Any veteran of Excel has probably seen this error dialog:

And dealing with this can be a major pain. What makes resolving this particular problem difficult is that there are multiple causes for the problem, and thus multiple solutions. This article attempts to break the file locking problem down categorically so that it's easy to diagnose and fix. Please feel free to leave any feedback!

Things to do to resolve the problem

I. Install the latest rollup and updates

Install the update in the following rollup and then install the three updates referenced in the rollup article (total of four updates).

Note: Before installing these updates you must first install SP1 for Windows 7 or Windows 2008 R2 (http://support.microsoft.com/kb/976932).

Rollup article:

"An enterprise hotfix rollup is available for Windows 7 SP1 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1"
http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2775511/EN-US

These are the individual links to the 4 updates to install. You do not need the reg keys mentioned in the article as they are for the specific issues listed with the reg keys which is unrelated.

Update for Windows Server 2008 R2 for Itanium-based Systems (KB2775511)
http://catalog.update.microsoft.com/v7/site/Search.aspx?q=2775511

Update for Windows 7 (KB2775511)

http://catalog.update.microsoft.com/v7/site/Search.aspx?q=2732673


Update for Windows 7 for x64-based Systems (KB2775511)

http://catalog.update.microsoft.com/v7/site/Search.aspx?q=2728738


Update for Windows Server 2008 R2 x64 Edition (KB2775511)

http://catalog.update.microsoft.com/v7/site/Search.aspx?q=2878378

 

II. Install the latest Cumulative Update for Excel

This is where you go to find cumulative updates that are available from the Microsoft Office team to fix reported problems:

http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;EN-US;953878 

 

(Updated Content 6/1/2012)

III. Turn off the Preview Pane, Details Pane and pop ups that show information about file and desktop items 

 

This is a problem that has been reported to affect Windows 7 clients only, not Windows XP. The problem here may have something to do with the Windows Explorer in Windows 7. We are currently investigating this further and will post more information as it is available.


In a Windows Explorer window, do the following:

 

1. Right click on the Start Button.
2. Click 'Open Windows Explorer'.
3. At the top left click Organize > Layout 
4. Uncheck Details Pane and Preview Pane.

5. On a Windows menu, click on Tools > Folder Options.  In the box that opens up, click on the View tab.  Scroll down the list to “Show pop-up description for folder and desktop items” and clear the checkbox and then click OK. 

In Excel:

1. Click File > Open
2. Click Organize > Layout

3. Uncheck 'Details Pane' and 'Preview Pane'

If Outlook is involved:

1. Open a new e-mail.
2. In the "Include" group, click Attach File.
3. Click Organize > Layout 
4. Uncheck 'Details Pane' and 'Preview Pane'.

IV. Add the OpLocks registry keys

Add the following two registry keys to the client machines and then reboot the system:

Key: HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{993BE281-6695-4BA5-8A2A-7AACBFAAB69E}
Name: EnableShareDenyNone 
Type: REG_DWORD 
Value: 1

Key: HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{993BE281-6695-4BA5-8A2A-7AACBFAAB69E}
Name: NoOpLock
Type: REG_DWORD 
Value: 1

Note: Both of the above keys must be added for this solution to work.

V. Install operating system updates

1. For Windows 7, Windows 7 Sp1, Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 -

"ERROR_SHARING_VIOLATION" error message in Windows XP or in Windows Server 2003 when you try to open a file on an SMB share on a server that is running Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2"

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2625434

2. For Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2

"Temporary files do not synchronize correctly to a non-DFS share on a server from a client computer that is running Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2"

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2434932

3. For Windows 7, Windows 7 Sp1, Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 -

"You cannot access a shared file by using the SMB Version 2 protocol because of a race condition in Windows Server 2008 R2 or in Windows 7"

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2618190

4. Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008 -

"You share some files on a computer that is running Windows Server 2008 or Windows Vista. Some users try to access these shared files. In this scenario, the computer may restart unexpectedly. Additionally, you receive a Stop error that resembles the following: STOP 0x0000004E (0x0000009A,parameter2, parameter3, parameter4 )PFN_LIST_CORRUPT"

http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;EN-US;2447725

5. Windows Server 2003 -

"You have a shared file on a computer that is running Windows Server 2003, Two applications access this shared file concurrently. One application has write access to the file, and the other application has read-only access to the file.After both applications run for some time, such as several hours, the application that has write access cannot write data to the shared file, and this application receives the "Delayed Write Failed" error message. This problem causes data loss or data corruption in the shared file."

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/971295

VI. Use MSConfig to stop third party programs and services, including antivirus software

1. Go to START, and from the RUN line, type MSCONFIG and hit ENTER.
2. The System Configuration Utility will launch. On the General tab, click the Selective Startup option. Then uncheck the boxes labeled "Load Startup Items" and "Load System Services".
3. Click on the Services tab. Find the column header at the top labeled "Service" and left click that column header to sort these services in alphabetical order. Scroll down in the list and find a service called "Windows Installer" and click it so that it has a check in the square box.
4. Click Apply and when the changes are made, the OK button will read "Close". Click this button and you will asked to reboot the machine.
5. After the machine has restarted, click OK when the System Configuration Utility information dialog appears. If the System Configuration Utility itself appears, click the red X at the top right corner of the dialog box. If you are prompted to restart the machine, click the button labeled "Exit Without Restart".

This should get the machine into a state where third party and non essential programs are not started when the computer boots. This includes anti-virus software. Try accessing shared files with these programs shut off.

To get the machine back to Normal mode, open MSConfig again as in Step 1 and on the General tab click the

“Normal” startup option. Click Apply, the Close and reboot the machine.

