Is it Safe to Delete This File? – Ask Leo!

Is it Safe to Delete This File? – Ask Leo!


The one thing you need to do before you hit delete.

When running out of disk space, considering what you can delete makes sense. I’ll look at the steps to determine whether a file, such as a .dat file, may be important.

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My C: and D: drives have many gigabytes of .DAT files under “Documents and Settings”. I’m trying to free up space on the C: drive. Is it safe to delete these files? I really don’t know what they are, how they got there, or why they occupy so much space on my computer!

I don’t know.

Honestly, I have no idea what they are, how they got there, or why they occupy so much space. That’s the problem with “.dat” files — there’s no way to know what they are without more information.

But I do have ideas on how to determine if deleting them is ok, and ways to do it safely — and these ideas apply to any file.




Summary: Deleting a file safely

  • Back up the file or files.
  • Delete (or rename) them.
  • Use your computer to see if there are related failures.
  • Reboot, watching for related failures.
  • Use your computer, and keep watching for problems related to the files’ removal.
  • Restore from your backup if there turn out to be issues.

.DAT?

There’s no way to know what a “.dat” file is without knowing what program created it. The file extension “.dat” is a generic extension, often used to represent nothing more specific than “data”. As a result, it is used by many, many applications. There’s no way to know what the file contains or what to do with it without first knowing which application created it.

So, how do you determine if a file — any file — matters?

Well, my first suggestion is the most important one.

Back up first

Before you do anything, back up the files. Copy them to thumb drives, copy them to another computer, take an image backup of your machine, if you like; just make sure there’s a copy somewhere else in case you really did need that file after all.

You may find the file is an important part of some application you rely on daily, or worse, an application you only use once a month or so. If you simply delete the file, it’s gone without reasonable hope of recovery. If you’ve backed it up somehow, you’ll not only be able to remove it from your system, but put it back if you discover removing it was a mistake.

Safe delete

After backing up, my next steps are fairly simple.

  1. Rename the file or files.
  2. Use your computer for a while.
  3. Reboot.
  4. Use your computer for a while longer.

If an error occurs related to the missing original file name, you now know what the file was about, and can decide what to do based on the error you get. If you discover no errors, you’re ready to move to the next step.

  1. Delete the file or files.
  2. Use your computer for a while.
  3. Reboot.
  4. Use your computer for a while longer.

Do a variety of tasks on your computer to exercise some of the applications you have on the machine. Once again, if an error occurs related to the now-missing file, you now know what the file was about, and can decide appropriately based on the error you get. If you discover no errors, you’re done. Sort of.

  1. Remember you deleted the file and where you put the backup.

Our simple tests above may not have fired up the application or duplicated the scenario requiring the file. You may not find out until some lengthy time down the road that the file you deleted some months ago turned out to be part of an application you haven’t touched in ages. Hence, again, the importance of the backup.

If you can’t delete

If you can’t delete or rename the file, it’s possible that’s because the file is in use.

That’s great! It tells you that the file matters. If you like, you can then use a tool such as Process Explorer to figure out what program’s using it. Once you figure that out, you can once again decide the right course of action, based on knowing which application is accessing the file.

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This post was written by Leo Notenboom and was first posted to AskLeo.com

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