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What to Do When Windows Says a File Is Missing

Oftentimes, it’s not you who discovers that a file is gone. Sometimes, Windows notices that files are missing. The missing-file message — that you must troubleshoot — appears either when Windows starts or when you run specific programs.

The key to fixing the problem is discovering who owns the problem. To draw a line between Windows and your PC’s other programs, start-up files, and device drivers, start the computer in Safe mode. When the problem persists in Safe mode, it’s most likely Windows’ own problem.

When the problem lies with other software, you need to turn to the other software itself to find the missing file. For example, if a start-up message indicates that an audio file cannot be found, reinstall your PC’s audio software. You can find the software on a disc that was supplied with the PC or from the manufacturer’s website on the Internet.

A start-up message indicating a missing DLL or another type of file may appear because the program was sloppily uninstalled. The key is to remove the reference to the file in whichever part of Windows is starting the file. This problem tends to happen mostly in Windows XP.

In Windows XP, follow these steps to remove an unwanted start-up file error message:

  1. Take note of the error message.

    For example, if the message is Unable to locate boogus.dll, note the name boogus.dll.

  2. Press Win+R to bring up the Run dialog box.

  3. Type msconfig to start the System Configuration Utility.

  4. Click the SYSTEM.INI tab.

  5. Peruse the list to look for the name of the missing file.

  6. When you find the filename that appears in the error message, remove the check mark by the filename.

    By removing the check mark, you direct Windows not to locate the file when it first starts.

  7. Click the WIN.INI tab and repeat Steps 5 and 6 to see whether the filename appears there.

  8. Click the Startup tab and look for the filename there; repeat Steps 5 and 6 as necessary.

    The filename appears as part of a pathname. Be sure to check the last part of the pathname.

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  9. Click OK to close the System Configuration Utility window.

  10. Choose whether to restart the computer now or later.

    The changes don’t take effect until you restart the computer.

If the message doesn’t appear when you restart Windows, you fixed the problem. When it still appears, you have to check into other solutions, such as reinstalling any recently installed software. Remember to reactivate whatever you disabled in the System Configuration Utility window.

  • The missing file may also be due to damage to the hard drive. If the hard drive is suspect, though, other errors will occur in addition to a missing file.

  • When you use the System Configuration Utility to modify a start-up file, you may see a warning displayed when Windows restarts. You can dismiss the warning — be sure to put a check mark in the box so that the warning doesn’t appear again.

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