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Can't delete files from external hard drive on Mac because the file is in use?

Since upgrading to macOS Ventura, I can't delete files from my exFAT external hard drive on Mac. It gives me an error reading "The operation can't be completed because the item is in use." FYI, the files are in the Trash folder. I tried to delete on a Windows PC, it worked. But I want to be able to delete the files on my Mac. I tried Safe Mode but the issue remains. Can you help me delete these files from my external hard drive on Mac?

Best Answered by

iBoysoft author Jenny Zeng

Jenny Zeng

Answered on Monday, July 10, 2023

The error "The operation can't be completed because the item is in use" indicates the file you're trying to delete or empty from Trash is currently being used by another application or process. To fix it, try the following methods.

Quit the application or process that may be using the file

The first step is to locate the application or process that's using the file, preventing it to be deleted from your external hard drive on Mac. If you have no idea what may be using it, run the following command in Terminal. (In Terminal, type lsof followed by a single space, then drag and drop the file to the Terminal window and press Enter.)

lsof path_to_file

If the file is in use by an application, quit it.

If the file is in use by a background process, terminate it in Activity Monitor after researching whether it's safe to quit it.

Force delete the file in use from Terminal

If you still can't delete the file from your external hard drive, try force deleting it using the following command in Terminal.

rm -f path_to_file

Log out and log back in your Mac

What else you can try is to log out of your current account and log back in. This will close all apps and processes that are currently running, stopping any of them using the file. You can also try a reboot.

Downgrade macOS

Since the issue began after you upgraded to macOS Ventura, you can downgrade Ventura to Monterey to resolve the issue. 

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