Ramblings of a Coder's Mind

Got Tech? Will Hack.

The Undeletables

I had to reinstall vista once and so vista copied its already existing files into Windows.old like any other decent OS does. This was of course a move to help me keep the data I already had in C drive at that time.

Now that my work with it was done, I couldn’t delete it. UAC was constantly telling me I didn’t have the rights to do so. The sad part is that I am the administrator and those files aren’t of any use to me. I tried switching off UAC but that requires a reboot so I started searching for alternatives since Vista wouldn’t let me edit the rights directly either.

Thanks to Rotem for linking me to Tim Sneath’s MSDN blog which explains a method to reset rights over a folder. The problem quite clearly is that Vista doesn’t remember which group holds rights to editing those folders/files. The secret lies in two command-line utilities.

takeown is an old command which resets ownership of the mentioned file/folder while icacls is used to provide a group with the rights to that file/folder.

As Tim points out, you can create a batch file with the following two lines.

takeown /f %1 /r /d y icacls %1 /grant administrators:F /t

It is imperative to note that the batch file needs to be run as an administrator. This can be done by right clicking the file and clicking on run as administrator.

You could also do what I did. Open command prompt in administrator mode (start > type “cmd” without quotes > right click > run as administrator), browse till the folder/file in question and then use the same two commands by substituting “%1” with the name of the target file/folder.

Hopefully you were smart enough to figure out that you do need administrator rights to pull this off. So if you’re a script kiddie planning to pull off something on vista, this is not what you’re looking for.

So the next time you cannot delete a file in Windows Vista even though you have administrator rights, try using takeown and icacls ;)

Update (8th October, 2013): Over 6 and a half years later, This solution didn’t work for me. Another, rather weird one, did. I’ve written about it in my post Windows 7: Unable to delete files – “Access is denied” error messages so do check it out!

Created: 25th January 2007
Category: Hacks
Tag: Windows Vista