Read and Write: Understand and use access rights under macOS

Under macOS you can set different access rights for files, folders and hard drives on the Apple Mac, iMac and MacBook. These help protect certain content from unauthorized persons, make it available to authorized persons, receive files in folders with restricted access, and more. With this guide you will find an introduction to the topic in order to understand and use the access rights under macOS. Both on the home Mac with several users and in the network of companies or schools, the read and write rights can help to make collaboration between people and groups efficient.

Here's how to find permission settings on macOS

Below I explain what the individual permission settings (read & write, read only, write only (mailbox) and no rights) mean. So that you can look at the associated window for a selected folder or the corresponding hard disk parallel to the explanations, here is the way to get there. These step-by-step instructions will take you directly to the table where you can select users or groups and assign them the respective permissions:

  1. Opens the folder or volume in question
  2. Right click on an empty space in the folder and then on "Get Info" - alternatively you can use the key combination Command + I (⌘ + I).
  3. In the window that opens, look at the "Share & Permissions" tab at the bottom
To set permissions for folders, disks, and other locations in macOS, pull up the information in the Finder. You can do this by right-clicking or by using the key combination ⌘ + I. Right at the bottom you can assign read and/or write permissions.
To set permissions for folders, disks, and other locations in macOS, pull up the information in the Finder. You can do this by right-clicking or by using the key combination ⌘ + I. Right at the bottom you can assign read and/or write permissions.

Add / change access rights on macOS

In the table above you can now change the respective access rights for the users and groups that have already been entered. You can also add more people or groups with the plus symbol (+) or remove them with the minus symbol (-). You can then also assign the necessary rights to read and write content to the newly added ones. You may have to identify yourself as an authorized person beforehand by clicking on the lock at the bottom right and then entering your password or using Touch ID. 

This means the access rights for macOS folders and disks

If you set permissions for users or groups of people, you should of course also know what the individual options mean. Here is a brief explanation of each choice in the menu shown above:

  • Read Write: Permission to open (read) and modify (write) objects
  • Just read: Permission to open but not modify objects
  • Write only (mailbox): Permission to drop objects, but not view or change them
  • No access: All access is denied to the selected people or groups

Example of how to use each permission for folders on Mac

The mailbox option can be used in schools, for example. This allows students in a class to copy their work results to a specific folder for the teacher to view, without the results of the others being able to be viewed. For the folders of the individual students, read and write rights can be assigned to them as individuals, while everyone else (except teachers and admins) does not have access. A folder can be created with read-only permissions for educational material that is intended for viewing only. Similar structures can also be used in companies or clubs when a Mac network is used for several people.

More info: Insufficient privileges, wheel group, user guide

Now you know how to assign the correct access rights to individual locations in the macOS system on the shared computer or in the network. Hopefully the example above has helped you understand each choice. Here is some additional information that may help you when using permissions on macOS:

  • When changing the rights, the message "The action could not be completed because you do not have the required access rights.", then you try to change rights in a system folder. This is rejected so as not to damage the operating system.

    The action could not be completed because you do not have the required access rights. -This notice indicates that you want to change permission options in a protected system folder.
    The action could not be completed because you do not have the required access rights. -This notice indicates that you want to change permission options in a protected system folder.
  • If you come across the wheel or staff group in the overview above, don't worry. These groups are part of the system and important for its functioning. You should not change or delete them (Which).

    The wheel or staff group under macOS is not a threat to your Mac. These are necessary groups of the operating system and not strangers who have gained access to your Mac.
    The wheel or staff group under macOS is not a threat to your Mac. These are necessary groups of the operating system and not strangers who have gained access to your Mac.
  • The information here applies macOS 12 Monterey and similarly styled Mac systems too. If you are looking for more information or instructions for other Mac operating systems, then take a look at the official manual (click here).
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21 Responses to “Read and Write: Understand and use access rights under macOS”

  1. Hi Sir Apfelot,

    I just bought an iMac with macOS Catalina (10.15.7) and am trying to unlock the hard drive with "i" and command key. There admin is displayed but only with the access rights “Read”. If I then want to change to "Read and Write" I get the error message: "The action could not be completed because you do not have the required access rights".

