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3 Quick Ways to Solve Mac External Hard Drive Read Only

Updated on Monday, June 20, 2022

iBoysoft author Frances Yang

Written by

Frances Yang
Professional tech editor

Approved by

Jessica Shee

How to Solve Mac External Hard Drive Read Only Error Without Formatting?

Summary: You will find 3 methods to quickly solve Mac external hard drive read-only error. 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

Table of Contents:

After a Mac-compatible hard drive is connected to a Mac computer, you can open it and have full read and write access. It is not impossible that the external hard drive is read-only on Mac, preventing you from copying or transferring any files from Mac to the external drive, let alone writing to the external drive on Mac.

For example, many people have reported that their WD My Passport read-only on Mac and don't know 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 formatted
  • Disk permission is changed to read-only
  • The external hard drive is corrupted

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

Most external drives and SSDs are previously formatted with Microsoft NTFS for Windows using. The NTFS format is not a Mac-compatible file system because macOS only reads it but does not allows writing to it. Then it is not a Mac compatible external hard drive.

If you try to copy or transfer files from Mac to an NTFS-formatted external storage device on Mac, you'll see the greyed-out forbidden symbol shown below. After opening the disk, all documents show read-only or locked. That means you can't write to external hard drive Mac.

Cannot copy or drag files to NTFS drives on Mac

What file system does Mac use then? Mac can fully support APFS (macOS 10.13 or above), HFS+, and FAT family. If you find your Apple external hard drive has a read only error, the first thing to check is what file system the external HDD or SSD is formatted, NTFS or not.

How do I know if my external hard drive is an 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 this 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)" after the File system if the read-only drive is formatted with the Microsoft NTFS.

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 that makes your Mac external hard drive read-only mode, you can go ahead to fix this problem by either reformating the external hard drive for Mac or using an NTFS for Mac third party app.

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. 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 hard drive from read-only Mac without erasing and make the NTFS drive writable 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 12 to macOS 10.13
  • Fully support Apple M1, M1 Pro, and M1 Max Mac

 Read-only & risk-free




 

How to access the read-only external hard drive on your Mac with iBoysoft NTFS for Mac:

  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.

Solution 2: Enable NTFS read-write with Terminal (not recommended)

You can also try the experimental method to enable NTFS read-write support with a command prompt on your Mac. In this way, you still do not need to reformat the external hard drive for Mac. 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 and cause unexpected damage to your Mac and drives.

How to change Mac external hard drive read-only mode with Terminal:

  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 Mac external disk to exFAT/FAT32

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 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.

Case 2. 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, if the external hard disk has read-only permission, there is no surprise to see a message informing you that Mac external storage media is read-only when saving changes given that you don't have permission to write to external hard drive 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 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 the external storage media on Mac.

external hard drive is not writable on Mac

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

Can't change permissions on Mac? Internal disk logic errors will prevent the system from writing to or changing file permissions on an external drive to avoid further corruption. Or even worse, this external disk will not be mounted for use at the beginning.

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 file system 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.

Conclusion

Generally speaking, Mac external hard drive read only error appears when it is formatted with the NTFS file system, corrupted, or set with read-only disk permission. You know 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.