How many times have you encountered Spotlight failing to find the file that you are looking for on the Mac when you're 100% sure it's there? How about wanting to edit a file and getting a prompt saying the file is locked? When these things happen, you can know for sure that it's time to fix the disk permissions on your Mac.
What Is Permission Repair?
When it comes to troubleshooting and Mac maintenance, one of the most frequently suggested actions – especially for older macOS versions – is to repair disk permissions.
The short explanation is that Mac OS X incorporates a subsystem based on a UNIX-style operating system that uses permissions in the file system. Every file or folder on your Mac has permissions set to determine who can read, write to, or execute it: you (the owner), staff (a group of people) or everyone. Going further, this means that if you want to open a folder, you need to have the execute permission for that folder, so it makes sense that shared folders will have their permissions set to allow execute access to anyone.
Issues With Incorrect Permissions
If there is order in the universe, everything just works. However, if these permissions get messed up – maybe a third-party app installer sets incorrect permissions on the files it installs or messes up the whole application folder – then weird things will occur. Have you seen a question mark instead of the app icon in the dock? Have you had troubles connecting to the internet? Or is Spotlight failing to find a file? Such problems are caused by incorrect permissions.
Also, it is worth noting that your home folder contains many files and folders that third-party apps have permissions to either read or write to. By modifying permissions with Get Info or another method, you might experience issues such as:
- The changes made in System Preferences aren't saved.
- The changes made to the Dock aren't saved.
- You repeatedly get a message saying that macOS needs to fix your Library to run applications.
- Your Mac runs slowly, and more.
How to View Permissions Settings for a Folder or File
- Select the targeted file and hit the Command + I keys or select File > Get Info in Finder.
- If the Sharing & Permissions section at the bottom of the window isn't open, click the triangle to open it.
- Adjust the permissions settings as needed and type in the administrator username and password if required.
How to Repair Disk Permissions
If you encounter any of the issues mentioned, then you definitely need to repair permissions. We recommend running a maintenance script regularly – at least once a month. Some recommend running it every time you install new software (and not prior to it), but that could be a bit too much – especially if you don’t often install new programs.
Prior to OS X El Capitan, the repair disk permissions function was included in Disk Utility's “First Aid” feature. Along with checking the file system and suggesting edits, the utility provided a one-click solution for the issue: “Repair Permissions”.
With the introduction of System Integrity Protection in OS X El Capitan, however, Apple removed the repair permissions feature from Disk Utility, claiming that the system files are now protected from intentional and inadvertent change and therefore eliminating the need for this tool.
With macOS Sierra, however, Apple re-enabled it, but with a twist. Now, to adjust the permissions and apply the change throughout the home folder, you need to:
- Select the home holder and click File > Get Info.
- Click on the arrow at the Sharing & Permissions section to open it.
- Type the administrator name and password after clicking on the lock icon at the bottom.
- Click on the Action menu in the bottom corner, choose “Apply to enclosed items”, and confirm.
- After the progress bar completes, continue the procedure by opening the Terminal app and pasting the following command followed by Return.
diskutil resetUserPermissions / `id -u`
- Quit Terminal once the process is complete.
For Mac users running El Capitan or earlier, OnyX or CleanMyMac provide the option to repair disk permissions as part of their maintenance features, so make sure you make the most of these commands – especially now that you know what it will be fixing.
Best Mac Optimization Software of 2020