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3 Quick Ways to Fix External Hard Drive Read-only on Mac

Updated on Saturday, September 23, 2023

iBoysoft author Frances Yang

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Frances Yang
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How to Fix External Hard Drive Read-only on Mac Without Formatting?

Summary: You will find 3 methods to quickly solve external hard drive read-only on Mac. Free download iBoysoft NTFS for Mac if the external hard drive is read-only on Mac because it is formatted with the Microsoft NTFS file system.

Fix external hard drive read only on Mac

After a Mac-compatible hard drive is connected to a Mac computer, you can open it and have full read and write access. However, this time you are unable to write on the external hard drive on Mac because the external hard drive shows read-only on Mac. The read-only state prevents you from copying or transferring any files from Mac to the external drive.

For example, many people have reported that their WD My Passport read-only on MacLaCie hard drive read-only on Mac, and they are confused about how to fix Seagate external hard drive read-only on Mac.

This article discusses 3 quick solutions to help you solve Mac external hard drive read only error, based on the 3 main causes listed below:

  • The external hard drive is NTFS file system
  • Disk permission is changed to read-only
  • The external hard drive is corrupted

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Case 1. NTFS external hard drive is read-only on Mac

Most external drives and SSDs are previously formatted with Microsoft NTFS for Windows platforms. However, the NTFS is not a Mac-compatible file system because macOS only reads NTFS drive but does not allow writing to it. 

If you try to copy or transfer files from Mac to an NTFS-formatted external hard drive on Mac, you'll see a greyed-out forbidden symbol as shown in the picture below, therefore you can't add files to external hard drive on Mac. After opening a file from NTFS drive, they show either read-only or locked next to the file name. 

Cannot copy or drag files to NTFS drives on Mac

How do I know if my external hard drive is NTFS file system?

Simply, you can check file system information by viewing its disk information either in Disk Utility or in the Finder.

Method 1. Check file system info in Disk Utility

  1. Click on Launchpad at the dock of your Mac and choose Other in the menu.
  2. Choose Disk Utility among these utilities and open it.
  3. When it is launched, click on the drive you have a read only error within the left sidebar. You will see an obvious "Windows NT File System" in the right column.

Windows NT File System in Disk Utility

Method 2. Check file system info in the Finder

You can also check if your drive is in NTFS format in the Finder with a few clicks.

  1. Open the Finder and right-click on this external storage device.
  2. Choose to Get info in the context menu.
  3. You will see "Windows NT File System (NTFS)" in the File system and the state of “Writable” is No. 

external hard drive is not writable on Mac

How to fix NTFS external hard drive read-only on Mac:

After confirming that it is the Windows NTFS file system that makes your external hard drive read-only on Mac, you can go ahead to fix this problem by either using an NTFS for Mac app to enable NFTS write on Mac or reformating the external hard drive for Mac.

Solution 1. Using NTFS for the Mac tool

If you have important files on this external drive, and you frequently swap your work between Windows and Mac, reformatting is the last solution you would resort to. That's because reformatting the disk will delete all files.

If you want to use Windows hard drive on Mac without formatting, using a cross-platform NTFS driver for Mac is the best choice.

iBoysoft NTFS for Mac is the best pick. This easy-to-operate NTFS for Mac software can change the hard drive from read-only Mac without erasing, and help you use NTFS drive on Mac.

About iBoysoft NTFS for Mac

iBoysoft NTFS for Mac can mount NTFS external hard drives in read-write mode on your Mac, granting people full access to read NTFS drive on Mac and write files on NTFS-formatted drives.

iBoysoft NTFS for Mac- Best NTFS Disk Management for Mac

  • Grant full access to Windows NTFS file system on Mac
  • Read, write, modify, transfer, and delete files on NTFS drives on Mac
  • Repair NTFS disks on Mac
  • Erase disks to NTFS file system on Mac
  • Support macOS 14 to macOS 10.13
  • Fully support Apple M1, M1 Pro, M1 Max and M2 Mac

 Read-only & risk-free


How to make hard drive compatible with Windows and Mac without formatting:

  1. Free download and install iBoysoft NTFS for Mac on your computer.
  2. Connect NTFS external hard drive to Mac and launch iBoysoft NTFS for Mac.
  3. Write to NTFS external hard drive after the external hard drive is mounted in read-write mode successfully.

 Note: If you can't write to your NTFS drive after installing the software, you need to install an NTFS driver by iBoysoft and enable System Extensions as the pop-up indicates. Then, the NTFS disk will be mounted in read-write mode.

Using an NTFS for Mac is the easiest way to solve NTFS read only on Mac issue. Let others know too!


Solution 2: Enable NTFS write support with Terminal (Not recommended, not available on macOS 13 & later version)

Here is another method to solve how to transfer files from Mac to external hard drive without formatting. You can enable NTFS write support with a command prompt on your Mac.

This method is experimental and all attempts are at your own risk.

