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Solved Read Only Problem for External Hard Drive on Mac

By Lois Green, Wednesday, July 10, 2020

External hard drives are so useful in our daily life especially when we have lots of files to save. Usually, we can make changes to the data on our hard drive like saving, deleting, or moving. But you may encounter the external hard drive is read-only on Mac problem and looking for the solutions to fix the problem. Well, then this post should be helpful to you. In this post, we will explain the reasons and give detailed solutions to the external hard drive to the read-only problem. 

Why is External Hard Drive Read Only on Mac? 

Simply put, there are three reasons why you can't make changes to the external hard drive. 

1. The file system is NTFS. 

The file system decides how data is saved and restored on the disk. There are many kinds of file systems that have different kinds of structure, logic, and size, etc. 

In general, Windows uses the Microsoft NTFS file system and Mac uses HFS+ and APFS for the operating system. Meanwhile, FAT32 and exFAT are compatible with both Windows and Mac. In other words, you can only read the NTFS file on Mac. If you are going to move files to an NTFS-formatted external hard on Mac, then you will find the documents be read-only. 

2. The disk permission setting is read-only. 

There is a Sharing and Permissions section in the file information. It is set up to decide who can delete, modify, drag, or drop the file to the drive. Therefore, if the permissions are changed, a prompt will pop up and warn you that the file is read-only or you don't have permission to save changes to the disk.

3. There are formatting errors on the external hard drive. 

In addition to the above two causes, the formatting errors of the storage device can also lead to the read-only problem. If you see a popup window says the device is only being mounted in read-only mode while connecting, then it is the formatting errors that prevent you from writing files to it. 

How to Fix the Hard Drive Read Only Problem on Mac 

Your problem can be caused by one of the three reasons above. Follow the solutions below to check and fix the read-only problem. 

Solution 1 Format the external hard drive to exFAT/FAT32 

If the read-only problem is caused by the incompatible file system, we can change it to exFAT or FAT32 by formatting. 

Step 1 Launch Disk Utility by going to Applications > Utilities

Step 2 Choose the problematic external hard drive from the left-side list and switch to the Erase tab. 

Step 3 Choose the file system type as exFAT or FAT 32 and rename your hard disk. 

Format Disk to FAT32

Step 4 Click Erase to reformat your external hard drive and wait until the formatting process completes. 

Now, you should be able to make changes to the external hard drive on Mac. 


Formatting an external hard drive will erase your access to the files inside. That is to say, all data on the disk will be erased after the formatting. If you want to recover the formatted external hard drive on Mac, FonePaw Data Recovery is a good helper.

Data Recovery Homepage Mac

It recovers the formatted external hard drive, deleted files on the computer, SD card and USB drive in one click, saving you from the trouble of data loss. You can download and have a free trial after the formatting. 


Solution 2 Change or ignore permissions on the external hard drive 

If your file system is already compatible with the macOS system, you can check and change the permissions on the external hard drive. Here is how to do: 

First, right-click on the icon of your disk > Get info. You will see an information list of your hard drive. Scroll down to Sharing & Permissions

Second, extend the column and click on the lock icon. 

Third, enter the password of your Mac and click on Read-only and change it to Read & Write

Remove Read Only On Mac

Fourth, click the gear button at the bottom > Apply to enclosed items > OK

Or, you can choose to ignore the permissions on the external hard drive. Likewise, navigate to the Sharing & Permissions tab. Then check the box to Ignore ownership on this volume. The password of your Mac may be required.   

External Hard Drive Read Only On Mac

Solution 3 Repair the external hard drive on Disk Utility 

Provided that the hard drive read-only on Mac problem still exists, then the trouble probably comes from the external hard drive itself. In this case, you can fix it on the Disk Utility. 

Step 1 Go to Finder > Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility

Step 2 Select the external hard drive from the sidebar and click the First Aid tab > Run

Run First Aid Mac

When it reports OK, click Show Details to know more about the repair. If you see the report is "The underlying task reported failure", try to repair it again. 

In all, the read-only problem on Mac is mainly caused by the NTFS file system, disk permission, and disk errors. If you can't fix the problem anyhow, try using FonePaw Data Recovery to get the important files on your external hard disk. It can detect your external hard drive and scan for the files inside. After it, you can preview and restore the files to your computer.    

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