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Why do I get "Access is Denied" when trying to copy a file?


I have two hard drives on my computer. I have a file on one hard drive and I cannot move (cut & paste) it to my other hard drive. I get “Access is denied.” I have looked at the properties for that file and see that the “Read-only” attribute is set. I have ‘unset’ that attribute but still can’t cut and paste the file on the other drive. Can you explain this situation? The file is a TurboTax file I created. Is there a solution?

There are several possible reasons that access to a file might be denied. Some are easy to fix, but others might require a little more investigation on your part.

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Read-Only Files

This is perhaps the most common case people run into, because it’s not always obvious that the read-only attribute might get copied with the file. Your scenario shouldn’t be affected by this, but here’s a way that it could have been:

“… you may be denied access to a file if it’s in use by another application.”
  • Your original file is marked read-only.
  • Your first attempt to copy the file actually succeeds or fails after the destination file has been created.
  • Unbeknownst to you, the destination file has the read-only flag set because the original file did.
  • Unsetting the read-only doesn’t fix anything, because in order to copy the file now you must be able to delete or overwrite the earlier copy in the destination, and the copy is marked read-only.

The solution here is to delete the previously copied file, or at least reset its read-only status as well as that of the original file.

File In Use

Perhaps almost as common, you may be denied access to a file if it’s in use by another application. This typically refers to the destination; meaning that if the destination file already exists and you’re attempting to replace or overwrite it you may not be able to if another application has that destination file open.

However this can also apply to the source file. Depending on the application, a program can have a file open in such a way that you cannot even read it in order to make a copy of it until the application has been closed. I’d actually expect programs like TurboTax to operate this way.

Regardless of whether it’s the source or destination, the solution here is simply to close any application that might be accessing the file. If you’re not sure who might be using a file in use, then you might want to check out this article: How can I find out who is using a “file in use”?

File Permissions

This most commonly happens:

  • If your hard disk’s filesystem is NTFS
  • and you’re attempting to copy from one user’s documents to another
  • and you’re not logged in as the administrator

There are other scenarios where this can happen as well, but that’s the most common.

Most people forget that Windows is a multi-user operating system. That implies that not only does it keep separate settings and so on for each user that can log in to the machine, it’s also charged with protecting those users from each other. One of those protections is file access permissions. The most obvious is that if you’re logged in as user “User A”, you probably cannot access files in “c:\Documents and Settings\User B”. Attempts to access files therein will get you “access denied”.

NTFS actually supports quite complex per-user permissions on any file or folder. Right click on a file in Windows Explorer, click on Properties and then click on the Security tab for an idea of what might be involved.

Other Thoughts

Naturally there are other things that could be getting in your way. Filesystem or hard disk corruption might be one, which can most likely at least be identified by running CHKDSK in a Windows Command Prompt.

Keep in mind that if all you’re seeing is “Access is Denied”, it’s not telling which side of your copy you’re being denied access to. It might be that you can’t access the file you’re attempting to copy, or it might be that you can’t access the location you’re attempting to copy to. Keep that in mind as you look at the various ideas above.

You also mentioned that you’re attempting to “move” a file. A move from drive to drive is nothing more than a copy followed by a delete. It’s possible that it’s the delete at the end that’s failing.

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6 comments on “Why do I get "Access is Denied" when trying to copy a file?”

  1. Since I’ve been using XP I’ve never had so many ‘locked’ files in my life. I save a lot of web pages such as yours on my hard drive.

    I double click on them to open them in Opera. That file will be locked and I can’t delete or move it. On the other hand, if I open Opera first and drag and drop the file into it, it wont be locked.

    I also have occasions where I had to delete files and sometimes sub-folders within a folder before I could delete the main folder.

    I came across a simple utility that might help, called ‘Unlocker’, from:

  2. If you start up in safe mode, you will get another user logon called administrator. Log in there and when you go to the security part of the file with a right click, the settings are accessable to change.

  3. I am attempting to copy a folder from a CD to a harddrive. Being a CD I am unable to change the files attributes. Keep getting the Access Denied message. Is there a way around this?

    You should be able to change the attributes on the files once they’ve been copied to your hard disk.

    – Leo
  4. I am trying to copy a file from a Windows 2003 Server (behind a firewall) to another Windows 2003 Server (other side of the firewall) using pass-through authentication (local user accounts on both servers). If the local account on the target server is in the local administrators group the copy works fine, but without administrator priveleges I get “Access is Denied”. Any idea what type of privelege is required to copy files? Obviously I can’t get away with having the locl account in the local administrators group.

  5. i accidentally moved one of my folders to one of the folders inside drive d, as in i accidentally darg and drop one of my folder in side another folder when i try to open it it says access denied. i tried system restore and thought that i can set it back to its original settings. the folder went to its original posotion but still access denied,,,,, please help

  6. Ahh the reasons to why are many, but the solution to the problem is.. did any one solve it? ha!
    Here it is..
    Click folder of data you want to move and paste in desired location… ~ #ERROR Access denied blah blah –
    K Click folder again this time “add to archive” and set it to “store” or fastest or least or no compression.
    Winrar in my case eliminated all the files I could not move from the archive leaving me only with what i could move – Schweet! –
    But some were word docs… so I opened them up and saved them with word to my new location.

    Hope this help someone…


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