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A file corruption refers to any accidental or intentional damage done to data within a file. Although file corruption can take many forms and may occur for different reasons, the end result is always the same: your files are unreadable.
You can sometimes reverse and repair corruption in files, but it’s rarely possible. Understanding the causes of corruption and what you can do to prevent it is better.
A file is an ensemble of similar data. It can be an individual unit that has been written in a particular format. A Microsoft Office Word file contains data that is directly related to the Word documents you’ve created. Your document would not be possible to view if you could only read half of the file. You wouldn’t be able to access all of the information even if it were possible. A spreadsheet in Excel with randomly changed or missing values would not be useful.
A computer file is made up of binary code. Binary code is simply a string made up of zeros and ones that have been grouped into bit sets. This represents data similar to a letter.
The binary code 01000001 is the ASCII code that represents the letter A. The binary code 01000001 is used to represent the letter “A”. If one bit of the ASCII code is changed into 0, the “A” will become an “@”!!
At its most basic, this is corruption. A file can be corrupted by changing or erasing the bits within it. This results in a file that is unreadable, or partially readable.
Depending on what files are corrupted, and the importance of those files, file corruption can present as a variety of symptoms.
Cyclic redundancy check (CRC), checks if a file has been properly stored and is complete. CRCs use a formula that applies to data from the original file. This results in an output number. The output number must be identical if you use the exact same formula for any other copy. You may have a damaged file or an altered one if the numbers are different.
This error is most common when you try to copy data from an optical drive that has failed or a dying hard disk. However, many applications can also give this error if they check their files against a correct table.
A corrupt file will cause it to not open, or may open but with garbled results. Some file types can be streamed, which makes them more tolerant of damage. Media player apps can sometimes show image breakups or stutters if there is a corrupt video file. However, the media player app will play the whole file.
Other file types such as those you have created may also open, but could be lacking vital information such as the actual value or format.
They may appear more subtle when resource and settings files required by an application become corrupted. While the program may not crash or fail, it could cause subcomponents to malfunction, make errors, or even stop functioning altogether.
It can seriously affect your computer if you have corrupted the system files. It is possible to experience sudden, seemingly unrelated BSODs (Blue Screen of Death), or a system that doesn’t function as intended. These types of file corruption are the most serious and often indicate that there is a problem with your hardware.
But, we now understand what corruption looks like. How does this happen?
Corruption is simply the alteration or destruction of bits values. However, the reasons for these changing values can vary greatly. Because computer media can come in many formats and store binary digits differently, this is why corruption has such varied causes.
An unexpected power outage is the leading reason storage devices suffer file corruption. Particularly for mechanical hard drives where data can be lost if the power is cut while the disk is being written to, this is a common problem. In the past the write/read head of the drive could be damaged if there was no power. However, modern drives have the ability to “park” their heads when power is lost.
However, this does not necessarily mean that solid-state or mechanical drives will be impervious data loss and corruption. The drive might only have a portion of its data if it was writing when power went out. Both drives have volatile cache memory. The data stored inside these drives is destroyed if power goes out.
Storage media are limited in their lifespan. Storage media can eventually wear down or malfunction. This failure can happen slowly or suddenly. Anybody who’s dealt with hard drives mechanically knows about the “click of death”, which many drives experience before succumbing to their fate.
Hard drives are not the only ones affected. A bad RAM could cause data corruption. Incorrect values can be written to the drive, or scratched optical discs can make it impossible to read due to physical damage.
Software that is maliciously designed or written by malware includes all software. Malware infection can cause data corruption and destruction, either by design or accident. For the most part, malware authors have little motivation to delete your data. They would instead hold your data hostage to make money or steal it for the black market.
Sometimes malware’s purpose is to create chaos and destruction. Malware that is designed to destroy or corrupt data can often be so difficult to retrieve.
Although it’s better to stop corruption before it happens, you may be able to reverse some of its effects.
To check for errors, such as bad sector on drives, you can use a variety of Microsoft Windows or third-party utility. Utility programs can be used to analyze the operational logs of your drive to determine if a failure is likely and give you the opportunity to transfer that data to another location.
Check out How to check your hard drive for errors See the following instructions for more details.
A wide range of methods can be used to “back up” data. This includes creating ZIP files archives, backing your whole drive up to the cloud and automatically making incremental backups on an external hard drive. Corruption can become an irritation rather than a problem if there are recent backups.
We have several guides that will help you learn more about backups:
You should be able to backup your Windows system on modern Windows computers. However, macOS users may want to check our recommendations Time Machine guide .
Additionally, as an extra precaution you may also be able to Manually create a System Recovery point You can rollback to an earlier version of Windows before making any file modifications that are not directly related to hardware failure.
Some software clients allow file verification to be performed. Steam, for instance, allows file verification operations Verify if a file in a particular game has been modified You can restore original data using an online master copy.
No matter what disk type you have, it is important to unplug drives prior to ejecting them. Wait until the disk activity lights have stopped, at the minimum, before you unplug it. But, ideally, it should take only a few seconds to remove a flash drive, external hard disk, or other storage media.
Antivirus software is a good choice if you do not want to be corrupted by malware. You have many options Windows, , macOS, Linux.
You can sometimes determine whether corruption occurred to your files in some instances and They can be repaired automatically. Windows provides several tools for repairing corrupted Windows files. One of these is the System File Checker. Our guide provides all the details You can use the Command Prompt Commands for fixing or repairing corrupt files, DISM tool Use the SCANNOW command. Also, you might want to consider the CHKDSK command for drive error detection.
Last resort: Get specialized file recovery software, almost always charged. Or hire a data recovery firm to recover as much data as you can. It is expensive, and it’s not worth the effort if you have significant data. It’s worth investigating the situation before you pull out your credit card and buy file recovery software.
It’s never too late to take preventative steps if you’ve not experienced data corruption. Even if it’s for the most important and irreplaceable information.