Apr 17, 2010

Lowering UAC

Are some of your directories showing up as read-only? Join the crowd. It’s a common problem in Windows 7, but there are a few ways to address it.

Recently, a friend reported that since the April 13th Windows security patch, her copy of 64-bit Windows 7 is marking all folders as “read only” and she couldn’t find an easy way to fix it. She’s not alone. But this isn’t a problem that’s unique to either 64-bit Windows 7 or this particular set of patches. Instead, it seems to be an endemic problem with Windows 7 and Windows Vista.

It seems that several things can cause this problem. Among the causes: patching the system, upgrading from one version of Windows to another, and saving files to the top-level directory (C:\). Microsoft knows this is an issue, but for some reason the company doesn’t call it a bug.

According to Microsoft Support’s most relevant support document, “You cannot view or change the Read-only or the System attributes of folders in Windows Server 2003, in Windows XP, in Windows Vista or in Windows 7,” that’s probably because:

“The Read-only attribute for a folder is typically ignored (!) by Windows, Windows components and accessories, and other programs. For example, you can delete, rename, and change a folder with the Read-only attribute by using Windows Explorer. The Read-only and System attributes is only used by Windows Explorer to determine whether the folder is a special folder, such as a system folder that has its view customized by Windows (for example, My Documents, Favorites, Fonts, Downloaded Program Files), or a folder that you customized by using the Customize tab of the folder’s Properties dialog box.”

So, since the folder’s permission setting is usually ignored, can you ignore it? No, you can’t.

The read-only setting will get in the way of writing some files and, as Microsoft admits, “If a network share that has a large amount of folders set to Read-only, it can cause Explorer to take longer then what is expected to render the contents of that share while it waits on the retrieval of the Desktop.ini files. The slower the network connectivity to the share the longer this process can take to the point where Explorer may timeout waiting for the data and render nothing or appear to hang.”

Thus, if you’re using Libraries and HomeGroups to share files in a branch office or a Windows 7 system as a BranchCache server, this issue could lead to serious network performance problems. Adding insult to injury, you can’t address this issue using Windows Explorer because, according to Microsoft, “Windows Explorer does not allow you to view or change the Read-only or System attributes of folders.”

Fixing and Side-Stepping the Problem

I wish I could say that there’s a perfect solution to this problem. There’s not. Some methods work for some users and some don’t. I really wish that Microsoft would address this problem since it does show up fairly often, it’s been showing up since Windows XP, and it can prove extremely troublesome in small networks. I mean, come on, this is file permissions. How hard can it be?

That said, here are some of the ways you can try to address it. The “official” Microsoft way is to change the folders’ permissions using the venerable MS-DOS attrib command.

In short, you use Attrib at a command prompt (Cmd.exe) to view or to remove the Read-only or the System attributes of folders. You do this by logging in as the Admin user and then following these steps:

  1. Click Start, click Run, type cmd, and then press Enter. (If the Run command is not listed on the Start menu, Click Start, click All Programs, click Accessories, and then click Run.)
  2. To remove the Read-only attribute, at the command prompt type the following command:
  3. attrib -r drive:\<path>\<foldername>

  4. You may also need to remove the System attribute. In that case, use the command:
  5. attrib -r -s drive:\<path>\<foldername>

If this works, you can now bore yourself to tears by running it as needed on other folders.

If you have multiple folders (or even systems) with file permission problems like this, you might think that it would be easier by far to use a PowerShell script to clean up the trouble automatically. You’d be wrong.

As Don Jones, a PowerShell expert, explained in a TechNet article, “Now, please don’t get mad, but I have to say that this is not a task for which Windows PowerShell is currently well-suited. I know, I’m sorry. It’s just that Windows file permissions are terrifically complicated little beasts.” (I can only add that is one situation where Linux, and the rest of the Unix family, does the job far better.)

That Didn’t Work. Now What?

What should you do if the command-line method doesn’t work? You can always try turning off the UAC (User Account Control). Unlike Windows Vista, where doing so was a binary choice, Windows 7 lets you choose different levels of UAC. Unfortunately for your system security, turning it all the way off seems to offer the best chance of eliminating the problem.

To do this, once more Click Start and click Run. This time enter UAC and then pull the slider to the bottom, as you see here:

Lowering UAC

Now, reboot. And, if the stars are in the right position, the problem should have disappeared.

No such luck? Well, Microsoft suggests, you might have a corrupted user profile. To see if that’s the problem, Microsoft suggests creating a new user profile. You do this by following these steps:

  1. Open User Accounts. Do so by clicking the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking User Accounts and Family Safety (or clicking User Accounts, if you are connected to a network domain), and then clicking User Accounts.
  2. Click on Manage another account. If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  3. Click Create a new account.
  4. Type the name to give the user account, click an account type, and then click Create Account.

If you can now create folders without having them automatically turn into read-only folders, your next move is to try to repair the corrupted user account using the steps described in Fix a corrupted user profile. This is a rather complicated affair; I highly recommend backing up any system before trying to tackle it.

Still in trouble? Well, besides letting Microsoft know that this isn’t just an “issue” to you but a “bug, you can try to work around it by only using Windows 7′s Public Folders. Of course, this comes with the wee problem that any sub-directories and files in these folders will be available to anyone with a user account and password on the computer. Since this problem is most troublesome when a Windows 7 system is sharing files with other users, this can be a real security annoyance even if multiple users aren’t sharing a single PC.

Unfortunately, if this file permission foul-up is giving your users real problems, this may be your only practical solution. Still, I’d make this attempt to get around the read-only bug my last resource. If I tried everything else, and it still didn’t work, I think I’d try reorganizing the branch’s file-sharing arrangements by adding another server before resorting to this measure. Your usage may vary. Good luck.

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  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Esther Schindler, topsy_top20k and Antonio Erre, IT Expert Voice. IT Expert Voice said: Did your Windows 7 files and folders somehow become read-only? Here's how to fix, by @sjvn http://ow.ly/1zKAP [...]

  • Apr 20, 2010 | denis says:

    >Microsoft knows this is an issue,

    Have you seen how long it takes them to react to critical bugs?
    This one could be fixed by 2012.

    >but for some reason the company doesn’t call it a bug.

    It this was Apple it would be called a feature and youd have dozens of rabid fanbois who would be ready to eat your still beating heart for daring to suggest that its the company's fault and not the useless users.
    A bug is what you call something when your PR/BS machine is weak.

  • Apr 20, 2010 | SM12345 says:

    Microsoft knows this is an issue, but for some reason the company doesn’t call it a bug.

    That means it is a feature not a bug – just like virus vulnerability in Windows for the sake of convenience in legacy program installation, compatibility and access. It also means this problem is here to stay for good.

  • Apr 20, 2010 | Louis Michael Bell says:

    I am running into this trying to get Turbo Tax to import data from last year's tax return. I "upgraded" from XP to Win 7 by installing Win 7 on a new drive and keeping the old drive on the system, without importing or transferring any settings. I still can't get at stuff in my Documents and Settings subfolder on the old drive because of permissions problems, although the old user identity no longer exists. Go figure …..

  • Apr 21, 2010 | Butters says:

    I've got the same/a similar problem, with dual-booting Vista (main OS) and Win7. All my user files, created through Vista, are read-only in Win7. I can still write to the directories, but all the files are read-only. I seem to be able to get around it by right-clicking my Documents folder, selecting Security / Editing permissions, and changing the Users group to have full control. I'm not sure what security drawbacks this has (I'm the only user of the computer, so not a problem), but seems to have got round the issue.

  • Apr 21, 2010 | sjvn says:

    So long as you're the single user on a machine you can do anything you want with permissions–albeit running as administrator all the time is never a great idea–and you should be fine.

    I really don't understand why Microsoft has permitted this bug to stick around for so long. Sure you don't want any user being able to play games with file permissions, but come on! Not even letting it be done easily by the admin? Tre odd.


  • Apr 28, 2010 | aarffy says:

    This is pathetic in the extreme

  • In what way?

  • May 11, 2010 | SparK says:

    I have a solution

    go to your C:Users<username>AppDataLocalMicrosoftDevice Metadatadmrccache
    and erase every hidden folder

    in my case my downloads folder was putting everything as read-only so when files were about to finish downloading firefox failed the download, because you can create files but not modify ¬¬
    I changed the attribute, but everytime i opened the properties, there it was again

    there was a hidden download folder on my AppDataLocalMicrosoftDevice Metadatadmrccache
    I erased it and then it worked
    cmd prompt gave it away when i changed the attrib, it said that the folder was hidden and couldn't be modifield and gave me that path, a single shift-delete solved it.

  • Aug 2, 2010 | tpnw says:

    this worked perfectly win7 64bit fully patched up

    was mounting the drives in linux via smbfs (debian 5.05 fully updated) with file_mode and dir_mode and they were always readonly (0550 and 0440 instead of the requested 0770 and 0660).

    ran the attrib -s -r command on the 2 folders i care about mounting elsewhere and problem solved. thanks!

  • Aug 20, 2010 | kleinberg says:

    apple has a similar bug with permissions. i had it twice.

    but they provide a working 'fix permissions' power bottom in disk utility. one click done.

  • Sep 20, 2010 | Crab says:

    Thanks for the help! My user folder (of all things) started having this glitch. EVERY THING installs to the user folder and this was driving me crazy. The lock is still displayed, but after using your command line fix the actual issue seems to be resolved.


  • Sep 29, 2010 | ThanksMicrosoft says:

    The whole reason Microsoft designed the "read only" bug is to get people to panic and upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7 hoping it would fix it. There are so many stories of Windows Vista being horrible on compatability and stability, and seeing as how its release was so close to Windows 7 one can assume that it was a plan to avoid being sent to court for this type of behavior, stating that "We're a multi-billion dollar corporation in a fight for monopoly with Apple and we really don't know what the hell we're doing". A multi-billion dollar corporation like Microsoft doesn't make mistakes. It's just psychology against the consumer. They extend support of Windows XP, to cover for it, but in the end they're just coercing you to constantly upgrade.

    This is a major bug. Programs don't run because they can't write to file. They're half baked if they think this will pass for "something working as intented".

  • Sep 29, 2010 | ThanksMacrosoft says:

    It's reasonable to assume that a company would have to release products now and again to stay afloat, however that would only hold water if a product worked reliably for an extended period of time.

    I've never owned an Apple computer, but from what I know of other Apple products and Mac owners, Apple customers are loyal because they don't contend with these types of issues on this scale (would they do the same if the situations were reversed?…). Don't get me wrong, PC's are great: its versatility is its strength, but when you introduce instability, you throw that all out the window.

    People buy name brand products to avoid headaches. Microsoft is making Apple a name brand product. Maybe they just gave up.

  • Sep 30, 2010 | ReadOnlyFeature says:

    Google "read only bug windows xp". You'll see some great marketing at work.

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