4 Ways for How to Fix Mac External Hard Drive Read Only

Updated to Troubleshooting Tips by William on June 8, 2022 | Approved by Jennifer Allen

Before we go forward to how to fix an external hard drive read-only on Mac, let’s first make clear why an external hard disk read only on Mac. When the external drive read only on Mac it means the external hard drive not writable on Mac. You can access the external hard drive, and view the files there, but can’t copy, paste, transfer, edit, or delete files there. When you do it, a pop-up will appear telling you that you can’t do it or you failed to do it.

Part 1. Why is my hard drive read-only on Mac?

Why does it happen? There are 3 main reasons cause the issue you can only read the external hard drive on Mac, namely

Part 2. How Do I Change My External Hard Drive from Read Only? 4 Workable Solutions

Method #1. Change permission on External Hard drive Mac without Formatting

Sometimes, due to the user account or any other permission limitations, the external hard drive on Mac is read-only. In this case, you need to change the permission or ignore the permission.

  1. Right-click on the external hard drive on your Mac and click Get Info.
  2. In the Sharing & Permission drop-down list, click on the lock icon.
  3. Tick Ignore ownership on this volume.
  4. (Optional) You can also select the currently logged in user in the Sharing & Permissions list and adjust the permissions to Read & Write under the Privilege option

That’s how to change the permission to read only external hard drive on Mac. If it doesn’t work, then you have to format the hard drive to get full access. This guide can help you fix pictures on SD card not showing up on Mac.

Method #2. First Aid in Disk Utility to Fix External Hard Drive Formatting Errors

If the formatting errors cause Mac external hard drive read only, then you can try the Mac built-in tool, First Aid, to fix it.

  1. Go to Finder > Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility to launch Disk Utility.
  2. Click the external hard drive in the left panel to highlight it.
  3. Click First Aid on the top of the window and then click Run.
  4. Wait for the fixing process to finish.

Method #3. Reformat NTFS to APFS/HFS+

If you have ensured external hard drive not writable on Mac is because it’s NTFS, to make it copy, paste, transfer, or delete files normally, you need to reformat NTFS to macOS compatible file system. Please remember that after the reformatting, the APFS/HFS+ based external hard disk does not work on Windows PC. Think twice before you do it. If you’re not sure whether you need to do it or not, you can either reformat NTFS to FAT/ExFat or get an alternative way to read NTFS on Mac is mentioned below as well.

Steps to reformat NTFS to macOS Compatible File System

  1. Go to Finder > Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility to launch it.
  2. If you see the problematic external hard drive in the left panel, then click on it to choose it. Next, click "Erase". If it is not displayed in the left panel, click the "View" menu, and choose "Show All Devices".
  3. In the new pop-up window, choose APFS or Mac OS Extended file system for the external hard drive if you will only use the external hard drive
  4. Choose a proper file system and rename your hard disk, APFS, and Mac OS Extended file system will mean the external hard drive only works on Mac, not Windows PC in the future. If you want it to work both on Mac and Windows PC, choose FAT or ExFAT.

How to Recover lost Files on External Disk after Formatting

As I have mentioned you should back up important files before formatting the external hard drive since the formatting will erase all files there. However, some people still forget to do it. The only method to rescue data after convert external hard drive to APFS or HFS+ with formatting is making use of Mac data recovery software. iBeesoft Mac Data Recovery is a great choice to recover files from an external hard drive on Mac.

  1. Download and install the Mac data recovery software. After then, launch it.
  2. In the first window, by default, all supported files are selected. You can go ahead by clicking the "Start" button or deselect unwanted file types.
  3. Next, click the "Scan" button beside the data loss external hard drive, letting the software scan for recoverable files.
  4. When the scanning process is finished, then you can see all found recoverable files are put into categories and listed in the left panel. Select file types in the left panel and check out the details on the right side.
  5. Select needed files and click "Recover" to save them to a new location on your Mac. That’s it!

Method #4. Use Third-party Tool to Read NTFS External Hard Drive on Mac

When the file system NTFS causes the external hard drive read only on Mac, instead of formatting the NTFS to macOS compatible format, you can also make use of software to read and write on the NTFS external hard drive. After all, formatting will cause all data loss and you might also need to use the external hard drive both on Windows PC and Mac.

There are more and more software tools working on Mac to read and write NTFS-based external hard drives. You can find them in Google search. Microsoft NTFS for Mac by Paragon Software is one of the options. You can install the software on your Mac and let it read and write NTFS hard drive on Mac.

Part 3. Frequently Asked Questions for Read-Only External Hard Drive on Mac

  1. How do I unlock a read only external hard drive on a Mac?
  2. To unlock a read-only external hard drive on a Mac, you should make sure what’s the reason cause the issue. Is it the file system incompatible with macOS, the permission limited, or formatting errors on the external hard drive?. After then, you can get the right way to unlock a read only external hard drive on Mac.

    1. Ignore external hard drive permission.
    2. Fix formatting errors on the problematic external hard drive.
    3. Reformat the file system or make use of a 3-rd party tool to access the external hard drive.
  3. Why can't I edit my external hard drive on Mac?
  4. You can’t edit an external hard drive on Mac, because you don’t have permission to do it. In conclusion, the external hard drive is read-only or not workable on Mac at all. You need to format it to a macOS compatible file system and get full permission.

  5. How do I recover read only from Mac external hard drive without formatting?
  6. The most efficient way is to make use of third-party tools, like paragon software. It needs you to pay for it. If you worry about data loss for formatting it, you can back up the data from the external hard drive before formatting. Formatting is an almighty way to make read-only Mac external hard drive work on Mac