What Is a Corrupted File?

Have you encountered a corrupted file on your computer? It’s frustrating when you attempt to open a file, only to discover an error message. Maybe the error message says the file cannot be opened, or perhaps it says the operating system experienced a problem when attempting to access the file. Regardless, corrupted files are a serious nuisance, especially for business owners who rely on a functional information technology (IT) infrastructure to perform their business’s operations.

File Corruption Explained

A corrupted file is any file that’s been damaged to the point where it cannot be opened or otherwise accessed as intended. Corrupted files are still visible on the hard drive or storage device. Once corrupted, though, you won’t be able to open them. As previously mentioned, corrupted files often trigger an error message when opened.

While there are dozens of different types of computer files, each of which featuring unique specifications, they all contain data. Assuming the data is properly arranged, you should be able to open and access a file. If the data is written in the wrong place, on the other hand, the file may become corrupted, at which point you won’t be able to open or access it.

Why Files Become Corrupted

So, why do files become corrupted in the first place? File corruption can occur from a variety of causes, one of which is interruption during the saving process. If you attempt to save a modified file but the process is interrupted before being completed — e.g. you lose internet access or your computer shuts down — the file may become corrupted.

The presence of malware on your computer can also cause file corruption. Malware can make its way into files where it adds new data or deletes or moves existing damage. As the file’s data becomes disheveled, corruption may occur.

How to Fix Corrupted Files

Unfortunately, corrupted files aren’t always easy to fix. If your computer runs the Windows operating system, you can try using the System File Checker tool. This tool will scan your computer for corrupted files, and if it discovers any, System File Checker will attempt to replace them.

If malware is responsible for the corruption, running anti-virus software could fix the file. Assuming the anti-virus software identifies the malware, it may remove or quarantine it, at which point you should be able to open and access the file.