Home > How to Tips

Can't Copy from Mac to External Hard Drive, Fixes & Reasons

Updated on Tuesday, September 13, 2022

iBoysoft author Connie Yang

Written by

Connie Yang
Professional tech editor

Approved by

Jessica Shee

[Fixed] Unable to Copy Files from Mac to External Hard Drive

Summary: If you are unable to copy files from your Mac to an external hard drive, you can find reasons and workarounds in this post. This tutorial offers the stepwise methods to fix the issue that you can't copy, move, or transfer files to WD, Seagate, or other external hard drives on Mac.

cant copy from Mac to external hard drive

You connect your external hard drive, USB flash drive, Pen drive, or another storage device to your MacBook, iMac, or another Mac model and then prepare to move files to it. However, you find that can't copy and paste or drag and drop items to your external hard drive as usual.

Why won't your files transfer from Mac to an external hard drive? The causes are various. If you have no idea, this post will supply you with a clue. More importantly, you can get solutions to fix the issue that you can't copy from Mac to an external hard drive.

Table of Contents:

move files from Mac to external hard drive

Why can't you copy files from Mac to an external hard drive?

It is not a simple issue that you are unable to copy files from your Mac to an external hard drive. The reasons for this problem are multifarious. Here, we've concluded all the possible factors. Look below to check which is the cause that leads you to fail to move files to your external hard drive on your MacBook, iMac, or other models.

Reasons why your Mac can't copy to an external hard drive:

  • Poor connections between your Mac and the external hard drive
  • Read-only permission setting for the external hard disk
  • The drag and drop is not working on Mac
  • The copy and paste is not working on Mac
  • The storage space of the external hard drive is full
  • The external hard drive is not compatible with your Mac
  • The external hard drive is corrupted
  • The operating system has bugs
  • The external hard drive is damaged

Share to tell others why they can't copy from Mac to an external hard drive.

 

Can't copy from Mac to an external hard drive, what to do?

When you are unable to copy files from your Mac to the connected external hard drive, the first step is to ensure the connection is proper. The loose or faulty connection will make your Mac fail to detect the external drive, let alone allow you to move stuff to it. You can check the port on your Mac and the USB cable of the external hard drive.

If that's not the troublemaker and your external hard drive shows up in Finder or on the desktop, you need to troubleshoot the problem with the solutions in this part.

Here are workarounds if you can't copy from Mac to an external hard drive:

  1. Check the formatting of the external hard drive
  2. Check the permissions of the external hard drive
  3. Ensure the external hard drive have enough free space
  4. Restart your Mac
  5. Try a different way to copy files to the external drive
  6. Run First Aid to check and repair the drive
  7. Update your Mac
  8. Change another external hard drive

Check the formatting of the external hard drive

Perhaps, the external hard drive is formatted with NTFS. NTFS is the file system used for Windows. It is read-only in macOS by default. Therefore, you are not allowed to move stuff from Mac to the NTFS external disk as this acting is called write. 

You can use Disk Utility to check what file system the external hard drive uses. Simply go to Finder > Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility. Then, select the drive from the left sidebar in Disk Utility and you can see its format on the right pane.

check the formatting of the external drive in Disk Utility

If it is an NTFS hard drive indeed, you can use one of the ways below to make it read-write accessible on Mac:

Here, utilizing NTFS for Mac is your first choice as this way is the easiest. Here, iBoysoft NTFS for Mac is highly recommended. That's because this tool is Apple-trusted and supports auto-mount NTFS drives in read-write mode once you connect them to your Mac.

All you need to do is, free download, install, and launch iBoysoft NTFS for Mac on your Mac machine. This tool will automatically mount your connected NTFS disk in read-write mode. Then, you can move files from your Mac to the NTFS drive easily and fast, just as operating on a native HFS+ or APFS drive.

iBoysoft NTFS for Mac menu bar

If you also want to learn about the other two methods, you can follow this post: How to Copy Files to NTFS Drives on Mac?

If this way helps you move stuff from Mac to the NTFS external hard drive successfully, share it with more people.

 

Check the permissions of the external hard drive

If the formatting of the external hard drive is macOS-compatible but you still can't add folders to the external hard drive on your Mac, you need to consider the permission settings of the drive. Maybe, this external drive is read-only on the account you are currently logged into.

Here's how to check:

  1. Right-click the external hard drive and select Get Info from the menu.
  2. Move to the bottom Sharing & Permissions section on the info window, you can see the disk's privilege of each user. 

If you don't have the read-write privilege to the external hard drive, you can change the permissions on your Mac.

  1. Click the bottom padlock and enter the admin password to unlock it.
  2. Select the user name of the account that you currently log into the Mac under the Sharing & Permissions section.
  3. Expand the privilege of this user and choose Read & Write.

change permission of the external hard drive on Mac

After resetting the permissions of the external hard drive, you can put items to it freely.

Ensure the external hard drive have enough free space

It is also possible that your external hard drive is full. So, when you put the files and folders to it, a prohibitory symbol shows up to indicate that you can't do that.

You can open the Apple menu > About This Mac and select the Storage tab to check the capacity usage of the external hard drive. If the disk is full, you can remove the useless files to make room for the files you prepare to add to.

check storage space of the external hard drive

Restart your Mac

Sometimes, you can't copy from your Mac to an external hard drive due to temporary macOS bugs. You can simply restart your Mac for a refresh and then check if the issue goes away.

Try a different way to copy files to the external drive

If you move documents, folders, photos, or other files from MacBook to an external HDD through copying and pasting, you also need to consider if the copy and paste functionality is not working on your Mac.

To verify that, you can copy and paste a certain file from a location on your Mac to anywhere else. If it fails, you can try a different way to transfer files to the external disk, like dragging and dropping the target files to the external hard drive.

If drag and drop still not working on your Mac, you can press Ctrl + C keys to copy the files on your Mac and then press Ctrl + V to paste them to your external drive.

Run First Aid to check and repair the drive

If the external hard drive has some errors, you are also unable to save files to it. You can run Disk Utility First Aid to check and repair the errors on the disk. And then, you can go on add folders to the external drive on your Mac.

To run First Aid to check and repair the external hard drive:

  1. Open Launchpad on the dock > Other > Disk Utility.
  2. Select the external hard drive on the left sidebar.
  3. Click First Aid on the top toolbar in the Disk Utility window.
  4. Click Run on the confirmation dialogue window and wait until the process is done.

run First Aid to check the external hard drive

Update your Mac

There's also a possibility that the macOS is out-of-date, causing abnormal performance of your Mac. For example, you fail to move files from Mac to an external hard drive. You can update your Mac as the new version always carry bug patches and software enhancements.

To update your Mac, simply open the Apple menu > System Preferences > Software Update. If any new version or minor update is available, click the button to update the operating system. After that, connect your external hard drive again and check if you can put files into it.

Change another external hard drive

If unfortunately, the above ways change nothing, the external HDD may be damaged. You can connect another hard drive formatted with HFS+, FAT32, or APFS to your Mac and save files to it. If your external hard drive contains important files, you can send the drive to a repair or a physical data recovery center. But the cost is usually very high.

If you think this post is helpful, why not share it with more people?

 

FAQs about can't copy from Mac to external hard drive

A

There are two reasons. One is your external hard drive is formatted with NTFS. Microsoft NTFS is used for Windows and is only read support on Mac. The other is the external hard drive's permission on your Mac is read-only.

A

If you want to copy files from Mac to an NTFS external hard drive without formatting, you can use iBoysoft NTFS for Mac to enable the drive to be read-write accessible on Mac.

A

You can directly drag and drop the files to from your Mac to the external hard drive.