Types of file preview errors and how to handle them

Updated May 28, 2024
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The information in this article applies to all Dropbox customers.

If you encounter an error message while trying to preview a file, read on to find an explanation behind the message you're seeing and how to fix it.

Not using Dropbox yet? See how Dropbox helps you effortlessly share files and folders.

Error: [file type] files can't be previewed

What happened

If you're seeing the error message [file type] files can't be previewed, it's because Dropbox doesn't recognize the file type. Dropbox can preview many file types. If you see this error, then this file type isn’t supported.

How to fix it

If you see this error message, download and open the file on your computer or phone to view it.

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Note: Previews will be generated only for the file types available to the file owner. For example, if a user on a Basic plan shares a .mxf file with a user on a Professional Plan, the user on the Professional plan will not be shown a preview, even though the Professional plan should allow previews for those file types. Check this article for file types that each Dropbox plan supports.

Error: This file is too big to preview

What happened

If you're seeing the error message This file is too big to preview, it's because Dropbox sets a limit on the size of files that can preview. The file you're trying to preview exceeds this limit.

How to fix it

If you see this error message, open or download the file to view it.

Error: This file is password-protected

What happened

If you're seeing the error message This file is password-protected, the file you’re trying to preview requires a password to view it. Many applications (for example, Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop) allow you to set passwords for your files. Dropbox doesn’t support files that are password-protected in other applications, so you won’t be able to preview them.

How to fix it

If you'd like to preview the file, open the file in its original application and remove the password. 

If you'd like to keep the password, download and open the file on your computer or phone to view it.

Customers on Dropbox Professional, Essentials, Standard, Advanced, Business, Business Plus, and Enterprise can set passwords and expiration dates for shared links. This is a way to password-protect files without setting a password in the app you used to create it.

Error: Files without extensions cannot be previewed

What happened

If you're seeing the error message Files without extensions cannot be previewed, it's because the file doesn't have a suffix attached to the filename. File suffixes (or "extensions") indicate the type of file, and help your computer understand which application to use to open it. If you remove this extension, the file won't preview.

Examples of file extensions include .xlsx, .mov, and .txt.

How to fix it

If you see this error message, add the extension back to the file name and save it again.

Error: File is uploading

What happened

If you're seeing a message that says File is uploading, it's because the file hasn't finished syncing to Dropbox. A file must be fully uploaded and saved (or "synced") to Dropbox before it can be previewed.

This error message often occurs in the following two scenarios:

  • You copy a Dropbox link to a file directly from Finder or Windows Explorer before sync is complete.
  • You attempt to preview a screenshot.

How to fix it

Wait for the syncing process to complete before trying to preview a file.

Error: This file cannot be previewed

What happened

If you're seeing the general error message This file cannot be previewed, there may be several possible reasons.

How to fix it

First, verify that your file hasn't been corrupted. To do this, try to open it with some other application on your desktop. If the file doesn't open with another desktop app, then it has likely been corrupted.

Next, verify that the file has the correct extension. If an extension is incorrect, the file won't preview.

If you verify that the file isn't corrupted and has a valid extension, and it still won’t preview, download and open the file on your computer to view it.

Error: Can’t preview encrypted file

What happened

Encrypted files cannot be previewed directly within Dropbox.

How to fix it

To view encrypted content, download the file.

Problem: Video file previews without audio

What happened

If your video previews without audio, then the video file may have multiple audio streams. Dropbox doesn’t support previewing multiple audio streams on video files.

If a video has multiple audio streams, Dropbox tries to preview audio. The preview will play the audio stream that's marked as "default". If no audio stream is marked as "default", the highest-bitrate stream will preview. If your video has multiple "default" audio streams, we preview the first of these as it appears in the video’s metadata listing.

However, sometimes the audio stream that previews is poor quality or has no sound, and the video will preview without audio.

How to fix it

Check that you video file has either:

  • One audio stream
  • One audio stream marked as default 

If you can’t change the audio streams, download the video to watch it.

Problem: A .txt file isn't previewing correctly on a phone or tablet

What happened

In some cases, you may have trouble previewing a .txt file on a phone or tablet. Specifically, the file may preview incorrectly, or you might not be able to edit the file.

If you're experiencing either of these issues, it's likely due to special, non-Latin characters in the file. For example, if your .txt file contains characters from a non-Latin language like Thai, the file preview will appear garbled on a mobile device.

How to fix it

If you encounter this issue, please resave the file with UTF-8 unicode encoding. You can also convert the file using an free, online file converter. This should fix the preview, and allow you to edit the file on a mobile device.

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