An executable file or .exe is a type of file on Windows that denotes an installed program or application. An executable file is a file that can be executed by the operating system. When you click on an .exe file, the system is able to run the corresponding program because the file is in a format that it can read and “execute”.
Every native Windows application, installed program, and downloaded game has an .exe component, which is the main program file. Without this file, the program would be just a collection of useless files. The .exe file format is the default application mode on all iterations of the Windows operating system.
Usually, once a program is installed, you can click its desktop icon and run the program. The icon is linked to the main executable file, so once it’s clicked, the program loads and starts running.
In some cases, especially for small programs, you have to click the actual executable file. But, even then, the principle remains the same.
So, what happens if Windows cannot open an .exe file after you’ve clicked on it? Many users have been complaining about this in Windows forums and looking for how to fix an .exe file that won’t open. As per these users, clicking on the application file does nothing or displays the “Can’t open .exe file” error notification.
All indications are that this issue is happening on the latest version of Windows 10, so it’s unlikely to be linked to using an old operating system. Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 users alike have expressed their frustration about it.
As with basically every Windows issue, solutions abound. However, it would be great to know what caused an issue so that adequate steps can be taken to avoid it happening again once it’s been solved.
So, if you’ve been facing the issue of being unable to open .exe files on Windows 10, this article will be your guide. At least one of the solutions given should resolve your situation.
“Why Can’t I Run EXE Files in Windows 10?”
Of all the file types that work on Windows, the executable file format is perhaps the most “natural”. It is associated with the Windows operating system and is expected to just work. So, when an executable file is clicked and nothing happens, it should be surprising.
There are several reasons why clicking an .exe file might not result in a loading app or open program. Here is a rundown of the major causes:
- System issues. Windows is a labyrinth of files, components, drivers, and configurations, and random conflicts might occur. Corrupt system files or faulty components can prevent the user from successfully opening an application file.
- Viruses and their kindred are a considerable threat to the integrity of Windows operations. If malware infiltrates a computer, it can do a wide range of damage, including preventing apps from opening.
- Bad shortcut. Most installed programs are opened via a desktop shortcut. If the shortcut has been compromised by malware, it may target the wrong source, thus being unable to open the parent application. Furthermore, the shortcut might have become corrupt, meaning it no longer works. This would make using it to open the main application a fruitless endeavor.
- Corrupt registry entry. Again, this might be indirectly attributed to malware infection. Some types of threats change the registry settings on the computer and mess up the system’s processes. If the registry entry that handles .exe files has been corrupted, the user might have problems with executing apps and programs.
- Third-party tools. Some third-party programs can change the default configuration of executable files on the computer without authorization. When you download a program from the Internet, another one might get installed alongside it if you don’t choose Custom Install and disable it. The unwanted program might change the system’s properties, thus causing issues with opening .exe files.
With the common causes of this issue now clear, you’re going to learn how to enable .exe files in Windows 10. The issue is not too difficult to resolve. You can use the best workarounds and hacks given in this guide.
How to Fix a Program File Not Opening in Windows 10
If you cannot launch the executable file for a certain program, it means you’ll have to go without the app, service, program or game’s functionality for as long as the issue persists. This is obviously unacceptable since using programs is the whole point of a computer.
When this happens, you must find a solution immediately. Since this is why you’re here, you can dive into the collection of possible fixes listed in this guide. You can either work your way down or jump to a fix you haven’t tried yet depending on how deep you’ve gone with the troubleshooting.
Check the system for malware
There is a wide variety of malware out there, and some malicious entities can prevent you from opening .exe files on your computer.
If your PC has been invaded by malicious software and you cannot open executable files, this is probably the cause. You’d have to get rid of the threats first to restore full functionality to Windows.
Here, you might consider yourself spoilt for choice. Apart from the pre-installed Windows Defender, you might have a preferred tool to eliminate threats. There’s never too much of a good thing when it comes to ensuring your computer’s safety: we recommend you try Auslogics Anti-Malware to clear out all damaging software on your computer.
Auslogics Anti-Malware works great as a secondary security option, so there’s no need for you to nix your main antivirus. Once you’ve downloaded and installed the tool, run it with admin rights and use the full scan option to give your system a thorough security check.
Protect PC from Threats with Anti-Malware
Check your PC for malware your antivirus may miss and get threats safely removed with Auslogics Anti-Malware
Once you’ve eliminated discovered threats from your computer, make sure to reboot it, and you should now be able to open your favorite programs without any annoying .exe error.
To get the best results, you might have to perform this fix after enabling Safe Mode.
Mend the .exe file association
If you get the Open With dialog box when you click an executable file, it means that there’s a file association issue on Windows. This can also happen if the system tries to open the file in another program instead of simply loading it outright.
When the file associations for .exe files are changed, your program, game or app might not start. Instead, you get an opportunity to use another app to open the file. Or you get nothing.
A corrupt file association is an issue many Windows users don’t know how to resolve. Luckily, you can use the Command Prompt program to quickly re-associate executable files with the .exe file type. All you need to do is enter a single command.
To do this, launch the Command Prompt with admin rights. Right-click the Start menu and select Command Prompt (Admin) from the list. If the option has been replaced, type “cmd” into Search and click “Run as administrator” under Command Prompt in the search results.
If the Command Prompt won’t open normally, open File Explorer, go to C/Windows/System32 and search for “cmd.exe”. Right-click the file and select “Run as administrator”.
When the Command Prompt opens, type or paste the line below and hit the Enter key to run the command:
This will re-establish the association between executable files and the .exe file extension. You shouldn’t encounter further issues when you click on an app or program file.