    I can't create a new user or name there either, because the same error message comes up. I'm just going in circles and haven't found anything helpful on the web.

    Maybe you can help me :-)

    Greetings Oliver

    1. Hello Oliver! Sharing is actually done via System Preferences → Sharing (I mean, that's what they called it under Catalina). There you can find the file share I think.

  2. Hello everyone. I'm absolutely new to a Mac! Now the problem with the rights I did not understand! I want to change the rights on an external hard drive because as admin I only have read rights! What must or should I do so that I can write documents or files to the disk. thank you very much
    New MacAir User 70 years old

    1. Hi Max! So you can actually read and write to an external hard drive normally. What's on the record? Maybe data from Windows files? If the disk is formatted as NTFS, macOS cannot access it and can only read it if I remember correctly. That has nothing to do with the rights. In that case you have to Microsoft NTFS for Mac by Paragon to install. This allows the Mac to write to the NTFS volumes.
      If it's another problem, feel free to contact us again!

      1. Hi Jens, that's exactly the problem! My external disk is formatted with NTFS. Watched another record and I was able to delete the files! As a senior, I am happy that you gave me the tip and were able to help. Thank you very much.

  3. Hi Jens, I'm also fighting right now. I want to use my 2021 MacBook Air to edit images on a hard drive written by a 2015 MacBook Air. I can't do anything on the new Mac. I am the sole admin and always work alone with my photos. I can read and write on the old Mac and only read on the new Mac. Although I enter the password there and the lock opens, it cannot be changed to read & write. I would not have access rights...

  4. HELLO SIR APPLELOT

    I've encountered similar problems as my predecessors - only I have limited access to my internal hard drive.
    Below the user directories I can copy, delete and create folders.
    Nothing works above the directory (programs already install, but no longer create or delete folders)
    My user account is admin - but cannot change the permissions (do not have enough user rights)

    System:
    Apple M1, macOS Ventura 13.2.1
    Disk FileVault enabled APFS formatted

    Do you have an idea what could be the reason?
    And how to fix that?

    My reports as shown above
    https://www.sir-apfelot.de/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/macos-wheel-gruppe-wichtig.jpg
    https://www.sir-apfelot.de/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/nicht-erforderliche-zugriffsrechte.jpg

    Best regards Wasi

    1. Hello wasi! Yes, I think that is correct. Apple has "sealed" macOS Ventura in such a way that the user can no longer change anything on the actual system. A security feature and not a “bug”. 😊

  5. The sovereign PC owner

    Hello dear victims of terror

    Yes, that's how I perceive the Mac access rights terror, as Mac computer terrorism.

    Is it really too much to ask for this access rights terror with a mouse click to shape the lifetime of millions of users more freely than to deal with access rights?

    For a program that eliminates the Terrorbytes, or at least turns them off with a mouse click and "grant" me unrestricted access rights to EVERYTHING - it's a mockery that you have to fight for access rights for your own PC - I would immediately put 200€ on the counter . Even at €1.000 I would still think about it.

    As the sole user of my! I wish that I would not be restricted by this in any way, or that I would have to laboriously fight for access rights in the meantime for dozens of hours, which goes so far that I have to reinstall the entire system. If I had a virtual atomic bomb against these terrorists in my PC, I would have detonated it long ago - years ago.

    1. Maybe Linux would be something for you. You can do all sorts of things there and probably even install malware and viruses without having to fight for the rights to do so. macOS is not the system for this target group...

      1. The sovereign PC owner

        Apple's security hysteria isn't just an annoyance for customers, it's unnecessary torment. It wouldn't be a problem to program it in such a way that the user could be himself with a mouse click! security needs can be satisfied.

        1. Jen Kleinholz

          I think the developers have thought of something and the UNIX system with its various user rights is generally known to be very secure. Why would you break security again to override something with one click.

