Different Methods to Fix "Cannot Open PDF" Error

Adobe Acrobat reader is part of Adobe Inc's family of application software. This free tool supports viewing, printing, and annotating Portable Document Files (PDF) files. When you cannot open PDF, the problem could be an Acrobat Reader problem, or it may be more complicated and require a comprehensive solution. PDF documents are the defacto standard for sharing files and ensuring the organization and flow is not easily modifiable by the recipient. This article will take you through several ways to fix the "cannot open PDF" error.

Part 1: Why does "cannot open pdf" occur?

But, let's begin by examining some of the reasons that you cannot open PDF. The following are the main reasons a PDF won't open:

  • Unsupported file type: This is the most common reason you cannot open PDF. Occasionally some files may erroneously have the default application set to Adobe Reader. This problem is usually an inadvertent human error.
  • Outdated Acrobat or Adobe Reader: An outdated Adobe Reader or Acrobat program will throw this error. Adobe Inc continuously releases updates of its software to incorporate new features and enhance security.
  • PDF files created using non-Adobe programs: Many programs can make portable document files. Unfortunately, some of these programs do not follow the correct standards. The result is that you cannot open PDF.
  • Damaged PDF files: Sometimes, someone may send you a damaged file. The damage could have occurred during the document's creation or email transmission where the document isn't correctly decoded.
  • Damaged Installed Adobe Reader: A damaged installation of Adobe Reader or Acrobat often gives the error "cannot open PDF." Damage is caused by an interrupted installation process, an update from Windows 7 to Windows 10, or the computer's file system's corruption. Corruption can occur due to incorrect power shutdown, software failure, or hardware malfunction.
  • PDF files have a virus: The inbuilt Windows Defender or computer virus software can prevent you from opening a PDF file if a virus is detected.

Cannot open PDF

Part 2: 5 Different Methods to Fix The "Cannot Open PDF" Error.

Let's now consider five different methods to fix the "cannot open PDF" error.

Method 1: Disable the protected mode at startup

Starting with version XI, Adobe Reader has a protected mode that runs files in a sandbox. This security feature ensures that malicious code that may be resident in the PDF does not infect system directories and the Windows registry. There is also a protected view where most features are disabled. You can tell if the document is in protected view by looking for a yellow ribbon at the top of the document. In protected view, the documents open, but the other features are all disabled.

When protected mode is on, you cannot open PDF in some cases. To check the status of this code, navigate to File, scroll down to Properties, click Advanced, and finally Protected Mode. To disable the protected mode, follow the steps below:

Step 1: Select Edit and scroll down to Preferences.

Step 2: In the Categories list on the left, select Security (Enhanced).

Step 3: In the Categories on the left, click Security (Enhanced) and the Sandbox Protections section, uncheck the Enable Protected Mode at startup. Click Yes in the pop-up window, then OK and restart Adobe.

Disable Adobe protected mode

Please note that while this method may fix the cannot open PDF error, it also dispenses with the protections put in place by the developer to ensure your computer isn't infected with malicious code.

Method 2: Install the latest version of Adobe Acrobat

An old version of Adobe Acrobat cannot open PDF files created using newer versions. You need to update your Adobe Acrobat Reader to the latest version. To perform an update, follow the steps below:

Step 1: Click Help and scroll down to Check for Updates.

Step 2: Click Check for Updates and wait for the application to connect to the Adobe server.

Step 3: After a few minutes, the update is downloaded and installed. Restart Adobe and see if the problem persists.

Check for Adobe updates

Method 3: Checking if the PDF file is damaged

Errors sometimes occur during the creation of PDF files. It is not possible to open such files. The file may also get damaged while being sent over the email. In such a situation, the best thing to do is ask the sender to resend the file.

For damaged PDF files, the best solution is to use a professional PDF file recovery tool. We recommend Stellar Toolkit for File Repair, an advanced software tool to recover and repair damaged PDF files without making any modifications to the original file. Follow the steps below to fix a damaged PDF file:

Step 1: Download and install Stellar Toolkit for File Repair from the Developers website. Launch the tool using the desktop icon.

Step 2: Click Repair Document from the dashboard.

Repair PDF in Stellar Toolkit

Step 3: To locate and add the file you want to repair, click Add.

Add PDF files to Stellar

Step 4: The added file is displayed.

Adding PDFs in Stellar

Step 5: To start repairing the file, click Repair. After the process is complete, click OK.

Saving PDF files in Stellar

Step 6: Preview the repaired file or files and click Save Repaired Files, then click OK. A dialog box will notify you that the file(s) have been saved successfully.

Saving Repaired PDF files in Stellar

Method 4: Using an older version of Adobe Reader or Acrobat

Some older PDF documents make not be compatible with newer versions of Adobe Reader or Acrobat in some cases, especially those that were created using non-Adobe products and are non-compliant with Adobe specifications and standards. This is a tricky issue because it isn't possible to update a document to use the current Adobe version.

The only workaround is to look for an old version of Adobe Reader online or a computer with an older Adobe Reader version. Where you already have the latest Adobe Reader running on your computer, you will have to uninstall it first and then look for an installer for the older version. Adobe has an FTP site where older versions of Adobe Reader can be downloaded.

Adobe FTP site for old Reader versions

Method 5. Set Adobe as the Default PDF Owner

We had alluded to this being a common problem. Sometimes other applications are set as the default application. When this happens, you get the "cannot open PDF" error. To set your system to automatically open PDF documents using Adobe Reader, follow the steps below:

Step 1: Right-click the PDF, select Open With and then choose the default program.

Choose Adobe Acrobat Reader as default program

Step 2: Select always to use the selected program to open PDF files and then click OK.

Adobe Acrobat Reader as default program

Method 6: Repairing your Adobe Acrobat or Reader

The final method involves repairing your Adobe Acrobat or reader using the inbuilt repair tool. To fix the installation, click Help, then scroll down and click Repair Installation.

Repair Adobe Acrobat Reader installation

The Windows installer will be launched, and Adobe will be re-installed on your computer. This will fix any missing or broken components. Once complete, restart your computer and try opening the PDF document again.

The Bottom Line

From the preceding, there are many ways to fix the "cannot open PDF" error. Always begin by troubleshooting and zeroing in on the exact issue that has led to the problem. With this information, you can apply the correct fix from our list of suggested solutions. For damaged PDF files, your best bet is using Stellar Toolkit for File Repair. We hope we have provided you with all the information you need to fix the "cannot open PDF" error.

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