What are .tmp files in MS Office document folders?

If you look in folders that contain Office documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) you might see the occasional .tmp file.  What are they, could they be useful and can they be safely deleted?

The quick answers are:  probably Word or Office document remnants, could be handy to recover a lost document but otherwise they can be deleted.

Here’s a collection of them we found in a single folder.

As you can see, they are from various times over more than a year.  Most have a ~WR prefix but others don’t.

They could be made by many programs since .tmp is a commonly used extension but this folder has mostly Office documents so Word is the most likely culprit.

.tmp files made by Office are usually caused by unexpected closure of either the program or entire computer.  Normally, Office will ‘tidy up’ these .tmp files when you close the document.

Mostly this doesn’t matter.  You can delete all the .tmp files or at least the older ones.

If you’re using Win8/10 File History feature on the folder then the .tmp files are saved with other files in the folder.

Recovery

If you’ve lost a document or recent revisions to a document, a .tmp file might be your last chance for recovery.  There’s no guarantee, but it’s worth a try.

Privacy and Security

If you need to totally remove some data from your computer, don’t forget the Office .tmp files.

Deleting the confidential document and backups isn’t enough.  There may be stray .tmp files with a copy of the data you’re trying to erase.

Recovering from an Office .tmp file

The file names above don’t give any clue (except the last one) so how to figure out what they contain or if they are made by Office at all?

Notepad

The simple way to look inside a file is to open in Notepad or other text editor.  At first, it’ll look like a lot of nonsense but there are clues in there.  (Don’t change or edit the file in the text editor)

The first characters are PK. All modern Office documents are really .ZIP files in disguise or to give it’s full name PKzip.  This is likely a ZIP file.

On the same line is ” .xml “. Modern Office documents are XML based so it’s looking more likely this is an Office document, but which type?

Scrolling through the file you might find a clue.   Skip to the end where we often find something like this:

The magic ‘word’ is the confirmation that this is a Word document.  Or you might see ‘excel’ or ‘powerpoint’.

Opening in Office

Close Notepad and open the document in the matching Office program, in this case Word.

Right-click on the .tmp file then Open with … and choose Word.  Word probably won’t be on the initial list of programs for .tmp files but you can choose it from the extended list.  The exact format of Open with … depends on your version of Windows.

Modern Office has pretty good document recovery features so it will try to restore as much as it can from the .tmp file.  In this case it recovered a document in progress.

At worst, Office will recover as much of the content as it can.

Use File | Save As … to make a normal Office document from the recovered content.