Sun. Jul 14th, 2024
Unable to Copy Files From Mac to External Hard Drive


Unable to Copy Files From Mac to External Hard Drive: Troubleshooting Guide

Have you ever encountered the frustrating situation where you’re unable to copy files from your Mac to an external hard drive? It’s a common issue that can disrupt your workflow and jeopardize your data backup plans. In this comprehensive troubleshooting guide, we’ll walk you through the steps to diagnose and resolve this problem. Whether it’s a hardware glitch, a software conflict, or a simple oversight, we’ve got you covered.

Unable to Copy Files From Mac to External Hard DriveĀ 

Inspect Cables and Connections

One of the most basic yet often overlooked reasons for file copy failures is faulty cables or loose connections. Before diving into complex solutions, take a moment to inspect your USB or Thunderbolt cables. Are they damaged? Are they properly connected to your Mac and the external drive? A loose or damaged cable can easily disrupt data transfer. Try using different cables or ports to rule out this issue.

Testing on Another Mac/Computer

If the problem persists, it’s essential to determine whether it’s specific to your Mac or not. Borrow a friend’s Mac or use another computer if available, and attempt to copy files to the external drive. This step will help identify if the issue lies with your Mac’s configuration or if it’s a problem with the external drive itself.

External Hard Drive Health

Your external hard drive’s health is crucial for seamless data transfer. To check its condition on your Mac, you can use the built-in tool called Disk Utility. Access it through the “Applications” folder, then “Utilities,” and finally “Disk Utility.” Select your external drive from the left sidebar and click “First Aid” to run diagnostics. This tool can detect and repair minor disk issues that might be causing copy problems.

Understanding HFS+ and exFAT

Sometimes, the issue arises from incompatible file systems. Macs typically use the HFS+ file system, while Windows machines use NTFS or exFAT. To ensure smooth file transfers between Mac and Windows, your external drive should be formatted with exFAT. If it isn’t, you’ll encounter errors when copying files. Be cautious, though; reformatting the drive will erase its content, so back up your data first.

How to Format the External Drive

If your external hard drive isn’t formatted with exFAT, don’t worry. You can easily reformat it using Disk Utility. Open Disk Utility, select your external drive, and click the “Erase” tab. Choose “exFAT” as the format, give it a name, and click “Erase.” Remember, this will erase everything on the drive, so be sure to have a backup.

Updating macOS

Another reason for file copy problems could be an outdated macOS version. Apple frequently releases updates to improve system stability and compatibility. Go to “Apple Menu” > “System Preferences” > “Software Update” to check for the latest updates. Install any pending updates, and this might resolve your file transfer issues.

Disk Permissions

File permissions dictate who can access and modify files on your Mac. Incorrect permissions settings can lead to copy errors. To check and adjust permissions, navigate to the file or folder you’re trying to copy, right-click it, and select “Get Info.” In the “Sharing & Permissions” section, ensure your user account has the necessary privileges. If not, click the lock icon, enter your admin password, and make the necessary changes.

Identifying Space Hogs

Running out of space on your external hard drive can also prevent file transfers. To pinpoint which files or folders are taking up the most space, use a utility like DaisyDisk or OmniDiskSweeper. These tools will provide a visual representation of your disk space usage, making it easier to identify and delete large, unnecessary files.

Deleting Unnecessary Files

Once you’ve identified space hogs, it’s time to clear them out. Delete any files or folders that you no longer need or can safely relocate to another storage location. Empty the trash to free up space on your external drive. Now, try copying your files again; you should have ample space for a successful transfer.

Additional Tips

Using Third-Party Software

If you’ve tried all the above solutions and still can’t copy files, consider using third-party software like Paragon NTFS for Mac or Tuxera NTFS. These tools enable seamless read and write access to NTFS-formatted drives on your Mac, eliminating compatibility issues.

Data Recovery Considerations

Sometimes, during troubleshooting, data may accidentally get deleted or corrupted. If this happens, it’s essential to have a data recovery plan in place. Tools like Disk Drill or Data Rescue can help you recover lost files from your Mac or external drive. Always attempt data recovery cautiously to avoid further data loss.

Seeking Professional Help

If all else fails and you’re unable to resolve the file copy issue, it’s time to consult a Mac specialist or visit an Apple Store. They can diagnose and address complex hardware or software issues that may be beyond the scope of this guide.

How to Copy Files From Mac to External Hard Drive Without Formatting?

Transferring files from your Mac to an external hard drive without formatting it is a straightforward process. First, connect your external hard drive to your Mac using a compatible cable. Ensure the drive is recognized by your Mac before proceeding. Next, open Finder and locate the files you want to copy.

Select the desired files or folders and right-click or use the “Edit” menu to choose “Copy” (or simply press Command + C). Now, navigate to your external hard drive in Finder and right-click or use the “Edit” menu to choose “Paste” (or press Command + V). Your files will begin copying to the external drive. Once the transfer is complete, safely eject the external hard drive to ensure data integrity.


Copying files from your Mac to an external hard drive should be a straightforward task, but when issues arise, it can be a real headache. By following the troubleshooting steps outlined in this guide, you can identify and resolve the problem, ensuring your important files are safely backed up. Remember to maintain your external drive’s health, keep your macOS updated, and be mindful of file system compatibility. With these tips, you’ll conquer file copy issues and keep your digital life running smoothly.