Unable to open or read a PDF

Updated: 03/06/2020 by Computer Hope

No PDF reader installed

Adobe Acrobat PDF iconBefore moving onto the following sections, make sure you have a functional PDF reader program installed. As a quick test, users may click the Adobe PDF icon to the right. If you have a working PDF reader, an example PDF should open in a new window. If it doesn't, download Adobe Reader or try an alternative free PDF reader. If you don't want to install any programs, an online reader is your best solution.


Updating your PDF reader may resolve many basic issues. Always verify you have the latest version installed.

PDF is not recognizable

In some situations, the file extension Microsoft Windows uses to identify the file as a PDF may be stripped away when it is sent through e-mail. If the file does not end in .pdf, Microsoft Windows will not know how to open this file. To determine if this is your issue, follow the steps below.

  1. Save the PDF to your computer's desktop.
  2. Open your PDF reader. Found through the Start menu.
  3. Drag the saved PDF from the computer desktop to the reader. If the file is valid, it should open.

File is corrupt

If the example PDF opened when you clicked the image above, but the suggestion did not help, your PDF file may be corrupt. Re-download the PDF or, if it's an attachment, request that the e-mail be sent again. There are also some software utilities to "fix" a corrupted PDF, though none we fully recommend at the time of this writing. You can find these utilities by performing a Google search.


If the PDF is corrupt, the PDF reader still opens a blank window. You may also see a warning or error message stating the PDF cannot be opened.

Additional information