Fix ‘Error Occurred Applying Attributes to the File’ on Windows

The ‘error occurred applying attributes to the file‘ issue occurs for certain Windows users whenever they try to open certain files hosted locally or on a shared domain. Regardless of the action that they choose at this prompt, the error message will return the next time they try to open the file again.

Error Applying Attributes – An error occurred applying attributes to the file.

What’s causing the ‘error occurred applying attributes to the file‘ issue?

  • File or folder isn’t owned by active user – In most cases, this error message will appear due to the fact that the currently active user is not allowed to manage the file. This typically happens after an upgrade to Windows 10, where the user chooses to keep old files. In this case, you can resolve the issue by taking ownership of the file.
  • Insufficient permissions – As it turns out, the issue can also occur in situations where the user needs to modify certain attributes but the currently configured permissions are not enough. If this scenario is applicable, you can resolve the issue easily by opening the Properties screen and adjusting the permissions.
  • The file is encrypted – If you obtained the file through an email attachment or by downloading it from the Internet, it’s possible that you’re seeing the error message due to the fact that the file in question is encrypted. In this case, you can get the issue fixed by asking the owner of the file to share the encryption certificate so you can open the file.
  • System File Corruption – File corruption is another likely culprit that might lead to the apparition of this error. In this case, you can resolve the issue by resetting every OS component. To do this, you can either go for a clean install or you can keep your personal data via a repair install (in-place upgrade).

Method 1: Taking ownership of the file

In the vast majority of cases, this problem will occur due to an ownership problem. As it turns out, it’s very likely that you’re seeing the ‘error occurred applying attributes to the file’ issue due to the fact that your OS doesn’t have the appropriate permissions to open the file.

This is typically encountered with computers that have recently gone through an upgrading process to Windows 10 from an older windows version. Typically, during this upgrading process, some account information gets changed and access ownership is denied for certain files that survived the migration process.

If this scenario is applicable, you can resolve the issue easily by taking ownership of the file or folder that’ triggering the ‘error occurred applying attributes to the file’. 

Here’s a quick guide on how to do this:

Note: The instructions below should work on every recent version of Windows (Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10).

  1. Open File Explorer and navigate to the folder or file that is exhibiting this behavior. Once you get there, right-click on it and choose Properties from the newly appeared context menu.
  2. Once you’re inside the Properties screen,  use the horizontal tab at the top of the screen to access the Security tab.
  3. With the security tab selected, click on the Advanced button (under Permissions for).
  4. Once you manage to get inside the Advanced Security Settings menu for the file that is showing the error, look for the Owner section at the top of the screen and click on the Change button associated with it.
  5. Next, inside the Select User or Group section, go over to the Enter the object name to select menu and type Everyone inside the text box. Then, proceed by clicking on the Check Names button to validate the Everyone category.
  6. Once you get this far, the ownership of the file or folder has already been changed. All you have to do now is click on Apply to save the new changes.
    Changing the ownership to everyone

After you do this, try to re-open the file that you just modified the permissions on and see if the same issue is still occurring.

Method 2: Adjusting the permissions

As it turns out, this particular issue can also occur due to a fairly common Windows 10 error that typically occurs when the system needs to apply certain attributes. When this happens, it’s possible that some files or folders don’t have Full control even in situations where the file is configured to be opened by the Administrators group.

If this scenario is applicable, you should be able to resolve the issue by modifying the permissions for administrators. Several affected users have confirmed that this operation was successful in allowing them to open the file or folder without encountering the ‘error occurred applying attributes to the file’ issue.

Here’s a quick guide on how to adjust the permissions of the file or folder that is failing with this particular error:

  1. Open File Explorer and navigate to the location of the file that is failing with this particular error.
  2. Once you get to the correct location, right-click on the file that is giving you troubles, right-click on it and choose Properties from the context menu.
  3. After you’re inside the Properties screen, select the Security tab from the horizontal menu at the top.
  4. Next, select the Administrators Group from the box under Group or user names and then click on the Edit button to modify the currently enforced Permissions.
    Editing the permissions of the file or folder
  5. As soon as you do this, you’ll be taken to the Permissions window. Once you get there, set the box associated with Full control to allow and click Apply to save the changes.
    Changing Permissions
  6. If you are prompted by the UAC (User Account Control) prompt, click Yes to grant the administrative privileges required to make the modifications.In case the same issue has still occurred or the file/folder already had the correct permissions, move down to the next method below.

Method 3: Checking if the file is encrypted

According to several different user reports, this issue can also occur due to the fact that the file or folder that’s triggering the  ‘error occurred applying attributes to the file’ issue is actually encrypted.

Several companies encrypt all files by default, and some even configure their email clients to encrypt files automatically upon sending. If you received the file via an email attachment or you downloaded it via the internet, it’s possible that it was encrypted to protect it from unwanted access.

Although you will need to get the appropriate security certificate if you want to open an encrypted file, you can still check fairly easily if the file is encrypted or not.

Here’s a quick guide on checking to see if the file is encrypted or not:

  1. Open File Explorer and navigate to the file that is showing the error message. Once you get to the correct location, right-click on it and choose Properties from the newly appeared context menu.
  2. When you manage to get inside the Properties screen, go to the General tab from the horizontal menu at the top and click on the Advanced button associated with the Attributes section.
    Accessing the Attributes settings
  3. Once you’re inside the Advanced attributes section, move down to the Compress encrypt attributes and check to see if the box associated with Encrypt contents to secure data is checked.
    Example of an encrypted file
  4. If your investigation reveals that the file is indeed encrypted, the only viable fix that will allow you to open the file normally is to reach out to the owner of the file and ask them to share the encryption certificate so that you can install it on your machine and open the file.

In case this fix was not applicable to your current situation, move down to the final potential fix below.

Method 4: Performing a repair install / clean install

As it turns out, the  ‘error occurred applying attributes to the file’ issue can also appear in an instance where the affected machine is dealing with an underlying cause of system file corruption that ends up affecting the file management function.

If you’ve come this far without a viable fix, chances are you will need to reset every Windows component (including BCD data) in order to ensure that the problem gets resolved.

When it comes to doing this, you have two ways forward:

  • Doing a Clean install – This operation is quick, efficient, and it will reset every Windows component without requiring a compatible installation media. But the major downside is that unless you back up the data in advance, every bit of personal information (including games, applications, personal media) will be lost.
  • Doing a Repair install (in-place upgrade) – This is a more tedious operation that requires you to insert a viable installation media. But the major advantage is that it will only touch Windows components. So personal media, games, applications, and even some user preferences will remain intact after the operation is complete.

Feel free to follow whichever route is more convenient for your particular scenario.

Kevin Arrows
Kevin is a dynamic and self-motivated information technology professional, with a Thorough knowledge of all facets pertaining to network infrastructure design, implementation and administration. Superior record of delivering simultaneous large-scale mission critical projects on time and under budget.

Expert Tip

Fix ‘Error Occurred Applying Attributes to the File’ on Windows

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