Languages

Archived - Unable to move, unlock, modify, or copy an item in Mac OS X

This article has been archived and is no longer updated by Apple.

Symptoms

You might not be able to move, copy, or drag some items. You may not be able to unlock some items.

Tip: For help with deleting files and emptying the Trash, see Cannot empty the Trash or move a file to the Trash instead.

The topics of this document fall into one of two general issues. Tip: Sometimes it's OK if an item can't be moved to or from a certain location. Mac OS X restricts access to some folders (including Applications, Library, and System) to preserve the integrity of the operating system and user data.

Issue 1
If you try to move a file in Mac OS X 10.2 or later, this message appears: "The operation could not be completed because the item '(item name)' is locked."

If you try to modify an item's permissions, this message may appear: "The operation could not be completed. An unexpected error occurred (error code 1)."

This issue might occur if you copy one volume to another by dragging its icon over the other's, or to one of its windows, for example.

Issue 2
An alert box appears with one of these messages:

  • "The operation cannot be completed because you do not have sufficient privileges for '(item or folder name).'"
  • "The item '(item name)' could not be moved because 'System' (or other folder name) cannot be modified."

Resolution

For issue 1

Select the file you are trying to move, then choose Get Info from the File menu. If the Locked box is checked, deselect it, then try moving the file again.

If the item you are trying to unlock is a folder,use these steps:

  1. Open Terminal (/Applications/Utilities).
  2. Type this, followed by a space: sudo chflags -R nouchg
  3. Drag the folder you would like to unlock into the Terminal window.
  4. Press Return.
  5. Enter your password and press Return.

If you have attempted to unlock a file in the Finder but it is still locked, follow these steps to remove the system immutable bit from affected files, which can cause this issue.

Mac OS X 10.4 or later

  1. Start in single-user mode; for instructions see Mac OS X: How to Start up in Single-User or Verbose Mode.
  2. Type this, followed by Return: mount -uw /
  3. Type this, followed by Return:
    cd /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration
  4. Type this, on a single line, followed by Return:
    defaults write /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/autodiskmount AutomountDisksWithoutUserLogin -bool true
  5. Type this, followed by Return: sh /etc/rc
  6. Wait for the on screen text to stop scrolling and then press Return
  7. Type this, followed by Return:
    find / -flags schg -exec chflags noschg {} \;
  8. Once this is finished, type this followed by Return:
    rm /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/autodiskmount.plist
  9. Type this followed by Return: reboot

Mac OS X 10.3 through 10.3.9

  1. Start in single-user mode; for instructions see "Mac OS X: How to Start up in Single-User or Verbose Mode".
  2. Type this, followed by Return: mount -uw /
  3. Type this, followed by Return:
    /usr/libexec/register_mach_bootstrap_servers /etc/mach_init.d
  4. Type this, followed by Return:
    /System/Library/CoreServices/SecurityServer -X
  5. Type this, followed by Return:
    find / -flags schg -exec chflags noschg {} \;
  6. Once this is finished, type this followed by Return: reboot

Mac OS X 10.2.8 or earlier

  1. Start in single-user mode; for instructions see "Mac OS X: How to Start up in Single-User or Verbose Mode".
  2. Type this, followed by Return: mount -uw /
  3. Type this, followed by Return: autodiskmount
  4. Type this, followed by Return:
    find / -flags schg -exec chflags noschg {} \;
  5. Once this is finished, type reboot , then press Return

If the issue persists, see "Mac OS X: Troubleshooting Permissions Issues"

For issue 2

Mac OS X restricts access to some folders (including Applications, Library, and System) to preserve the integrity of the operating system and user data.

You can easily determine if an area has restricted access. Mac OS X 10.2.8 or earlier: Select the folder in a Finder window (not the desktop), then choose Show Status bar from the Finder's View menu. The status bar appears near the top of each Finder window. When in a restricted location, a pencil-with-slash icon is visible in the status bar; Mac OS X 10.3 or later: Open the folder and look in the window's lower left corner. If you see a "a pencil-with-slash icon", you know it's a restricted access area.

If an item was removed from the Applications folder and cannot be moved back

With Mac OS X 10.3 or later, you should be able to drag the item back into the Applications folder. If a dialog box appears with an Authenticate button, click on Authenticate and enter the name and password of an admin user.

Otherwise, try one of these solutions:

Option 1 - If your computer can start from Mac OS 9, start up from a Mac OS 9 CD or volume and return the item to its proper location. It is normal for the file structure of the Mac OS X disk to look different when started up from Mac OS 9.

Option 2 - If the application has been deleted from your volume, start up from your Mac OS X CD and perform a complete reinstallation (not erase-installation) of Mac OS X.

Tip: This option is useful for replacing removed Mac OS X items, but it will not remove an undesired item in most cases. To remove an undesired item, use Option 1 or Option 3. You should not reinstall an earlier version of Mac OS X (from CD-ROM) over a later version of Mac OS X (after system software updates have been installed).

Option 3 (Advanced) -

  1. Open Terminal (/Applications/Utilities).
  2. Type: sudo chmod 775 /
  3. Press Return.
  4. Enter your password and press Return.
  5. Using the Finder, move the item(s) to the desired location.
  6. In the Terminal, type: sudo chmod 1775 /
  7. Press Return.

Additional Information

If the issue persists, use Disk Utility on the volume. See "Mac OS X: About Using Disk Utility and fsck for File System Maintenance".

If an item was installed by a user and cannot be removed

Refer to the steps under "If an item was removed from the Applications folder and cannot be moved back" above.

For more information see these documents:

106167 Mac OS X: Using Your Home Directory
106272 Mac OS X: Cannot empty the Trash or move a file to the Trash
106712 Mac OS X: Troubleshooting Permission Issues
Last Modified: Nov 16, 2011
Helpful?
Yes
No
Not helpful Somewhat helpful Helpful Very helpful Solved my problem
Print this page
  • Last Modified: Nov 16, 2011
  • Article: TS1402
  • Views:

    1677561
  • Rating:
    • 51.0

    (1286 Responses)
Start a Discussion
in Apple Support Communities
See all questions on this article See all questions I have asked