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LockHunter: a capable and easy-to-use file unlocker

19 June 2012, Mike Williams

It should be simple. All you want to do is copy, move, maybe delete a particular file. And yet Windows won’t allow it, complaining instead that the file is “in use”. It’s annoying, but don’t give up: LockHunter can help.

Once installed, a quick right-click displays a new “What is locking this file?” option, and if you choose this then LockHunter will pop up, telling you which process “owns” the file. Or that’s the idea, anyway – the program would occasionally give odd results in our tests, though for the most part it worked just fine.

Just knowing which process is holding on to a file can be very useful. And if it’s not something system-critical then your next step should be to close it down. Which will free up the file, and allow you to do anything you like with it.

If you can’t close the process, though, just clicking “Unlock It!” will probably be enough to free up the file for you. But beware: there’s no telling how the locking process will behave now. It might lose data, crash, even bring down your entire PC, there are no guarantees.

You'll immediately see which process is holding your file

There is one scenario where you’ll probably want to continue with LockHunter anyway, though – and that’s where you’ve identified a malware component and are trying (unsuccessfully) to delete it. This can be a real challenge, but the program provides a few additional options which could prove useful.

Clicking Other > Unlock and Rename, for instance, will rename the file to whatever you choose. If this is a malicious executable then with any luck it won’t be relaunched again.

If you think the locking process is also malware then you can click Other > Close Locking Process to terminate it, and there’s even a “Delete locking processes from disk” option to get rid of them forever.

Of course deleting processes in this way is even more risky, and if you accidentally remove something important then you could crash your PC, and then find it won’t boot up again. Don’t even think of trying this unless you’ve a full system backup available.

If you know what you’re doing and are fully prepared, though, LockHunter provides a quick and easy way to unlock files and then delete, rename, copy or otherwise work with them. And if you ever need to manually remove malware then that can be very useful indeed.

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