How to fix the wrong permissions on several files in macOS

If the way in which a bunch of files can be handled on your Mac has gone astray, there’s an easy fix.

macos high sierra folder icon

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macOS is Unix at its heart, and Unix thrives on “ownership” and “permissions.” These are attributes attached to every file and folder that describe which users and groups have the right to perform what actions on them: read or view, modify, delete, or, in the case of folders, also see the contents, remove items, and add items.

mac911 get info folder nest IDG

Get Info lets you change permissions recursively for folders (every nested item) or for groups of items.

The Finder mediates access to permission (it calls them Privileges in some places), and manages a number of Apple-specific attributes we rarely have to know about. But sometimes things go out of joint, and the Finder can help set them right. One reader noted after a number of transitions, they had a mass of files marked as “Read only.” Even though their user account “owned” these files, it’s still a one-at-a-time override situation for them to interact with those files, and a constant hassle.

The solution is very straightforward, fortunately.

For files organized into a folder or set of nested folders:

  1. In the Finder, select the top folder in the set of files and folders you want to modify.
  2. Choose File > Get Info or press Command-I.
  3. In the Sharing & Permissions section, click the lock icon at the lower-right corner and enter the appropriate account password.
  4. Change permissions as you wish, such as turning the owner’s Privilege—here labeled “glenn (Me)”—to Read & Write from the popup menu to the right of the name.
  5. From the gear menu below that list, select Apply to Enclosed Items and confirm.
  6. macOS recursively applies this new permission, which means it sets every file and folder nested within the select folder to the new permission.

For files and folders that are scattered: You can change their permissions as a group, but only by selecting either files or folders in a pass. If you have both files and folders, you have to select first all the files and then all folders. Follow these steps:

  1. In the Finder, select all the disparate files or folders (but not both) using Finder selection tools. (Shift-click adds files to selection and Command-click toggles in from your selection.)
  2. While holding the Option key, select File > Get Info or press Command-Option-I. This brings up the special contextual Get Info dialog that reflects the current Finder selection. (With multiple items selected, it has the very literal title Multiple Item Info.)
  3. In the Sharing & Permissions section, click the lock icon at the lower-right corner and enter the appropriate account password.
  4. Change permissions as you wish.

If the permission changes require access to folders outside your user account, you will be prompted for an administrator password. Otherwise, they are immediately applied.

This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Sam.

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