In cases where the wrong user name is displayed in the file lock dialog

Sometimes where it says 'another user' it has the name of someone that didn't open the file or it has no name at all. Just a big ' ' where a name ought to be. Fear not, there is a fix for this problem. The flavor depends on whether you have Excel 2010 or Excel 2007. The below KB Articles contain hotfixes that address several issues, not just the file locked issue. But in the dialog of the article you will see this as one of the problem descriptions:
 
Assume that you have an .xls file that is protected by Information Rights Management (IRM) on a network share. When you open the file in Excel 2007, a File In Use dialog box appears. However, the dialog box does not display the correct name of the user who locked the file. Therefore, you cannot edit the file.
 
Understand that these fixes don't make the File in Use dialog go away, they just correct the problem of showing bogus user name information on the dialog itself.
 
Excel 2007 - http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2598133
 
Excel 2010 - http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2598143

 

Additionally, we have seen this issue when the owner file is not deleted from the directory upon closing the file. The file looks like ~file name.xlsx and contains the user information for who had the file open. . This can happen if something interrupts the process and breaks Excels connection with the file.

An example of this would be if a user had the file open from a server and the server was then rebooted. This causes the connection between the Excel application and the owner file to be broken. When the user then closes the file, Excel does not see the need to remove the owner file from the directory, and this results in the orphaned file. When another user later tries to open the same file from that same directory with the orphaned (~filename.xlsx) file, Excel refers to the existing owner file for the information to present to the user in the file locked dialog, resulting in the incorrect user information being presented. To resolve this issue, you need only to delete the orphaned ~filename.xlsx file from the directory.

 

Considerations for NetApps storage devices (updated 6/28/2012)

We have seen cases involving the file locking issue when moving files to a NetApps storage device. First and foremost - update your NetApps device to the latest version. The file locking problems can be fixed just by updating the NetApps device to the latest version. If that fails or if you have the latest version, there are a couple of other things to try. This information is documented at http://netappsky.com/netapp-storage-management/cifs-performance-is-slow-after-investigating-performance-issues-cifs-considerations/

I. Enable oplocks

Make sure that cifs.oplocks.enable is on. Oplocks (opportunistic locks) enable a CIFS client in certain file-sharing scenarios to perform client-side caching of read-ahead, write-behind, and lock information. A client can then read from or write to a file without regularly reminding the server that it needs access to the file in question. This improves performance by reducing network traffic. CIFS oplocks on the filer are on.  By default: You might turn CIFS oplocks off under the following circumstances otherwise, you can leave CIFS oplocks on. 
 
1. You are using a database application whose documentation recommends that oplocks be turned off.
2. The CIFS clients are on an unreliable network.
3. You are handling critical data and you cannot afford even the slightest data loss.
 
sasfiler*> options cifs.oplocks.enable on
 
Make sure that this option is set before the clients connect to the filer.   If they are already connected, do a cifs terminate and cifs restart on the filer.
 
sasfiler*> options cifs.neg_buf_size 33028

II. Set cifs.oplocks_opendelta

Change the cifs.oplocks_opendelta setting. Under certain workloads setting cifs.oplocks_opendelta to 0 can improve CIFS throughput performance by 3% to 5%. Again, if setting this value to 0 results in client disconnects, reset it to 8 (the default value).  Changing the delay time for sending oplock breaks.  If a client that owns a file oplock sends a file open request, it is temporarily vulnerable to a “race condition” that can occur if the storage system requests an oplock break. To prevent this condition, the storage system delays sending an oplock break according to the delay time value (in milliseconds) specified by the cifs.oplocks.opendelta option.   By default, the default delay time is 0 milliseconds. If your storage system must support some older Microsoft Windows clients, including Microsoft you can set the delay time to another value, such as 8. This means that after the storage system receives or responds to a request to open a file, the storage system will make sure that 8 milliseconds have elapsed before sending an oplock break to that client.   options cifs.oplocks.opendelta time Here, time is the delay in milliseconds.  Setting the cifs.oplocks.opendelta option postpones the sending of oplock break requests to clients that have just opened files. You must consult technical support if you are considering setting this value higher than 35.

sasfiler*> options cifs.oplocks_opendelta 0

sasfiler*> options cifs.oplocks_opendelta 8

For example, try adjusting cifs.oplocks_opendelta to a value of 66 (milliseconds)

You might also want to increase the delay time for sending oplock breaks if you see syslog messages similar to the following:

Mon Jan 21 15:18:38 PST [CIFSAdmin:warning]: oplock break timed out to station JOHN-PC for file \\FILER\share\subdir\file.txt

 

Considerations for Shared Workbooks 

The primary feature of a shared workbook is to allow multiple users to open and edit the files simultaneously. However, if you have chosen to share your workbooks using the 'Share Workbook' feature in the Review ribbon, you may still experience this type of behavior in particular scenarios due to the way in which Excel opens and saves files.

Examples of scenarios that users may experience a similar message using a [Shared] Excel file simultaneously:

Scenario 1:  User 1 opens the [shared] file. User 2 also opens the [shared] file at the same time as User 1. 
       Result:  A "file is locked" type of message will be provided. 
       Workaround:  An option to "Notify" the user when the file is no longer locked is presented. Choose this option and when the lock is released, the user will be able to then choose to open the file in edit mode. 

Scenario 2:  User 1 saves the [shared] file. User 2 also saves the [shared] file at the same time as User 1. 
       Result:  A "file is locked" or "file is locked, try again later" type of message will be provided. 
       Workaround:  Wait a short period of time to allow the lock to release and try saving the file again.  

 

Flowchart

The following is a flowchart put together by Kevin Sickler on the Microsoft Excel Support team. It gives direction to this complex issue. Click the picture below to see a larger view: