What Does It Mean When Your File Is Corrupt?

By John Arkontaky

Proactively back up your files to prevent issues.
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The words “corrupt” and “file” can conjure feelings of fear, panic and anger when they appear on a computer monitor. While generally an anomaly, file corruption can also happen at any time, to any file. As a glitch that has existed since the early days of computers and which continues even in the more recent, updated models, it's helpful to understand the reasons this takes place, and prevent it when possible.

What is a Corrupt File?

A corrupt file is the result of an irregularity in your system. If your computer is faced with an issue that creates irregularities, a file you had open or an system file affected by the issue will become defunct. If so, the file will not open properly, and in many cases the file will not open at all. In most cases, all you can do is delete the file, losing your data. File repair programs can potentially restore your file to a working condition, but keep in mind that successful file repairs are rare.

Corrupting a File

Files become corrupt in several ways. The most common are from power-related issues such as power surges or power outages when working. If your computer experienced a shutdown during an update, or if there was an improper shutdown, files can become corrupted as a result. Flawed or failing software can create corrupted files. Lastly, a virus can also corrupt files, in addition to giving you a multitude of other computer issues.

Preventing File Corruption

Like avoiding errors in baseball, good fundamentals will help prevent file corruption. Avoid a hard shutdown (i.e., holding down the power button) and let your computer go through its regular shutdown routine, when possible, to make sure all programs close properly. Prevent your computer from potential power issues in advance by using a battery backup and high-quality surge protector. Lastly, installing anti-virus software will help keep your files protected from outside sources that may wreak havoc on your system.


The easiest way to recover a file is to have a backup. You can create backups of individual files or your entire system on an external hard drive. Alternatively, cloud storage services like Google Drive, SkyDrive and Dropbox let you drop any sort of file into their respective cloud servers — giving you a backup you can access from any computer and most smart mobile devices. If you don’t have a backup in place, you can try running a repair program offered by the file’s software. Also, many third-party software developers offer repair tools for individual software programs.