 Warning: Do not use this method as a long-term solution to solve Mac external hard drive read-only mode, especially on drives that contain important files. Meanwhile, be careful with the command line. If you input a wrong command, that may cause unexpected damage to your Mac and drives.

How to use Seagate external hard drive on Mac on Mac without formatting:

  1. Click Go at the upper right of your desktop and go to Applications > Utilities > Terminal.
  2. Input "Sudo nano /etc/fstab" to edit the fstab file (supply your password when prompted).
  3. Type "LABEL=DISKNAME none NTFS rw, auto, browse" in the editor window for the fstab file. (Be sure to change the word DISK NAME to the name of your drive)
  4. Press Control + O to save the file, followed by Control + C, and then Control + X to exit.
  5. Unmount your NTFS drive and attach it again.

Solution 3. Erase external hard drive to exFAT/FAT32 on Mac

If your NTFS external hard drive is new and empty, giving it a Mac-compatible file system is a good idea.

How to reformat the external disk on Mac? You can just go to Disk Utility and erase it. There are several formats you can choose, and erasing this disk into which file system depends on how you intend to use the drive.

  • APFS: If you plan to use the drive on macOS 13 Ventura, 12 Monterey, 11 Big Sur, 10.15 Catalina, macOS 10.14 Mojave, and macOS 10.13 High Sierra, you can format it into APFS for better read-write speed.
  • HFS+: Also known as Mac OS Extended, use this Mac file system if you are going to open this external drive on macOS Sierra and earlier Mac operating systems.
  • FAT32/exFAT: Best option if you need to view files and transfer files to external storage devices both on Windows and Mac.

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Case 2. Mac can't write to external hard drive with read-only disk permission

Users can set up file permissions to determine who can delete or modify a file or program copied to a certain drive. Thus, there is no surprise to see a message informing you that Mac external storage device is read-only when saving changes given that you don't have permission to write to the external hard drive on Mac.

You can right-click on the icon of your disk and choose "Get info", and scroll down to check the disk privilege you have. If it shows read-only, you don't have permission to write to the external hard drive on this Mac.

You can either use another Mac or use this external disk on Windows to bypass the issue. Is no second computer available? Try to change permissions on Mac for the external storage media.

external hard drive is not writable on Mac

Solution 1. Change read-only permission on Mac external hard drive with admin privilege

To solve Mac external hard drive read-only error due to limited permission, you can easily alter it if you are an administrator.

How to change Mac external hard drive Read-only permission to Read & Write:

  1. Open the Finder and find your external storage media in the left sidebar.
  2. Right-click on this drive or volume and choose to Get Info, and then scroll down to Sharing & Permissions.
  3. Extend this column by clicking on the triangle symbol, and then click on the Lock icon.
  4. Input your admin username and password, and click on Read-only, then change your privilege to Read & Write in the right column.
  5. Click the gear button (Action menu) at the bottom of the window, choose Apply to enclosed items, and then click OK to confirm the action.
  6. Click the Lock icon to save changes.

Solution 2. Ignore Permissions on an external hard drive in the Finder

Mac operating system includes a setting to allow an administrator to ignore permissions on Mac external drive, so all files should be fully accessible regardless of their permissions settings. Here below are steps to ignore the permissions on an external hard disk without formatting:

  1. Select the drive in the Finder sidebar, and then press Command + I to get information about the drive.
  2. Click on the Lock icon with the admin password and then click on the arrow by the Sharing & Permissions tab near the bottom of the window.
  3. Check the box to Ignore ownership on this volume.
  4. Click the Lock icon to save changes.

Case 3. A corrupted external hard drive is read-only

If the issue persists that Mac can't write to external hard drive, the reason could be that the internal disk logic errors preventing the system from writing to or changing file permissions to avoid further corruption. In some situations, this external disk will not be mounted for use when connected to the computer.

Solution: Repair hard drive errors with Disk Utility

Fortunately, Mac has a built-in and free disk repairing tool in Disk Utility named First Aid that can help you check and fix minor disk corruption errors. Follow the guide below to fix the external hard drive read-only Mac without formatting in Mac's Disk Utility app.

  1. Open Disk Utility from Launchpad and Another folder.
  2. Select the disk from the sidebar that is read-only.
  3. Click First Aid at the top and choose Run.
  4. Wait for a short time and see what feedback you get from running the tool. If it returns with a "First Aid process is complete" message, click Done to close the window.

Then you try to remove the problematic external hard drive and connect it back to the computer to see if you can open it and copy files from Mac to it.

If it doesn't make any difference, you need to reformat the external drive on Mac. You should rescue lost data off the external drive with data recovery tools.


Generally speaking, when you are unable to writer on external hard drive on Mac, the possible causes include that the disk is formatted with the NTFS file system, corrupted, or set with read-only disk permission. After reading this  how to make external hard drive compatible with Mac and PC without formatting via the above methods.

To solve Mac external hard drive read only error due to Microsoft NTFS format, free download iBoysoft NTFS for Mac is the most efficient way.

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