Saturday, December 17, 2011

Techniques for Working with Damaged Files

There are tricks you can use in working with corrupted files to try to get some or all of the basic content of the file saved even if you can’t salvage the whole file. How well some of these tricks apply to your situation depends on what type of applications and file formats you use. For example, it can be very difficult to cut and paste parts out of a damaged graphics file and still wind up with something that resembles what you first created. But you may be able to use the cut-and-paste technique effectively with word-processing documents.

Before you start, check the Help file and documentation for the program you’re using. See if the program includes recovery/repair options, something like the recovery options Microsoft Office provides (I’ll explain those in a moment). Such a feature can often be the best tool for working with a damaged file. The availability of recovery options is a good thing to consider when buying new applications.

Make sure you’re opening a damaged file using the right application. Loading a file to a program that doesn’t support the file format can look very much like a corrupted file (“garbage” on the screen) even though the file itself is fine when opened by the correct application. You may want to restart your system and try to load a file again to make sure some problem in your current Windows session isn’t temporarily affecting your PC’s ability to work well with open files.

Cutting and Pasting into a Second File

Let’s assume that you can open a file but each time you save it, the file corruption remains.

If the file contains text or objects that can be cut and pasted, use this technique to cut chunks of content from the damaged file and paste them into a new file within the same application. Figure  shows a file that you can use this technique with.

Choose carefully what you copy when cutting and pasting data into a second file.

As you work, take care that you don’t copy any of the “garbage” or symbol characters that were not part of your original file. Moving those with you could carry the corruption into the new file. Also, if the data ends a few lines before the actual end of the file (meaning that something like carriage-return characters separate the start or the end of the file from the top or bottom of the file as you view it), don’t copy these carriage-returns because they might be a source of the corruption. They may contain hidden header or footer information that has been corrupted.

When you’re satisfied that you have copied out all the data you can, save the new file under a different filename. Then close both the file and the application. Shut down and restart your PC, reopen the application, and try to open the new file. If the new file opens fine, you’ve successfully recovered its contents. You can then make any needed changes to the formatting.

Saving as Text

Can you open the file at all? If so, and if it’s a word-processing document, try saving the file as straight text (usually an option under File Ø Save As). This removes any special formatting you’ve already established for the file, but you can rescue the file’s basic contents (the text). Here’s an example of how to do this using Microsoft Word:

  1. Launch the application and then load the file you’re having problems with.

  2. Choose File Ø Save As.

  3. From the Save window, click the list box under Save as Type, and select Text Only. Click Save.

TipIf your application allows you to save in rich text format (*.rtf), you can choose that instead of Text Only. RTF preserves some of the formatting lost to text-only saves.

Trying to Open with Another Program

Do you have another program that can open the type of file you’re having problems with? If so, try to open the corrupted file with that program. Formatting as well as programming differences between the two programs may allow a recalcitrant file to open in the second program but not the first. If the second program opens the file, try saving another copy of the file but with a different filename than the first. A strange character in the filename sometimes prevents a file from being properly opened by certain programs.

Trying to Open the File on Another PC

If you have another PC available to you with the same application installed—or another application that will open the same file type—copy the file to a floppy or send it across the network. Then try to open the file on the other PC. If the file opens fine on the second PC, there may be a problem with that program on the first PC. But it could also reflect slight changes between the systems that permit the second PC to open the corrupted file.

Once the file is open, save another copy of it, preferably with a new filename. Then reverse the process and try to open the new copy on the first system.

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