Several Excel users have posted on Microsoft and other technical forums regarding facing issue when opening Excel files or encountering the Excel cannot open the file error. Due to this, they’re not able to access the Excel file data. There are various reasons behind this issue, such as:

  • Incompatible Excel file
  • Incorrect file name or file extension
  • Outdated Microsoft Office
  • Enabled Protected View settings
  • Lack of permissions to open the folder where the Excel file is saved
  • Excel file is corrupted

In this post, we will see how to fix the Excel cannot open the file error. We will also mention an excel recovery software that comes in handy if the Excel file is corrupt.

Ways to Fix Excel cannot Open the File Error

If you can’t access or open Excel files, follow these solutions to resolve the issue.

1. Check and Disable the Excel Protected View Settings

Sometimes, you fail to open the Excel file due to Protected View settings. Protected View is a security feature that helps protect your system from malicious files. You can disable these settings and see if it helps you open the Excel file. Perform these steps:

Caution: Ensure your system has updated security software before turning off the Protected View. Also, ensure the file you are trying to access is received from a trustworthy source.

  • In your Excel application, click File and then select Options.
Trust Center option
  • In the Excel Options dialog box, click the Trust Center option and then click Trust Center Settings.
Protected View
  • In the Trust Center wizard, click Protected View and then uncheck the three options under the Protected View option.
  • Click OK.

Restart the Excel and then try to open the Excel file to check whether the issue is fixed or not.

2. Change the Excel File Format

You can face the “Excel cannot open the file” error if you try to open the Excel file which is incompatible with your Excel version. In such a case, you can change the Excel file format. Follow these steps:

  • In Excel, navigate to the File option and then click Save As.
  • Click Browse, click on the affected file, and then select Save as Type.
  • Click on the required Excel file format and then click on the Save option.

Check if you can open your Excel file. If not, then follow the next solution.

3. Check the File Permissions

Lack of file permissions is also one of the reasons behind the “Excel cannot open the file” error. You can check and assign the right permissions by following the steps below:

  • In your system’s File Explorer window, search for the desired Excel file and right-click on it.
  • Click the Properties option.
  • In the Properties dialog box, click Security and then click Edit.
  • Under the Security option, click the option labeled “user names.”
  • Ensure all file permissions (Read, Read and execute, Full control, etc.) are enabled. If not, then enable them.
  • Click Apply and then click on OK.

4. Use Open and Repair Tool

The “Excel cannot open the file” error can also occur due to corruption in the Excel file. You can repair the corrupted Excel file using the built-in utility in Excel – Open and Repair. Here’s how to use this utility:

  • Open your Excel application, click on File, and then click the Open option.
  • In the Open dialog box that pops up, choose the affected Excel file and then click the arrow next to the Open option.
  • Click the Open and Repair option from the dropdown list.
  • You will see a prompt asking you to select one of the below options:
  • Repair
  • Extract Data
  • Click Repair to recover maximum data. If it fails, click the Extract Data option to extract the data without formulas and values.
Extract Data option

5. Use a Third-Party Excel Repair Tool

The Open and Repair utility may not provide the desired results in some cases or fail to repair severely corrupted file. In such a case, you can use an advanced Excel repair tool, like Stellar Repair for Excel. It can repair severely corrupted Excel files and recover all the object from the file with 100% consistency. It can help you fix the errors that occurred due to corruption in Excel files, including the “Excel fail to open the file” error. The tool supports Excel files of all the versions of Microsoft Excel.


You may fail to access the Excel file data due to the “Excel cannot open the file” error. Follow the solutions discussed in this post to regain access to your Excel file. If corruption in the file has caused the error, you can try a professional Excel repair tool, such as Stellar Repair for Excel. It can repair corrupted Excel (.xls, .xlsx, or .xlsm) file and recover all the file data while preserving the properties and cell formatting. You can download the free demo version of the tool to scan the corrupt file and preview the repaired data.

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