Change executable file parameters in the registry
When values in the registry are changed, it can prevent you from opening executable files. Each major file type has its opening parameters recorded in the registry, and when the values that affect executable files are modified, the system might no longer be able to load the files when clicked.
You can go into the registry to check if this is the case and change the keys back to their default values if needed.
The first step is to open the Registry Editor. Type “regedit” into Search and hit the Enter key to quickly open the Registry Editor app. The next step is to create a registry backup. This could prove useful later if something goes wrong and you need to restore the registry to the way it was. Right-click Computer in the left pane of the Registry Editor and select Export. When the Export window opens, give the backup a name, choose a familiar location for the file, and then click Export.
Next, use the left-hand side to navigate to the path below or use the path bar:
Head over to the right pane and double-click the Default key. Check that the value in the Value Data field is “exefile”. If the Value Data field displays any other value, clear it and change the value to “exefile”. Click OK to confirm the change.
Next, use the left-hand side to navigate to the path below or use the path bar:
Head over to the right pane, double-click the Default key, and change the value in the Value Data field to “%1” %* and click OK to confirm the change.
Finally, navigate to the path below in the Registry Editor:
Like before, move to the right pane, double-click the Default key, and change the value in the Value Data field to “%1” %* and click OK to confirm the change.
When you’ve made these three changes, close the Registry Editor and reboot your system. Once you log back in, any executable file you click should open instantly.
Try a different user account
Several users mentioned that simply using a different user account had solved the problem for them. If you’ve so far been unsuccessful in fixing the issue, you can try this method as well.
If it works, you can just copy or move your files to the new account and keep using it.
Here’s how to create a new user account on Windows 10:
- Open Settings and select Accounts.
- On the left pane, select “Family & other users”.
- Head over to the right and select “Add someone else to this PC” under “Other users”.
- On the “How will this person sign in?” screen, click the “I don’t have this person’s sign-in information” link.
- On the next screen, click the “Add a user without a Microsoft account” link.
- Then enter the credentials for the new user account and click Next.
Once you have added a new user account, sign into the account and test whether executable files are working. If so, you can make it an admin account and move all your stuff over to it.
Run the DISM and SFC tools
One reason for this issue that is often overlooked is system file corruption. Corrupt system files can cause normal operations, like opening .exe files, to stop working. You may need to scan the files and repair the damaged ones before the issue can be resolved.
Fortunately, you don’t need to download any third-party tool for this. What you need is right there on your system. The SFC and DISM tools can help you check if anything is wrong with the system files and repair any errors.
Microsoft recommends running DISM and SFC scans together on Windows 10. While SFC checks individual system files for possible corruption, DISM checks the entire system image for potential bad sectors.
On Windows 10, run DISM first. Open an elevated Command Prompt window as previously shown and run the command below:
Dism.exe /online /cleanup-image /restorehealth
DISM will check the system image for any damaged parts and attempt to rectify any identified anomaly. If it needs to replace anything, it will download the replacement via Windows Update.
For this reason, make sure your PC is connected to the internet when you run the tool.
Once DISM has finished scanning, go ahead and run an SFC scan. Run the command below in the open Command Prompt window:
You may need to wait a while, so grab a coffee if you can. SFC will check individual files for corruption, damage or absence and replace any problematic system file with a fresh copy from the local Windows cache.
Once the scan is done, check the report message. If you’re told that it found some errors and fixed them, perhaps your problem has been solved.
Irrespective of the message you get, restart the computer and attempt to launch an .exe file. With any luck, the program will load and there won’t be further issues.
Restore the location of the Program Files folders
On Windows 10, Program Files and Program Files (x86) are the default installation folders for 64-bit and 32-bit third-party apps respectively. They are located in the root of the system drive, along with the Windows folder and other primary directories.
You might have changed the location of this folder or modified it in some other way. Some people do this in order to save space, though there could be other reasons. Either way, this can sometimes lead to issues like .exe files not opening.
If you’ve previously tampered with the Program Files folders, you should be able to undo the damage by changing things back to their defaults via the Registry Editor:
- Open the Registry Editor and take a backup if you haven’t already done so.
- Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersion via the left pane or the path bar.
- Head over to the right pane and double-click ProgramFilesDir. Change the value in the Value Data field to “C: Program Files”.
- Now double-click ProgramFilesDir (x86) (if present) and change the value in the Value Data field to “C: Program Files (x86)”.
Exit the Registry Editor and reboot the computer.
Disable Windows Firewall
Windows Firewall automatically protects the system from malicious incoming or outgoing connections. We recommend always keeping it active.
However, several users claimed that turning off the tool had helped them to fix the issue of executable files not opening in Windows 10. Personally, we’re skeptical about the claim, but it won’t hurt to check it out if nothing else has worked so far.
Note that irrespective of whether it works or not, you shouldn’t permanently disable Windows Firewall unless you have no intention of using the internet at all. If the method works, you can leave Firewall inactive for a little while as you search for a better solution.
Here is how to disable Firewall:
- Type “Firewall” into the Search panel and select Windows Firewall from the search results.
- On the left of the Control Panel window that opens, click the “Turn Windows Firewall on or off” link.
- In the Customize Settings window, select “Turn off Windows Firewall (not recommended)” under “Private network settings”.
- Next, select “Turn off Windows Firewall (not recommended)” under “Public network settings”.
- Click the OK button to save your changes and exit the Control Panel.
Remember to go back there and enable Windows Firewall for both public and private network connections once you’ve found a better solution.
This guide has talked about how to fix the “.exe file won’t open correctly” issue in Windows 10. Being unable to open executable files in Windows is something that should never happen, and using our guide should help you get the system working normally again in no time.