Chrome says your file may have been moved or deleted

Last Updated on April 3, 2021 by Dave Farquhar

When opening locally stored PDFs in Chrome, sometimes Chrome says the file may have been moved or deleted. More specifically, the error message says “Your file was not found. It may have been moved or deleted. ERR_FILE_NOT_FOUND.” But nobody moved or deleted the file, because I just clicked on it. In fact, I could still see it sitting right there in Windows Explorer.

Oddly enough, I had other files in the very same folder that opened fine. No errors. Here’s how I found the problem, fixed it, and avoided it in the future.

Your file may have been moved or deleted because Chrome can’t find it

Your file was not found. It may have been moved or deleted. ERR_FILE_NOT_FOUND
Getting this error message on a file you just tried to open is frustrating, but it’s easy to avoid.

It turns out the problem is the filename. The operating system is fine with it, but a quirk in Chrome keeps Chrome from finding the file after writing it to disk. Never mind it was the program that wrote it to disk.

That explains why other files in the same folder open just fine. I found that if I have the # character anywhere in the filename, I get the error message. When I rename the file to not include that character, the file opens with no issues.

I was in the habit of using the # character in filenames because I had tracking numbers in them.

Illegal characters

The operating system doesn’t care if you put the # character in a filename, but that’s an illegal character for web browsers, so Chrome doesn’t know how to handle it. It gets confused and throws a file not found error, and says the file may have been moved or deleted, trying its best to be helpful. That, in turn, confuses you.

The # character isn’t the only illegal character as far as web browsers are concerned. Your operating system probably doesn’t care if you use most of these, but Chrome does. Here is a list of 16 characters that can cause the same problem:

# pound
< left angle bracket
> right angle bracket
+ plus sign
% percent
$ dollar sign
! exclamation point
` backtick
& ampersand
@ at sign
‘ single quotes
| pipe
{ left bracket
} right bracket
“ double quotes
= equal sign

Avoid using these characters in filenames for PDFs, if you frequently open PDFs in Chrome or another web browser. Using Chrome for PDFs is a good idea, by the way. As a security professional, I’d much rather see you avoid those characters than give up and install Adobe Reader, if you can possibly do so.

I’m not sure I want to admit how many other things I tried before I found this solution. It’s probably a good thing I lost count.

Avoiding ERR_FILE_NOT_FOUND and other problems

When you name your PDFs, to keep Chrome from saying the file may have been moved or deleted, avoid those characters. If you don’t want to memorize that list, stick to using just letters, numbers, dashes, periods, and spaces in your filenames. Letters and numbers are always safe. Any application and any operating system handles those characters without issues. Maybe this will help you remember. The characters that annoying security dudes like me tell you to use in your passwords probably aren’t good to use in PDF filenames.

You’ll find some bad advice out there that says you need to install patches or clean your registry. You may need to apply a patch (if you see an up arrow in the left hand corner of your Chrome window, it wants to update), but that pending update doesn’t have anything to do with your difficulty with PDFs. And a patch to Windows itself won’t affect Chrome in this case either.

I hope this helps you. You might also want to check out my advice on avoiding aw snap errors in Chrome.

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