What are zero-byte files?

The unit of digital data is a 'bit' (plural: bytes.) Most files are comprised of many kilobytes (thousands of bytes) or megabytes (millions of bytes) of information. So when one of your documents displays as zero-bytes in size you can safely assume something's gone wrong.

True to the name, zero-byte files (also called zero-length files) do not contain any data. For reference, the simplest type of text file--a .txt file created in Notepad--that has a single text character will contain at least a few bytes of data.

The bad news is that it's very unlikely that you'll be able to recover data from a zero-byte file. Also, if you don't realize that there are zero-byte documents in your case you could end up missing out on vital data during document review which your eDiscovery platform's search engine would otherwise have scanned and produced results from. It's important to catch instances of zero-byte files, and ideally, your eDiscovery platform will help you do this.

The good news is that there are ways to work around them if you or the other party still have access to the original, uncorrupted file.

Most frequently, zero-byte files are caused because of incorrect processing. Common occurrences include:

  • Emails & email attachments. These are commonly affected during archiving and exporting of email accounts, conversion of email formats, culling of emails, etc. especially if you are using a different mail client than the other party
  • During file uploading and downloading. Zero-byte files can occur when file transfers are unsuccessful. This could be when a file is incompletely downloaded from the internet, is transferred via your company's internal network, or even moved between folders on your computer. The result is a file that has a name, but no data
  • Operating system clashes. The data about a file, known as metadata (e.g. the file's name, when it was last viewed, etc.) has certain parameters that can't be exceeded. For example, Windows operating systems frequently have trouble with file and folder names that are extremely long (compounding if both occur simultaneously.) Because of this, even if the other party can access the file on their system, it may be corrupted when it downloads to your system if you download it with a different name/to a longer file path
  • Sometime zero-byte files are created intentionally! This is usually done to provide a bit of extra information to a folder listing, the same way you might create an empty folder to provide some extra meaning. For example, an empty file named "__IMPORTANT__" or "FILES RELOCATED TO X" Sometimes programs automatically create 'hidden' zero-byte files as well

If you have received a zero-byte file from another source, first check with the other party to see whether the file is a zero-byte file on their system as well. If it is not a zero-byte file, the issue was likely caused while it was being transferred to your system.

If there is an uncorrupted version of the file that is accessible, follow these steps help to ensure a clean transfer:

  • Get the other party to compress the file(s) into a .zip file before sending it to you (using a software like WinZip or WinRAR)
  • Send the file using different software, or mode of transfer (e.g. using email or a cloud storage system instead of an FTP)
  • Change the file name/path to which you are saving the file they send you - this can help if there is an issue caused because of an operating system limitation

Note that for importing files to GoldFynch, the best solution is to use one of the GoldFynch add-on services. Find out more about them here.

Getting rid of zero-byte files

Unfortunately, once you receive them, there's not much you can do with zero-byte files. They do not contain any data, so they cannot be opened, and just clutter your system and case (since they still appear as files and show up in searches because of their names.) In general, they should be deleted (unless they have a purpose, like if they were intentionally created and are still relevant to your case.) Learn how GoldFynch saves you time by automatically flagging zero-byte files.

It's worth noting that some systems may read them as corrupt files and be unable to delete them, displaying errors like "Cannot delete file: Cannot read from source file or disk." In these cases you will have to look for a workaround like this one.