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What does NTLDR is missing mean?

Question: I’m using Windows XP and I’ve gotten an error message, “NTLDR is missing. Do a Ctrl Alt Delete”. Please help! I’m going to change to Windows 7 but I need to get into my system.

NTLDR, more commonly referred to as “NT Loader” is the name of the file that contains the boot loader for Windows. In other words, it’s the program that begins the initial Windows booting process. Without it, you can’t boot.

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The all-to-common, embarrassing reason

Now, the single most common reason for this message is actually really embarrassing, and I used to run into it all of the time myself so I know what I’m talking about – both about the problem and the embarrassment.

You left a floppy disk in the disk drive.

Now, obviously, as floppies are going the way of the Dodo, this is happening less and less. But by far, it’s the number one reason. Eject the floppy and reboot.

Floppy DiskThe issue, of course, is that the floppy doesn’t have anything to boot. Once upon a time, operating systems came on floppy disks. Older computers that have floppy drives will in fact check to see if there’s a floppy, and try to boot from it if there is one. If there’s no operating system on the floppy disk, then there’s no NT Loader and “the NT Loader missing” is the message that you get.

Non-floppy reasons

Now, in rarer cases, this error can occur if you’ve left a data CD in the CD drive or you’ve left a USB device hooked up to a USB connection that is somehow bootable. In both of these cases, the boot process is actually supposed to be smart enough to realize the problem and move on to boot from the hard disk instead. But I’ve definitely seen systems that aren’t quite that smart.

Ultimately, what the message really means is that the device that the system is trying to boot from doesn’t have the boot loader. Usually that means the system is trying to boot from the wrong device, as in the scenarios I just described. However, there is another scenario that’s less common but more of a concern: it’s trying to boot from the correct device, but that device has a problem.

This gets more difficult to recover from. Sometimes it’s simply a hardware problem with the hard disk. Sometimes, the boot files have accidentally been lost or overwritten. Sometimes, just random stuff happens. The one thing that’s worth trying in a case like this is to boot from your original installation media and select repair and recovery tools from the startup menu instead of choosing anything relating to installing. One of the recovery tools may very well be able to repair the damage specifically related to the boot files.

And finally, I do have to say that restoring your system to an image backup taken before the problem began should also resolve the problem, as long as it’s not hardware related.

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15 comments on “What does NTLDR is missing mean?”

  1. I’ve also had the missing NTLDR error message after playing around with Linux. Linux replaces the NTLDR file with their Grub loader. I would then have to run the repair console from my Windows installation disk to fix this. I was able to do this repair from another Windows version. For example, I had a preinstalled version of Vista, but I was able to restore the NTLDR with my XP installation disks.

  2. First try unplugging all external hard drives, and removing cd’s ( and floppies) and restarting.
    If the external hd’s were the problem, check the boot order in bios and put the real hd first.

  3. I think the problem may have been that I left an external hard drive in but it has since been removed but my computer still won’t boot up and the message still says “NTLDR is missing press any key to restart”. Any other suggestions?

  4. I all the years I have been playing with and using and doing a little bit of programming on my own stuff, I have not ever seen the NTLDR come up. Prior to seeing this I was having some other problems booting up and then my security and Anti-virus software let me know that it detected some problems with some hacker and it started deleting and doing things that were weird even to me. Long story I did a reset of all the hardware in my computer and when I started to reboot I got the NTLDR crlt alt delete prompt, and then nothing on the reboot, just the startup incon flashing. I removed and 2 sticks of 1 gb of memory and reversed my sata connections and rebooted, my system even let me know the system memory had changed, I added back the memory that I had taken out afterward and the system came right up, no problem thank heaven.

  5. And I have been playing with computers since it took 3 men and a boy to carry it. When a 5.25 inch floppy was state of the art, I had a Commodore 64 and if you ever dropped the floppy drive itself on your foot, you could actually break your foot. Now that was what I meant about being weird, thanks for letting me ramble. Take care

  6. I have now got a new Desk Top with W8.1. The hardware provider insists on downloading programs which are supposedly from so called partners. The Computer is under warranty . Such programs I will never use. What do I do?

  7. I was burning the some data from nero, unfontunally it doesnt finish then I saw my computer stack after that I logged off, when I logged on, I could see the messege like NTLDR is missing, so I cannot no more navigate to my computer. So, what can I do to solve this problem?

  8. Hi leo I am getting a message when I turn on my PC the Ntldr is missing and it won’t let me do anything any time I try and hit control alt delete it just keeps going back to that message. how can I fix this to be able to get back onto my computer?

  9. i have a hp computer desk top but it has a problems of ntldr is missing but i have changed the had drive but its all the same what should i do

    • If you have a Windows installation disc, you should be able to run the repair console and restore NTLDR. If you don’t have one you can download a copy of Windows 8 or 10 and burn it to a DVD or create a bootable USB flash drive. If you are using a different version, you should still be able to use the installation disk from 8 or 10 to run the repair console


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