Microsoft Word: This document cannot be registered

I received a call from a user who says she had received this error that’s troubling her.  I open up the file and after it opens, the following message is displayed:

This document cannot be registered. It will not be possible to create links from this document to other documents.

I figure that maybe it’s something with the file, but multiple files in the folder are displaying the same error. A quick Google search will direct you to the following knowledge base article: KB176444.  Now this article seems to claim that Office is somehow broken with a corrupt registry entry, but that would mean that all documents being opened in Word would be showing the same message, which is not the case.  Additional searches show pretty much the same thing, or even to ensure that services like DCOM are started, which just doesn’t make any sense here.

I then took to looking at the file server’s open files and sessions, but that led nowhere.  Some of the files in question were open, others were not.  At this point, I ruled out the server as the problem.  However, it was happening on both her computer and mine, so it wasn’t machine- or user-specific.

Further investigation showed that there were some files within the folder which could open, so it wasn’t a permissions issue or corrupt folder.  Moving files wouldn’t work.  Trying to copy the files wouldn’t work.  The files definitely had content, so the files themselves weren’t corrupt either.  In an attempt to rename a file, that’s when I remembered an issue from the last file server migration I performed.

The problem here is really with the UNC path, which in this case has exceeded 256 characters (spaces are characters: ASCII 32).  The UNC path is the entire name of the file and its folders if you were to specifically address the file.  A good example is C:\Users\Mike\Documents\filename 1.docx.  This UNC path is 39 characters.  Once a UNC path exceeds 256 characters, pretty much any operation on this document will fail.  The easiest way to quickly resolve this problem is to rename an excessively long filename or folder to something very short.  The long-term solution is to change your naming convention of filenames or folders.

This 256-character limitation is by design and will affect 32-bit and 64-bit installations, so there really isn’t any way around it.  While it may appear to be helpful to you to be very specific with folders or filenames, it can really hurt you in the long-run.

“There are seldom good technical solutions to behavioral problems.”

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About Mike S.
I work on computers and pretty much anything that plugs in. I'm also an avid gamer, and huge Bruins fan. Yay me....

8 Responses to Microsoft Word: This document cannot be registered

  1. Julian Ladbury says:

    Many thanks for posting this. Saved me a lot of time and resolved a customer problem quickly.

  2. Charu NZ says:

    Great!
    Very true ……..before getting distracted with the DCOM services issues, etc, simply check the file path + file name – whether this exceeds 255 chars …..especially if you are able to open other word docs from the same folder successfully without this error!
    I have just fixed mine by renaming the file

  3. giorgenio says:

    Thanks, Very good analyses, it is true. This is happening especially with saved files in the Cloud.
    Thank you for helping to resolve the issue.
    Regards, Giorgio

    • Mike S. says:

      I’m glad it helped and thank you for the compliment. I’m not surprised that Cloud storage is also affected by this.

  4. Finally got an answer that not only made sense, but worked! I had a deep hierarchy with long file and folder names. I kept changing the file name over and over again until it worked without error, shortening it each time. I could only have a file name as long as 19 characters. It seemed really odd.

    I was able to keep the long file name. It was the only place where it was really required. For everything else, I shorted the folder names in the path, which did the trick.

    I thought that the 255 UNC convention only applied to the file name, not the whole path. That’s where I found my issue.

    Thank you!

    • Mike S. says:

      I’m really glad this worked for you. My goal has been to provide back to the internet for all the times it’s saved my bacon. The UNC part seems to throw everyone off, because it’s assumed by most of us that just the mapped drive part is used, when the mapped drive itself could be deeply buried in a server’s file structure itself.

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