You may be exposed to numerous issues while operating a Windows system, some of which will require assistance from the Microsoft Technical staff. However, there are errors like “The action can’t be completed because the file is open in system” that can be dealt with independently.
This error is more of a frustrating issue than it is a logical one. The main problem is that the system provides no clear guidance on what programs to close.
Let’s take a look at some of the causes of this error.
Why does this error occur?
This error primarily happens when the file you are attempting to work on is active in another program or application. Since its data is stored temporarily until it is saved and closed, the system will not allow any further operation to occur while it is open. The problem is only compounded if you move the file during this process.
The error has a definitive cause and can be easily fixed. The truly frustrating part is that you may not know which application to close. If you’re a multi-tasker, you may have faced this issue numerous times.
“The action can’t be completed because the file is open in the system” error hinders your work considerably. Simply closing the apps you have open will not solve this issue. You will have to reopen each one again, and even that fails occasionally.
There are many instances where one may face this error, including renaming, moving, deleting, or encrypting an open file, background apps, and cache issues.
You can fix all these problems quite easily.
How to fix the “the action can’t be completed because the file is open in system” Windows error
When attempting to diagnose or fix the “the action can’t be completed because the file is open in system” error, you don’t need to back up the information in your system. However, it may be worth doing so if important files are at risk.
1. Close the interrupting application
This method is the most straightforward and most obvious fix for the “the action can’t be completed because the file is open in system” error. You often work with files you know the origin of. A photoshop file, for example, could never be opened in Microsoft Word. Therefore, to resolve a specific file type, you must close the corresponding app.
You can save your work and reopen the app after performing the desired action on the file. If stuck and unresponsive to input, the Windows system often resolves the issue and promptly closes the app. Then, you can act on the file and reopen the application.
2. Restart the Windows File Explorer
The Windows file explorer is at the core of the file system. Every interaction you make goes through this program, so if the issue persists after closing the active apps, the most effective option is to restart the entire explorer.
Restarting the Windows File Explorer isn’t a big deal and won’t affect your system significantly. It simply closes active files and ensures the issue will not occur again in the current session.
To restart the Windows File Explorer, follow the steps below.
- Type “task manager” in the Windows search bar or Press Ctrl+Shift+Esc.
- The Task Manager will open and look similar to the below image.
- In the Task Manager, locate the Windows File Explorer program.
- Right-click on the program and select Restart.
- The system will promptly restart the Windows File Explorer.
This method only provides a temporary solution to the “the action can’t be completed because the file is open in system” error. Once you have finished with your most important tasks, we recommend completing the methods below for a permanent solution.
3. Use the Windows Disk Cleanup
Another cause of this issue may be thumbnails. Windows creates thumbnails of all the files and programs in your system. Deleting these items will not affect your device since the OS can regenerate them where necessary.
Follow the below steps to delete the thumbnails using Windows Disk Cleanup.
- In your system’s Windows Search bar, type “disk cleanup“.
- The Disk Cleanup window will open immediately.
- In this window, select the checkbox of Thumbnails.
- Click on “Clean up system files”. You’ll be asked if you want to delete these files permanently. Click on Yes.
One of the most impressive features of the disk cleanup program is its ability to delete additional temporary files, most of which are not useful to your system anymore, only slowing it down and blocking essential processes. It also offers to clear shader cache and internet files.
4. Disable Thumbnails
Sometimes, clearing the thumbnails isn’t enough. You may have to disable them entirely before your system begins operating normally. Disabling thumbnails is not a complex process, and you can reverse it with ease if necessary.
The only effect of disabling thumbnails is that you lose all file and program icons. You can reverse this by enabling the thumbnails again.
- In your Window’s search bar, type “file explorer option”.
- A new window appears like the one below.
- In this window, click on the View tab.
- Check the “Always show icons, never thumbnails” option.
- This change will disable the thumbnails and likely resolve the “the action can’t be completed because the file is open in system” error.
If the issue persists, we recommend trying the solutions listed below.
5. Disable the Windows Preview pane
Once opened, the view presented by the File Explorer is called the preview pane. It displays a tree of all the folders inside the root domain, allowing you to locate saved files and programs easily. Despite its many benefits, the File Explorer can also cause the “the action can’t be completed because the file is open in system” error. In this situation, disabling the preview pane is the best solution.
Follow the below steps to disable the preview pane.
- Press the Windows + E keys on your keyboard to open the File Explorer.
- In the File Explorer, go to the View tab.
- Disable the preview pane in the View tab.
- You can also press Alt + P to enable or disable the preview pane.
This fix works for most systems. However, if this is not the case for you, take a look at the methods below.
6. Launch the folder in a separate process
For many users, this feature is disabled by default. However, by enabling it, you will likely improve the stability of your File Explorer. When you open a folder in a location, regardless of its size or status, your device will follow the same process. By enabling the separate process feature, you will prevent collisions in the file system and hopefully resolve the “the action can’t be completed because the file is open in system” error.
Follow the below steps to open a folder in Windows as a separate process.
- Open the Windows Explorer from the taskbar or press Windows + E.
- A window similar to the one below opens up.
- In this window, click on View.
- Click on Options.
- In the Folder Options window, click on the View tab again.
- Check the “Launch folder windows as a separate process” box, which is disabled by default.
Users have reported this method as a simple fix to the “the action can’t be completed because the file is open in system” error. If you are still struggling, do not worry. We have one last tip for you to try.
7. End the processes related to the issue
Even after being closed, an app will sometimes continue running in the background. Launchers like Epic Games and Steam are the best example of this, often contributing to the occurrence of the “the action can’t be completed because the file is open in system” error. In this case, just closing the app won’t fix the issue. You will have to end the background process as well.
Some integrations may require the launcher to run in the background when some games are active. So before doing this, ensure that you saved your game progress and closed the application.
To close the background process, follow the steps below.
- Type “task manager” in the search bar to open the Task Manager.
- In the Task Manager, select the process that is obstructing the action.
- Right-click on the process and click End task.
This action will end that particular process. You can also use this method to close unresponsive apps and programs.
By following the above methods, you should be able to resolve the “the action can’t be completed because the file is open in system” error without too much frustration. Let us know in the comments which solution worked in your case.