Unable to Open a PDF File Attachment

By Louise Balle

Updated September 26, 2017

Many people prefer to send files as portable document formats (PDFs) because recipients commonly have free PDF reader programs installed on their systems to open these files. Also, a PDF file is compatible with just about any type of system and displays the information the same regardless of the computer type. However, in some rare cases, you may have issues opening a PDF file attachment. If you’re having a problem opening a PDF file attachment that someone has sent you via email, try a few quick troubleshooting steps.


One of the most basic reasons why you would have problems opening a PDF file attachment is if it is password protected. PDF files commonly have two main types of passwords -- one for administrators and another for basic users. The administrator can grant permission to open, edit or print the document with a password. If you do not have the correct password as prompted, you won’t be able to open the file. Ask the recipient for the required information.

Email System

It is possible that the reason why you’re having a problem opening the attachment is the email system that you’re using. In some cases, the email program may have an error (temporary or permanent) that prevents you from opening attachments. In this case, try to forward the attachment to another email address where you can access it from a different email software program to open the PDF.

PDF Software

In some cases, the PDF software you’re using to view the attachment is the problem. For instance, if you’re using a trial version of a PDF-creation software program that automatically loads the PDF, it may not open the file once the trial period is finished. If you’re using a free reader program, it may just have a software bug. In this case, simply reinstall the program, restart the computer and try again.

Corrupt File

If all other troubleshooting attempts fail, it is possible that the PDF file you’ve received is just corrupt. In this case you must contact the sender to ask him to send another version of the file. Ask the sender if he is able to load the file on his own computer and if so, you may need to simply use a different computer to open the attachment.