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How to Survive Microsoft Word "Locked for Editing" Errors

written by: Bruce Tyson•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 7/19/2010

Microsoft Word users will likely encounter errors that indicate that a file cannot be saved because it is locked for editing. Here you will learn how to break Microsoft Word file is locked for editing problems without losing any of your valuable work.

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    The Microsoft Word "Locked for Editing" Error

    200px-Padlock.svg When a user encounters the Microsoft Word "Locked for editing" error, the user is trying to open (or possibly save) a file that it thinks is open by another user or in another window. Word will not allow you to save the file because it will potentially overwrite changes made by that other user. As many Word users know, this error often occurs even when no other users of the file exist. The following examples describe the conditions of each error and describes action that will normally remedy it.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/AJ Ashton.

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    Microsoft Word Not Activated

    One problem that causes the Microsoft Word locked file error is an unactivated copy of Word. When the error, "This command is not available because the document is locked for editing," occurs, and the user can open files, but cannot save changes to it, an program activation issue may be involved. This problem often occurs after the activation grace period runs out in a purchased copy, or when a trial version expires. In these cases, the best way to break Microsoft Word file is locked for editing errors is to activate the product.

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    Microsoft Word Did Not Shut Down Properly

    When a computer crashes with a Word Document open or if Micrsooft Word unexpectedly closed, the document that was open will sometimes trigger a The document is locked for editing by another user error when trying to open the effected document. Users in this condition should delete the document's owner file. You can do this by following a few simple steps:

    1. Close Microsoft Word. You can double check that no instances of Microsoft Word are open by checking Task Manager. Look on the Processes tab and end any instances of winword.exe found on the list.

    2. Open Windows Explorer and navigate to the folder that contains the offending document (e.g. My Documents). The owner file has the same name as the file itself except that it is prefixed with a tilde and a dollar sign (~$). For example, a Word document named Sunday.docx will have an owner file named ~$Sunday.docx. Right click on the owner file and choose Delete from the context menu.

    The file Sunday.docx should open properly now.

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    The Microsoft Word Document is Open in Another Window

    Often Microsoft Word users will receive the error, "The document is locked for editing by another user." This can happen if another user is logged into the same computer either locally or via the network. Additionally, older versions of Microsoft Word may allow the same document to be open in more than one window at the same time. You can break the Microsoft Word file is locked for editing problem by closing the other instance where the document is open.

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    Final Notes

    This tutorial shows how, with a little patience, Microsoft Word users can usually break Microsoft Word file is locked for editing errors when opening or saving files. When experiencing the error while saving (in errors where activation issues are not the cause), Word usually gives the user the opportunity to save the file with a different name. If you have done a lot of work in the document, you probably should take advantage of that opportunity. When access to the original file is restored, the user can copy changes made by copying them over to the original file or just by saving the second file back to the original file name.