How to Fix 'The File or Directory is Corrupted and Unreadable' Errors

One simple command might be enough to get your files back

This is a common error seen on Windows computers when the operating system can’t access data on an external hard drive:

E:\ is not accessible.
The file or directory is corrupted and unreadable.

You might see this error after trying to open something from a USB drive. Or, depending on how your computer is set up, it might pop up right after inserting the drive into your computer.

This “not accessible” error can happen at any time, even if you’ve recently used the drive. The location at the start of the error message is unique for whatever location is unreadable, so it might be E:, H:, K:, etc. 

The file or directory is corrupted and unreadable error in Windows 8

What Causes 'The File or Directory is Corrupted and Unreadable' Errors?

There are several reasons you might see this error:

  • The drive was pulled out without safely ejecting it
  • Malware has infected the drive
  • The external drive is physically damaged

This error could occur on any Windows operating system. The steps below apply to Windows 11 and earlier, back to Windows XP.

How to Fix 'The File or Directory is Corrupted and Unreadable' Errors

The best way to fix “The file or directory is corrupted and unreadable.” errors is to walk through these troubleshooting steps, in order:

  1. Run the chkdsk command against the hard drive. Do this by opening an elevated Command Prompt and entering the following command, replacing the last letter with the letter of the drive that’s displaying the error:

    chkdsk /r e:
    chkdsk r command in Windows 10

    Running the chkdsk command is the most likely fix for this error. If you skip this step, it's possible the next two suggestions below won't be effective because the drive will still be unreadable.

  2. Restart your computer. This could be a temporary problem that a simple reboot can fix. If you've already tried to restart your computer, and it didn't help, feel free to try the next tip.

  3. Change the drive letter. For whatever reason, Windows might be struggling to identify the device with its current drive letter. Completing this step might "refresh" Windows' connection to it.

  4. Scan the hard drive with a malware removal program. If malware is to blame for the error, removing it might restore access to the drive.

  5. Disable your antivirus program. This might seem unhelpful, especially considering Step 3, but the AV program could actually be preventing you from accessing the drive. This might happen if it identified a threat but didn't remove it.

    If you completed the previous step and didn't find anything malicious, feel free to temporarily turn off your security software to see if that fixes the "corrupted and unreadable" error.

  6. Format the drive. If it’s unreadable, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get far enough to format it, but give it a try anyway.

    Format USB Drive screen in Windows 10

    Formatting will erase everything from the drive! Before you complete this step, try recovering files from the drive using a file recovery program. If the files are registered as being deleted, the file undelete program might give you one last chance to get your files.

If the reason for your “The file or directory is corrupted and unreadable.” error is because the drive is physically broken, repairing the drive isn't enough to recover your data and stop the error. In this case, you'll need to replace it.

Check out our updated lists of the best USB flash drives and the best external hard drives for suggestions.

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