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How To Fix ‘can’t read from the source file or disk’ Errors

Posted by Jamie on December 13, 2018

Moving files from drive to drive or computer to computer is a common task both in office environments and on recreational PCs. Windows users who regularly move large files (particularly the multi-gigabyte files that can contain movies or TV shows) around are no stranger to an error message that reads ‘can’t read from the source file or disk’. This message can appear for three different common reasons. The most common reason is a mismatch in the file systems on the different drives or devices. Other common reasons for this error include corrupt disk sectors and file permission problems. In this article, I will show you how to resolve all three of these problems so that you can get your file transfers running smoothly.

The error most typically arises when moving a large file between two disks, whether between two internal drives or between an internal and external drive. The error can crop up on small files, but that is less common. It’s usually big files that cause the problem.

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Mismatched file systems and ‘can’t read from the source file or disk’ errors

Mismatched file systems is the easiest problem to diagnose but the hardest to fix. If you’re using Windows 8 or Windows 10, chances are your file system is NTFS. If you are using Windows 7 it could be FAT32 or NTFS. If you are using Windows XP chances are it is FAT32.

NTFS is completely different from FAT32 and can handle larger files easily. FAT32 is an older file system and cannot handle larger files. If the disk you are transferring your file from is FAT32, the maximum file size it can handle is 4GB. If the file you are moving is even close to that size, it can cause issues.

  1. Select the hard drive you are trying to copy from.
  2. Right click and select properties.
  3. Identify the file system.
  4. Repeat for the destination disk.

If both file systems are NTFS, move on to the next fix. If one disk is FAT32, read on.

Usually, you cannot copy large files onto FAT32 in the first place but there have been instances where someone has used a file splitter to break a file into smaller pieces and then the file became corrupted on the drive. Windows then does not recognize that the file was broken down and just reads either a large or corrupt file.

If you see this, find a program that splits a file into smaller chunks and try the process again. You can Google ‘file splitter’ and find a wide variety of splitters, or you can just use HJSplit, which is free and full-featured. Either way, install the program, split the file on the drive, move it as originally intended and then rebuild it.

Bad sectors and ‘can’t read from the source file or disk’ errors

A sector is a piece of storage. When formatting a hard drive, part of the process is dividing the drive up into individual pieces that can be used both independently to store data but also collectively to store larger files.

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Bad sectors are simply software errors that mean your computer cannot read the piece of data on that sector. They can be caused by actual physical damage but that is rare.

To check for bad sectors:

  1. Select the hard drive you are trying to copy from.
  2. Right click and select Properties then the Tools tab.
  3. Select Check beside Error checking.
  4. Allow the process to complete.
  5. Repeat for the destination disk.

The disk checking tool is self-contained and will tell you if it finds bad sectors and will be able to repair them in the majority of cases. This may damage the file you are trying to move though so be aware of that before doing it.

You can run disk checks from the command prompt if you prefer.

  1. Open a CMD window as an administrator.
  2. Type or paste ‘chkdsk /f D:’ and hit Enter. Change ‘D:’ to the hard drive letter in question.
  3. Let the process complete.

If there were bad sectors, Windows may now be able to move the file.

File permissions and ‘can’t read from the source file or disk’ errors

Sometimes, Windows gets confused with file permissions and has trouble letting go. It can also occur if you get sent a file by someone and Windows doesn’t give you ownership of the file. It can cause ‘can’t read from the source file or disk’ errors.

It is an easy one to fix though.

  1. Right click the file you are trying to copy and select Properties.
  2. Select the Security tab and then Edit in the center.
  3. Select the Add button in the center.
  4. Type your computer username in the box at the bottom and select Check Names.
  5. Select OK. This will take you back to the previous screen.
  6. Select your username in the top window, then check the box next to Full control in the bottom box.
  7. Select Apply and then OK.

Windows should now allow you to move the file as you need without throwing up the ‘can’t read from the source file or disk’ error.

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