutions (for me adding permissions to Word app for user is best):

Piotr    09 Feb 2015, 10:43
Unfortunately changing the read-only on folder doesn't help, please ignore my previous words;)
Piotr    09 Feb 2015, 10:04
In my case (Win 7 64bit, Word 2007) the problem was that containing folder was read-only (btw while my word file wasn't - which was misleading).
Julie    24 Jan 2015, 22:40
I suddenly experienced the same problem on my Mac using a 2008 office program. After spending $150.00 for tech support the problem was solved. In the past when I used the slash "/" in the file name it was automatically changed to a dash "-". Now when I opened my old files the slash "/" was showing in the file name. As soon as I removed the slash the file would open correctly.
Roslyn Farmer    14 Jan 2015, 10:38
I'm having this problem for the first time - in January 2015. I'm using Microsoft Word for Mac 2011, Version 14.4.7.

I'm using Yosemite 10.10.1 on a Mac Book Pro.

Not only do documents spontaneously turn into Read Only files - they also spontaneously turn into Web Files.
Jennifer    06 Jan 2015, 14:45
This is still happening in Windows 7, with Office 2013 and Acrobat XI. Both Office files and PDFs become read-only when opened through Windows Explorer. The only solution (other than stop buying and using Microsoft products) is to turn off the preview pane. It's unfortunate because I often use the preview pane to help me determine which file I want to open.
Tobi    15 Dec 2014, 15:06
Okay so I was thinking of making a word document on the school's laptop and leave some things in it. So i made a folder and made a Microsoft Word document and i type '...' on the thing saved it and moved it to the folder. then i made it to a zipped folder and then i somehow i made the document into a open ready and then the zipped folder doesn't open and you have to do it manually, later i deleted the document but its still there but it says it 'file can't be found', so i emptied the recycling bin, but its still there so i go and open the zipped folder manually and i open the '...' im so confused...
Vali    08 Dec 2014, 07:49
It could happen for big files, if the file is previewed in explorer. Try to click "examination panel", in the upper right corner of the explorer window.
Aerin    08 Nov 2014, 20:49
It affects Word for Mac, not just Windows. I haven't had it happen very often, just enough to be mildly annoying. I'm using Word 2011 with OS 10.7.5. None of the reasons suggested here are causing the problem. I'm just using the work-around of saving the file with a different name.
CB    30 Oct 2014, 20:41
I also experience this with Windows 8 and Office 2013.
Tony Cooper    18 Oct 2014, 04:48
I use Word 2007 and the same bug happens to me. I have not found a way to cure it but get round it by using 'Save As' and adding a suffix (usually just a space and the letter 'a'). I then delete the original read-only file and change the name of the new file by removing the suffix. All fine, until it happens again, and then I have to repeat the process.
cecilia e. thurlow    17 Oct 2014, 12:49
I had this read-only problem when trying to install PerfectIt2. It would not install and Daniel Heumann finally found the problem. Read-only was the culprit.
J    15 Oct 2014, 21:16
It's not a fault with the Preview panel. I never have my Preview panel enabled and I keep facing this problem. Strangely, it only happens when accessing documents through a shared drive, and not on my local HDD.
Phil    23 Sep 2014, 20:52
I was having large Word docs mysteriously come up read-only in seemingly random fashion. I think it was my virus package (Comodo)locking the doc against edit during its on-activation scan -- some kind of race condition with my large doc
that left the doc locked after the scan.
When a doc is left locked in this way, it comes up "read-only". When I added the doc's folder to Comodo's "don't scan" list, the problem went away.
Paul    15 Jul 2014, 22:18
Thanks to naveen 02 Jul 2013, 10:35
- once I closed the preview panel files would open and not be in read only mode. I'm using Windows 7.
Jan Hurst-Nicholson    25 Nov 2013, 07:56
Thank you SO much to Naveen for the Preview Pane fix. Wasted an entire morning tearing my hair out until I found this tip.
naveen    02 Jul 2013, 10:35
The problem I had is open a word file and it opens in read-only mode - even if the read-only option is unchecked before.

In my case I found the problem to be in the folder preview. If you have the preview section enabled in the folder, and if the word file is selected (it is previewd) then if you open it, it open as read only no matter if this option is already unchecked.

The solution is change the view in the folder so that you dont have the preview section. Now open the word file, it opens as normal and also you can do editing/saving as normal.

tested on Win 7 and word 2010.
Frustrated    22 Apr 2013, 04:33
This problem still exists in Word 2013. Why are old problems allowed to persist in new software when the publisher obviously knows it is there? This problem can lead to lost data, lost time, and a lot of stress.

Dear Microsoft... FIX IT!

Ellin    24 Mar 2013, 14:53
Sara Pennny's answer is the only one that worked for me. I pasted it below. I 'searched' for "document library preview panel" on my computer and a bunch of files came up from files I didn't even know I had. I deleted them, thenn emptied the recycle bin and low and behold...I could open documents without that awful "read-only" message. Thanks Sara.
Sara Penny 30 Sep 2012, 21:10
 I suddenly started having this problem and none of the suggested tips worked until I hid the "document library preview panel" as suggested above. I figured it must have something to do with that, because Explorer wouldn't let me delete or rename the duplicate files I was forced to make - it told me they were still open in Word (when Word wasn't even open). Evidently the preview panel thinks its Word itself.
Philip Cohen    08 Mar 2013, 06:40
Get the latest (14 Feb 2013) Microsoft Windows 7 service update and the problem is fixed; at least it has been for me ...
Rtaylor    07 Mar 2013, 07:18
I have tried saving it with another name, but it doesn't allow you to. If I save it as a Word 2007, it usually does. Then you wonder what changes it made by saving it as an earlier version.
Les    06 Mar 2013, 20:10
I my opinion, windows previews the file before you click on it to open.

