How to fix ‘The file or directory is corrupted and unreadable’ error on PC
Quite a few people have lost important data from their PCs due to hard drive errors. A common error on the Windows OS is the one that many will identify with ‘The file or directory is corrupted and unreadable‘ popup message.
The error prevents you from accessing, copying, renaming, or other things you may want to do with the files stored on a hard drive partition on your PC. You can encounter this error with other file storage devices like external hard drives, USB thumb drives, removable hard disks, and flash memory cards.
What causes this error? How do you recover your data? And, most importantly, how do you fix the error and prevent it from happening again?
The file or directory is corrupted and unreadable
What causes ‘the file or directory is corrupted and unreadable’ error?
This error is usually a result of some form of file corruption or damage to the external data storage devices on which the affected files are stored. Because of this you can’t access the files or do what you want with them. This is bad news if you have important data stored on the affected files.
But how do hard drives files get corrupted in the first place?
Corrupted MFT (Master File Table)
In most cases, this is a consequence of how you use and care for your hard drives. For one, pulling the external hard drive cable from the PC’s USB port before the computer is done copying a file, or while it executes some other command related to the external hard drive is known to corrupt your files.
Usually, it’s the MFT that’s corrupted. The MFT is part of the NFTS file system that handles file storage. It is where all file access permissions are granted and where information about file sizes and names, as well as where the creation and last edit times are recorded. Once this MFT is corrupted access to your files is blocked.
Make sure you have released the external storage devices from all the programs Windows may be running on them before you pull them from the PC. The safest way to eject external hard drives is by clicking on the drive icon on the Windows Explorer window.
Physical damage to external hard drive
Sometimes the cause of hard drive failure and the subsequent ‘the file or directory is corrupted and unreadable’ error is physical damage to the external hard drive itself.
As you would any digital and mechanical devices that store important information, you should protect your external storage devices from moisture, dust, heat, and other forms of damage.
In the case of USB drives and removable disks, physical damage could take the form of bad sectors, which are sections of the drive that are damaged to the extent they are no longer readable nor writable. If file information was located on these now inaccessible bad sectors, retrieving the data becomes difficult, hence the error message.
This is the scariest of all the possible causes of ‘The file or directory is corrupted and unreadable’ error. Virus infection may, in fact, lead to consequences far more serious than the loss of your data. Today, there are many sources of virus infection that every computer user needs to be extra vigilant.
You could open your computer to virus infection through the websites you browse, files you download from the internet and portable storage drives that you connect to your PC. These viruses will often corrupt your file partitions, delete your data, and make unauthorized changes to your PC’s registry settings. All these could cause ‘the file or directory is corrupted and unreadable’ error.
If you suspect the file corruption could be due to virus infection, get a good anti-virus software and scan your PC without delay. In some cases, the anti-virus PC clean-up could be all it takes to recover your inaccessible files.
Still, in some cases, only select partitions of an external hard drive could be generating the error message. The other partitions could be working just fine. This reduces the likelihood the error could be a result of virus infection or any physical damage to the hard drive.
How to fix ‘the file or directory is corrupted and unreadable’ error
The Windows OS has several inbuilt tools for diagnosing and solving most system errors. Not all will give you the ideal solution. Indeed, in this case, someone may be more interested in getting rid of the error message and restoring the hard drive back into a usable state.
However, someone else may be more worried about the potential of data loss as a result of the error. There could be months’ work worth of data sitting on the hard drive. Recovering that data will thus be a bigger priority. So keep that in mind as you consider the options available to you.
Solution 1 – Format the flash drive
This is possibly the easiest solution to ‘the file or directory is corrupted and unreadable’ error. But it isn’t the most ideal. Formatting the hard drive simply means you are erasing all the files stored on the hard drives.
By formatting the hard drive, you are also getting rid of whatever had corrupted your files in the first place. You can now start from a clean slate. But, clearly, this is not always a practical solution as the purpose of a hard drive is to store data that is useful to you. The last thing you may want is to get it all deleted.
To format the disk, follow these steps;
- Locate the affected disk partition. You can easily single out which drive is generating the error by checking the error message itself. A typical error message will read, H: is not accessible, followed by ‘the file or directory is not corrupted and unreadable’. In this case, drive partition H is the one you will need to format.
- Right-click the affected drive and choose the Format option on the drop-down menu.
- On the new window that will pop up, click the Start button. This will start the formatting process.
Solution 2 – Use the Chkdsk Windows utility to repair file system errors
The prospect of losing data will drive most people into a panic. But before you panic, try using the Chkdsk command line option to clean your hard drive disk. This usually solves the problem and helps you recover your data. Issues the Chkdsk utility can help resolve include directory errors, lost clusters, and cross-linked files.
Follow these steps to launch the chkdsk utility;
- For Windows 8, 8.1 and 10 users, type in the WinKey+X keyboard shortcut and select Command Prompt (Admin) on the screen that comes up. If you use Windows 7, XP, and Vista, click the Windows Start button and type cmd into the search box and hit enter.
- A User Account Control pop-up will ask for permission to ‘make changes to your PC’. Grant it by clicking the Yes button,
- The command prompt box should open. Type in chkdsk H: /f and hit enter. H represents the affected drive partition. The chkdsk disk repair process may take some time. So, you will need to be patient.
- Do this with every hard drive partition generating ‘The file or directory is corrupted and unreadable’ error message.
Solution 3 – Reinstall Windows
There are exceptional cases where the local drive C is the one generating the error message. Ordinarily, if Drive C, which is the system drive, gets corrupted, your PC should stop working. It shouldn’t boot using the normal Windows startup.
But if a file on drive C gives ‘The file or directory is corrupted and unreadable’ error and the PC does not stop working, the Chkdsk utility rarely resolves the issue. The one option you have is to reinstall your Windows OS. This should, of course, be the last resort after all other options have been explored.
How to recover your data
Apart from the diagnostic and repair tools available on the Windows OS, there are several other third-party software tools you can use to repair corrupted files and to recover your data. Using these tools could save you time, especially if you lack technical computer skills.
Among the more trusted file repair and data recovery tools are Stellar Phoenix Windows Data Recovery, Wondershare Data Recovery, Remo Recover Windows, and MiniTool Partition Recovery. Some of these are free or have free versions you can use.
The prospect of losing access to your precious data is terrifying. But in most cases, there is no need to panic as the fix is usually an easy one. The few we have discussed here should get you working with your machine in perfect harmony again in no time.
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