  6. My iMac runs macOS Catalina 10.15.7 because it is so old that it is no longer updated. My problem is similar to the ones discussed above, but the solution doesn't work. I somehow changed the access rights and now I can do almost nothing. I can try whatever I want, but admin just can't get read&write anymore. The last thing that always comes up is the message: "The action could not be completed because you do not have the required access rights." But I want it back!
    Hello Pete

    1. Hello Pete! What about a new user? Can you try creating a new admin under System Preferences → Users & Groups? And then see if the user can work normally. If so, you can use the migration assistant to get all the data from the "broken" user. Greetings, Jens

  7. Hello everyone, I came across this page because I have been looking for a solution to the following problem for a long time:

    A few months ago I encrypted a folder on my MacBook.

    (Quick start Guide
    To secure files with a password, you must first move them to a folder. For encryption to work, this folder must be on your Mac's internal hard drive.
    Then open Disk Utility using Spotlight Search.
    There you go to “File” in the menu bar at the top, select “New Image” from the drop-down menu and finally click on “Image from folder…”.
    Now find the folder you want to encrypt in your files and click “Open”.
    In the following window you can then give the image a name and specify a storage location. Next to “Encryption,” also select “256-bit AES encryption” from the menu.
    Then enter a password with which your files should be protected and then click on “Select”.
    Then confirm your details with “Save”. The image of your sensitive data will then be created.
    You can now find the image in the previously specified storage location. You can access your files by double-clicking and entering your password.
    If you are no longer working with the files, you should always eject the image, otherwise unauthorized persons can access the files without the password.
    Note: You should definitely delete the original folder from which you created the image. This contains the files without encryption.)

    Now I have the problem that I can't add a new file to the folder/image. I can only read but can no longer save anything there - although I can read and write under Image Information.

    Can I do something to make this possible again or are the hops and malt lost?

    Kind regards, Vicky

    1. Hallo Vicky,

      Was it possible to add files to this directory before?

      As I understand the concept of “image” and also the instructions shown, a folder is not created for data exchange, but rather a folder image. This serves as an image/virtual drive to access the files summarized in this way, similar to a CD or other read-only data carrier. This can also be compared with a data carrier image, for example in IMG or ISO format. Here, too, there is a file that can be mounted in order to use its contents, but which is not intended to be edited.

      So if I don't misunderstand the matter and if it wasn't possible to add files before, then you have to proceed differently here. The new procedure would be: Copy the files from the image to a new (unencrypted) folder. Add the additional files to this new, normal folder. And then save this new file combination as an image again following the instructions shown. Alternatively, you can look for a way to encrypt regular folders (possibly using a third-party app), or a password-protected USB stick use.

      Best regards
      John

      1. Hi John,

        Thank you for your reply. No, it was probably never possible to save files there - but I wasn't aware of that.
        I was actually just looking for a way to password the folder on my Mac - so that not everyone using the MacBook has access to the documents.
        All right, then I guess I have no choice but to save a copy of each file in a new folder. :)

        Kind regards, Vicky

  8. Mr. Jen Kleinholz, you are completely wrong. Neither you nor Apple can decide whether I want security or not. I ALONE DECIDE. I own the computer and have the right to do whatever I want with it and all of its contents. This has been the case with all computers and operating systems in the history of computing, until now, when Apple wants to turn MacOs into iOS.
    Apple violates the rights of its users. When I bought my Mac you could change the permissions on every file and folder.

    1. Well, I don't see it that way. With its operating system, Apple delivers a finished product that has certain features. If you don't like this one, you either have to choose another product or "forcibly" change it so that you can impose your own desires. If I have a washing machine, I can of course do whatever I want with it and unscrew it and put things in or take things out. But I can't tell the washing machine manufacturer that I have to be able to do that. If he uses special screws to make the procedure more difficult for me, that is his decision and, as far as I know, there is no law that would prohibit this. Whether you think that's good or bad is another matter.

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