Excel bothering you with Cannot Be Accessed error? Here’s how to resolve.

Microsoft Excel is the single most popular and effective tool to analyse and present data. It is used both by home users and businesses. Sometimes it is difficult to wrap your head around the data it churns, on a regular basis, to produce usable information. Excel users now are habituated of the various problems an Excel file poses. Its users have formulated their own workaround to combat a particular nefarious error that often raises its head.

.xls cannot be accessed. Or more recently .xlsx cannot be accessed.

The workarounds include – but are not limited to –

  • Taking a backup and making copies of the original
  • Saving the file in different formats like binary, csv etc
  • Paste data as values if the formula is no longer required
  • And my personal favorite – praying before closing the file, in the hopes that the file will open fine the next time it’s opened


There are many reasons why users resort to the above for their files’ safekeeping

  • Virus attacks: If the file was vulnerable to malware attacks, it is possible that the cleaning and restoration performed by the antivirus has rendered the file unusable.
  • File has unstable macros: Macros were used for data processing and may contain one or more lines of code, which though are error free but may be repeatedly calling a resource intensive application. Since Excel has a tendency to calculate all the formulas before closing and after opening the file, any resource intensive operation may freeze the application or terminate it unexpectedly.
  • Improper shutdown: Excel auto-saves a file in a fragile format in the event a shutdown may cause your efforts to be a total waste. This fragile format sometimes has anomalies which make a file “un-restore worthy”.
  • File was accessed from a network location: When a network location is involved, several permissions come into effect. Even when the file has been saved and closed, it may show the user that the said file is already in use. Happens a lot.
  • More than one network locations were used to access a file: Accessing an excel file from multiple locations make lock the file for editing by another instance of the same user (Humanspeak – the file may be locked for editing by a user who logged in from another computer on the same network). Happens a lot in offices where “optimum utilization of resources” forbid assigning a workstation to a single soul.

Workarounds mentioned in the beginning of this article are not solutions, per se; but they do give an approximate idea as to what might be in store for users. Here, I attempt to explain how to safeguard yourself from such situations.

  • Try not to access a file from multiple network locations. If you absolutely have to,
    create a local copy to make the changes
    save the changes locally on the machine
    Close the file.
    Copy and then paste to the desired network location overwriting the previous
  • Start making copies and break the larger file in segments (wherever possible) – week-wise, month-wise etc – the moment file size starts getting large in size. I cannot define large as it solely depends on your computer’s configuration.
  • If the file you have is in .xls format and you are using Excel 2007, use the convert function (Office button > convert) to reduce the file size and capitalize on Excel 2007’s robustness.
  • If the file is corrupt or is read-only, save it in XML format. Reopen in excel to convert it back to .xls or .xlsx format.
  • Recheck the formula or macro to replace any resource intensive formula with its lighter counterpart

If all else fails, you can always visit Excel File Repair software and know more details about software’s functionality and advance features