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Document Shows as 'In Use' by Another User

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Document Shows as 'In Use' by Another User.

What would you do if you started a new session with Word, and then went to open a document, only to see a message stating that the document you want to open is "locked for editing by another user?" Word gives you the option to open a read-only version of the document, but you want to edit the real document. What do you do?

To understand what happened, it is helpful to understand a little of how Word (all current versions except Word 97) opens documents. When you open a document, Word creates what is known as an owner file for the document. This file is created in the same folder as the document you are opening. Its name consists of a tilde (~) followed by a dollar sign ($) and then the rest of the file name of the document you are opening. For instance, if you try to open a document named BigBudget.doc, then Word creates an owner file with the name ~$gBudget.doc.

The owner file is a way for Word to realize who has the document open at the current time. It is a temporary file (it is deleted when you close the document) that holds the login name of the person that opened the document.

This is where the confusion comes in. If you see the error message described at the beginning of this tip, it means that one of three conditions exists:

  • Word was shut down improperly and the owner file could not be deleted. For instance, the power to your machine was interrupted for some reason.
  • The document is accessible on a network and a different user has the document open.
  • A second instance of Word is running, and the document is open in that copy of Word.

If you are sure that there is no other user accessing the file, and you don't have it open in another copy of Word, then you can follow these steps so you can open the file normally:

  1. Get out of Word and restart your system. (This flushes out any errant processes that may be "stuck" in memory.)
  2. Using Windows Explorer, display the folder that contains the document you tried to open.
  3. If you see an owner file in the folder (named according to the format previously described), delete it.
  4. You should now be able to start Word and successfully open the document.

    WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1660) applies to Microsoft Word 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Document Shows as 'In Use' by Another User.

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    Comments for this tip:

    Lou B    11 Apr 2016, 14:08
    More information regarding #3 above:
    With Windows 7, there is no "Show hidden files", you have to uncheck the option "Hide protected operating system files".

    Also, when this error occurs, it is almost always a "server lock" that has not been released. We have to send a request to the Server Team to clear the lock on the file.

    Deleting the Owner file only changes the message from someone's name to the generic "another user".
    Dave    13 Jan 2016, 03:23
    In point 3 above, what if you cannot see the owner file (show hidden files has been ticked too).
    Emerson B.    29 May 2015, 11:39
    The question is HOW do I delete ~$xxx.tmp files after closing Word, and I'm completely sure they don't belong there. Don't simply say delete them. That doesn't work. Is there any little utility program that can attack them?
    Saizq    02 Dec 2014, 06:04
    I have a problem related to this.

    I have an Excel document in a shared folder and whoever has the document opened, the message always says (to everyone trying to open it then) that I am the one using it.

    All of us have our names in the Options/Office User gap.

    what can be happening here? we need to identify who is using it every time. Thanks.
    Mike    26 Sep 2014, 20:25
    If I am having a similar error when opening network files, where is the "user file" generated and stored or is there a different likely cause?
    s    29 Jul 2014, 15:28
    This was very helpful. I closed the viewing pane and now I can delete these additional files!
    Faith Emrich    01 Apr 2013, 10:46
    I was able to resolve my issue with this problem by right clicking the word document, to properties, and unclicking the read only attribute and applying it. Note: this will make all documents in the folder the the problem document is in also have the read only attribute removed. Once I did this, we were able to access the document.
    JT    20 Dec 2012, 05:58
    This can also happen if you are opening files from Windows Explorer when it is in the preview mode. The preview must open a temp file.

    To resolve, close the preview window, close all versions of doc/sheet and try again.
    Erick    05 Nov 2012, 08:59
    Same as John B.
    When other users on my network open/use the file, Word leaves one of these owner files behind. It persists for many days. The person who opened it didn't have a crash and they are not currently using the file. Not sure why Word doesn't delete the file.
    John B    24 Jul 2012, 13:07
    I have this happening on my network with consistency, and none of the three conditions you speak of exists -- no crash, no Word copies open, no other person accessing the file.

    This site and others all maintain those as prerequisites for this occurring. It clearly is not.
    JoshuaReen    07 Mar 2012, 08:16
    Nice sharing, and I have a shorter way for this. I have used “Long Path Tool” in this situation and it helped me easily and quickly. May be this works for you also.
    Brian Primeau    09 Jan 2012, 14:45
    Ditto Rip's comment. This is so frustrating when it happens! I'm very glad to know a simple fix. Thank you!
    Rip Price    09 Jan 2012, 09:45
    This has happened to me from time to time. Now I know what to do. And I always wondered what "~$" meant!
    Thanks VERY much for this tip.
 
 

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