Bugs & Fixes: Fixing permissions in Leopard and Snow Leopard

We recently received an email from a reader who found that, after updating to Mac OS X 10.5.8, something had gone awry with disk permissions on his startup drive. In particular, when he selected Verify Disk Permissions in Disk Utility, many more errors appeared than had shown up at his previous check under 10.5.7. After selecting to Repair Disk Permissions, none of the errors were repaired. The list remained the same. Apparently, based on reports in this Apple Discussions thread, many other users were having the same symptoms.

As a first step in looking into this matter, I selected Verify Disk Permissions on my own drive, something I had not done in quite some time. It took several minutes and resulted in a rather long list. I copied the list to TextEdit to see exactly how long it was. It was 911 pages long (yes, 9-1-1, a cry for help perhaps?).

While this was a bit distressing, I wasn’t too worried. Looking over the list, most of the errors seemed pretty innocuous to me. In any case, I wasn’t having any problems with my Mac that appeared to relate to permissions settings (which is why I rarely bother with permissions checking anymore).

Still, I selected Repair Disk Permissions. It had a huge effect, bringing my error list down to only 4 pages. But what about these remaining errors? Were these the same ones that others were complaining about?

This brings us to another issue. An Apple Knowledge Base article provides a list of permissions error messages that you can “safely ignore.” When the above-cited Discussions thread first appeared, readers indicated that many of their error messages were not on this list. A few days later, Apple updated the article to include additional messages, presumably in response to the new errors appearing in 10.5.8.

For some, this revised list resolved the matter. That was the case for me. All my 4 pages of errors were on the revised list. Almost all were some variation of: “Permissions differ on ‘System/Library/…’, should be -rw-r—r— , they are lrw-r—r—.”

For those who had persisting errors that could not be “ignored,” the Discussions thread offered several possible solutions. The most promising appeared to be: download the Mac OS X 10.5.8 Combo Update and reinstall the update twice—without selecting to repair permissions in between. However, while several users had success with this fix, it had no effect on my list of errors.

All of which brings me to Mac OS X 10.6. After updating to Snow Leopard, I once again ran Verify Disk Permissions. There were now only four errors reported (that’s four total errors, not four pages of errors)! As a bonus, the time-consuming initial phase of Verify Disk Permissions in 10.5.8 (where it says that it is “reading the permissions database”) is gone, making the whole process much faster. It looks like this is yet another place where Apple cleaned things up in Snow Leopard.

After selecting to Repair Disk Permissions, only one of the four errors remained. It related to Remote Management software, the only Apple software I have updated since moving to Snow Leopard. It was a “Warning: SUID file…” error, which is one of the messages that Apple says can be ignored.

Bottom line: If you have mysterious permissions errors that cannot be repaired in 10.5.8, my best advice is to update to Snow Leopard.

Problem Syncing Photos to your iPhone

A friend of mine alerted me to a problem he was having syncing photos to his iPhone after updating to iPhoto 8.1. As it turns out, he was not alone. Numerous people have reported this symptom in several Apple’s Discussions Boards postings. The fix that worked for my friend was to turn off playing of music in iPhoto’s slideshows. Go figure! Anyway, you can find more details, including references to some other potential solutions, in a MacFixIt article.

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