Incorrect In-Use Message

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated October 26, 2019)

3

Every time Kevin opens one particular Excel workbook, he sees a notice that the "file is in use" and is locked for editing, with the username being his own. He knows he doesn't have this workbook open. He's saved the workbook under a new name, but he still gets the same "in use" message when opening the new file.

There are a couple of things that may be causing the issue. The first thing to check is to get out of Excel and see if there is a "semaphore file" for the workbook. When you first open a workbook, Excel creates the semaphore file to indicate that the workbook is in use. This file is essentially the name of the opened workbook preceded by a tilde and a dollar sign. Thus, if you open a file named MyFile.xlsx, then the semaphore file will be named ~$MyFile.xlsx.

The semaphore file should be automatically deleted when you close the workbook with which it is associated. If something interferes with deleting the semaphore file, then the next time you open the workbook, it will show as "in use."

Go ahead and get out of Excel, then use Explorer to navigate to the folder in which the workbook is stored. Check to see if the semaphore file is in that folder. In order to see any left-over semaphore files, you'll need to make sure you have Windows configured to display all hidden files. (Semaphore files are hidden, by default.) If you see the file, simply delete it, and you should be fine on restarting Excel.

Another possible cause of the problem is the way that Windows Explorer interacts with files. A popular way to use Explorer is to leave the Preview pane open at the right side of the Explorer window. With the pane turned on, you are shown a preview of whatever file you have selected in the Explorer window. In order to display the preview, Explorer must open the file, and this can cause "false positives" if you have a workbook selected and you try to open the workbook through Explorer.

The solution in this situation is to simply get out of Explorer and open the workbook or close the Preview pane in Explorer. Either way should allow you to open the workbook just fine.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (13692) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Office 365.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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What is one less than 2?

2019-10-28 14:26:31

Christian Sommerhuber

Nice article, but I think the most frequent possibility is missing: when Excel crashes (what I see often) then the Excel task may still be active, although you can't see it on the screen. You need to start the task manager and if the task still persists you need to kill it in the task manager.


2019-10-26 17:03:24

David Gray

Thanks to the other subscribers who contributed to this article, I learned about another potential cause of this "in use" error. Since I have never used the Preview Pane, I've never experienced this variant, nor would it have crossed my mind.


2019-10-26 13:02:10

Raymond Wixom

When I have the Preview Pane open and try to save a file, I get a message that I have to rename the file or save it somewhere else. Close Preview Pane and I can save the file without further problems.


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