PDF won’t open? How to fix ‘PDF files not opening’ error

Madalina Dinita
by Madalina Dinita
Former Managing Editor
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  • You enjoy using Adobe Reader or Acrobat on your Windows PC. However, it is truly frustrating not to be able to open PDF files when using a product from Adobe Systems.
  • Be sure that we’re here with a few quick solutions. Firstly, you should install the latest Adobe Acrobat version.
  • Don’t hesitate to check out our Adobe Troubleshooting Hub. Here you'll find solutions to all your Adobe problems.
  • Need more help fixing your PC? Visit our dedicated Fix section for more articles.
PDF files won’t open fix

Did you recently upgrade your computer from Windows 7 or Windows 8 to Windows 10 and now you are having problems opening PDF files?

Then you have come to the right place. There are many factors that can prevent a PDF file from opening in Acrobat or Adobe reader, including:

  • Reader or Acrobat is out of date
  • PDF’s were created with non-Adobe programs
  • PDF file is damaged
  • Damaged Reader or Acrobat
  • Suspicious PDF’s.

This issue can as well be termed as the mother of all PDF problems in Windows 10. Many users who reported this issue are those who migrated from Windows 7 or Windows 8 to Windows 10.

When trying to open a PDF file, the system does not give any error message nor does it open the file. Only a busy icon appears for a few seconds and then nothing, not even a blink of a new window/frame.

In this tutorial, we are going to discuss the causes as well as give you solutions that might fix the issues. So let’s get started.

What can I do if I can’t open PDF files in Adobe Reader?

1. Quick solution: Install the latest version of Adobe Acrobat

grab Adobe Acrobat

If you are using an outdated Adobe Acrobat version, then it might not be well placed to open all your PDF files. Adobe updates its Acrobat and Reader apps on a regular basis.

That’s why we can only encourage you to download the software from Adobe’s official distribution page. While there, pick the current OS system version and hit the Download Now button.

Grabbing the latest version will most likely fix conflicts with your system. That will make a huge difference if the current one is corrupted.

Moreover, the latest fixes and security improvements will keep Adobe Acrobat running smoothly at all times.

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2. Disable the Protected mode at startup

The core of this problem lies in the settings. If you are experiencing the same issue, follow the steps below to fix the problem.

  1. Open Reader. You can type Adobe in the search box for ease of access.pdf files
  2. Click the Edit button in the top left corner.pdf_files_2
  3. Scroll down the Edit menu until you see Preferences, then click on it.pdf files-preferences
  4. A new window will open with various categories. Select Security enhances by clicking on it.pdf_files_security-3
  5. Under the Sandbox protections, disable the Protected mode at startup by unchecking the box.pdf_files_5_protected_mode
  6. Many users reported of having fixed the issue by performing this procedure.

If the above procedure does not fix the issue, then read on to discover what might be the cause, and the possible solution to fix the problem.

Download this tool we highly recommend

If you cannot fix these problems, we would strongly recommend using a third-party tool. FileViewer Plus is a universal file viewer for Windows that can open and display over 300 different file types.

The new updated version offers improved PDF support for better rendering and converts PDF selectively page by page.

You can download a free fully-functional trial from the official website or buy it at an affordable price.

Download FileViewer Plus here

3. Ask the sender to resend the file if it is damaged

This is not a very common problem, but it’s possible that the program that was used to make the PDF file did not create it perfectly. At times, the PDF file may also contain corrupt data.

Moreover, if the file was transferred using a USB or website, chances are that it may not have transferred to the stick or uploaded to the website perfectly.

The easiest way to ascertain this is to try opening another PDF file and if it opens, then you’ll know that the file in question is damaged.

The easiest solution is to ask the sender to resend the file or send it in a different format.

Some Windows users reported that Microsoft Outlook won’t open PDF attachments in their emails; this seems to be a general problem.

We have compiled the applicable solutions to this menacing problem and you can read it here.

We’ve written about damaged PDF files before. Bookmark this page in case you need it later.

4. Revert to an earlier version for non-compliant PDFs

At times you may try to open several PDF files on your Windows 10 PC and they fail to open because they were created from non-Adobe products.

PDF files created from non-Adobe products don’t always comply with the PDF standards and specifications hence do not open in Adobe Acrobat or Reader.

Also, earlier versions of Adobe Acrobat or Reader are not as strict as the newer versions in compliance with PDF standards.

So, when using the latest version of Adobe Reader, you might not be able to open a PDF file that you used to open in the older version of the app.

If you trust the creator of the file and its origin, then you should consider reverting to an earlier version of Acrobat or Reader to open the file.

Reverting to an older version will require you to first uninstall the version of the Reader or Acrobat currently on your drive.

5. Repair program installation

Adobe Acrobat or Reader, or the resources they rely on could be damaged, hence unable to execute their functions effectively. The solution here is to repair the installation.

You can use the control panel to perform the repair procedure or open the program and choose Help > Repair program installation which is easier.


Most of the problems you will encounter when opening PDF files will be due to one of the causes discussed above. It’s also important to ensure that your operating system recognizes PDF.

For instance, Microsoft Edge is not only the default browser in Windows 10 but also the default PDF reader. You can change that so as to make Reader or Acrobat your default PDF reader.

Did you find this article useful? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

PDF files are now opening, but are they secure? Make the choice in the right direction with these tools!

FAQ: Learn more about opening PDF files in Windows 10

  • Why can’t I open a PDF file in Windows 10?

An outdated Adobe Acrobat version and damaged PDF files are some of the most common causes of this issue.

  • How do I fix a PDF file that won’t open?

To easily fix a PDF file that won’t open, you may install the latest Adobe Acrobat version or disable the Protected mode at startup. Refer to this dedicated guide for more quick fixes.

  • How do I enable Adobe Reader?

To enable Adobe Reader, enable Allow Always under When Visiting Other Websites and you’re good to go.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2018 and has been since revamped and updated in April 2020 for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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  • The Adobe reader App doesnt open on latest Win10.
    Why do I need to go through all this tedious process.
    Adobe should repair its app to open in any Win 10 version and any PDF version.
    I installed XODO PDF reader and it doesn’t give any problems.

    • The latest update of W10 sets the default pdf reader to Edge. And it seems to do it every 5 minutes. It’s doing my head in.

      • I don’t use Edge browser, I use browser that have the data saving feature. Does this mean that I can’t use Adobe reader?…

        • You will probably have to go to the settings menu to change the default program that opens .pdf files, obviously changing back to your normal browser.
          Click the start button, type “default”,
          “default apps and settings” should be top of the list, so click it.
          Look for the option “change default programs by file type”, click that,
          and then in the next screen, scroll down, looking for .pdf files in the left-hand column.
          then you click the corresponding box on the rhs and it should offer you the chance to change to your normal reader.
          Once I had done that, it was fine and stayed that way.
          My frustration was that although my reader said “Foxit is not the default reader for pdf files, would you like to set the default?”……. it didn’t, although it looked like it did. I had to do what I have just described..