When you do click on it. Windows is still 'reading' the file (similar to another networked user viewing it at the same time as you). Hence the local copy only opens up.

This is a windows read problem.
Philip Cohen    15 Feb 2013, 17:56
MS Word (2003) spontaneous "read only"
Whooppeeeeee! Am I imagining things or has the latest Microsoft Windows 7 service update finally fixed this most irritating problem ...
Alan     14 Jan 2013, 14:22
Yes, it's very random in turning docs both in Word and Excel read only. Where is the MS Website for feedback?
MGM    04 Dec 2012, 14:56
This happens to me all the time at work and it drives me bonkers. I usually end up doing a Ctrl A-> Ctrl N-> Ctrl V and saving the whole thing as a new doc, replacing the old one. Very annoying.
Sara Penny    30 Sep 2012, 21:10
I suddenly started having this problem and none of the suggested tips worked until I hid the "document library preview panel" as suggested above. I figured it must have something to do with that, because Explorer wouldn't let me delete or rename the duplicate files I was forced to make - it told me they were still open in Word (when Word wasn't even open). Evidently the preview panel thinks its Word itself.
Chirag Dave    04 Sep 2012, 05:20
Guys, right click the word file properties/security - edit and add your current logged in username and assign full control. Now, you will be able to save your file.
Elizabeth B.    31 Aug 2012, 22:06
Why after YEARS is this still happening but Microsoft remains silent about it?
140mhd    20 Aug 2012, 13:13
We too are experiencing this issue, it is primarily with documents that started their lives as a Word 2003 or earlier version but now are being used in a Word 2007 format.

The documents will behave normally often for many revisions, then out of the blue the document will "suddenly" turn "Read-Only". This is sporadic but somewhat prevalent. Additionally, it does tend to happen a little more frequently with documents containing tables, headers/footers, or Table of Contents/indexes.

We instruct our users to save to "new" version as to not lose any changes, but having to management duplicate copies is less than efficient.

Any resolution would be greatly appreciated.

Currenly we are in a Windows XP environment, soon to move to Windows 7
Chet Kamal Parkash    12 Jul 2012, 04:34
No,Unchecking “Save AutoRecover info” is not helping.
marye1939    12 May 2012, 14:23
It seems that the problem is in the document library preview panel which opens documents for viewing temporarily. Hide the preview panel in the top right corner of the document library and all read only docs will open normally.
oglor    29 Mar 2012, 04:42
I've been having this problem with Win XP too, so it's not just a Windows 7 problem. Just that you know.
RTaylor    22 Mar 2012, 19:19
I write notes for my students with screenshots in them - sometimes ver large files. This happens regularly - it's why I am here looking for a fix. Working, saving to hard drive ok, then all of a sudden it's either read only or an error message appears telling me it can't save the file. The pictures are compressed. Word 2010 seems to make the files so much bigger than earlier versions, so perhaps that's why they fall over.
Also, once, when the file was recovered, all the text boxes had doubled up text in them.
Philip Cohen    25 Nov 2011, 22:32
Same problem here.

Windows 7 / Word 2003 false “read-only” problem

I very recently upgraded to Windows 7 Pro x64 on new hardware. I am still using MS Word 2003. I have a Word file that I usually have open and regularly update and “save” but after doing only a couple of “saves” Word decides that the file will thereafter be “read-only” and presents me with the “save as” dialogue; the file is NOT read only and it is a nuisance having to delete and rename the resulting multiple files all the time.

(I do recall a few years ago, under Windows XP, when regularly saving an open Excel file that the same quirk used to pop up occasionally, but never then on a Word file.)

On cancelling the save, the title bar of Word adds to the file name the suffix “(Read-Only)”.

However, regardless of the circumstances, an examination of the properties for this file, at all times, indicates that the file is NOT “read only”.

I have tested the problem file on my laptop that is still running Windows XP. No problem there: it seems that I can make as many saves as I like on XP; indeed I had no problem with this file on my previous desktop running XP. Therefore it is a problem with Windows 7 or at least a problem with files created on XP …

I’ve tried creating a new Word 2003 file on Windows 7 and copying the data from the XP-created file thereto. I then modified and saved the file multiple times. Word presented me with the “Save as” dialogue when I attempted the fifth save. So the effect is habitually reproducible but it’s not even consistent with the number of saves it will allow before it goes to its false “read only” mode.

Unchecking “Save AutoRecover info” made no difference for me.

So, it appears to be (still) just a Windows problem.

Very frustrating …
cprice    17 Nov 2011, 13:15
This has been going on for years, obviously. I am using Word 2007 on Windows 7, and since going to a gov't supported network it has been much worse. I am saving the document on my desktop and obviously the only person with access to it. The solution is obvious: Save As and give it another (similar) name.
Tim    15 Nov 2011, 14:11
I had the same issue - it is exasperating!

In my case, the Word doc was still 'read-only' even after a fresh reboot in Safe Mode, and could not be deleted in Windows Explorer.

The SOLUTION for me was to go into Task Manager - Processes, and End Process on Winword.exe *32.

I have no idea why this process would start even after a reboot! Obviously, there is a bug; perhaps in the automatic backup as noted above??

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