macOS El Capitan (10.11) is unable to install any software updates or install any software because the /tmp and the /private/tmp folders don't seem to be writeable.

Running this:

sudo /usr/libexec/repair_packages --repair --standard-pkgs --volume /

Gives me this error:

unable to set owner and group on "tmp" Error 1 Operation not permitted
unable to set permissions on "tmp" Error 1 Operation not permitted

Is there a way to manually delete the tmp folders and recreate them? When I tried renaming or deleting /tmp or /private/tmp I kept getting operation not permitted. sudo chmod 1777 also failed in the same way on both /tmp and /private/tmp folders

Disk Utility says the disk is healthy with no issues detected when running first aid.

Is there any way to redirect the tmp location to another writeable folder?

  • 1
    Did you disable SIP first? From Recovery; Terminal csrutil disable – Tetsujin Oct 10 '16 at 4:50
  • 2
    I have the same problem. Followed Tetsujin's advice, restarted in recovery mode, and ran csrutil disable. After that, I was able to execute repair_packages with success and was able to access /tmp as usual. However, after going back to recovery mode and executing csrutil enable, my system is having the same problem. It seems the only way I can gain access to /tmp is by disabling System Integrity Protection. – Andrew Ferk Oct 17 '16 at 21:15
  • 4
    I ended up going back to recovery mode and executing csrutil disable. After a restart, I removed tmp folder: sudo rm /tmp; sudo rm /private/tmp, created tmp folder sudo mkdir /private/tmp; sudo chown root:wheel /private/tmp; sudo chmod 1777 /private/tmp, created the symlink: sudo ln -s /private/tmp /tmp, and ran repair_pacakges again. After going back to recovery mode and running csrutil enable, all is working again! However, the permissions of /private/tmp used to be drwxrwxrwt@ and now they are drwxrwxrwt. I'm unsure what the @ is and if this will cause me problems. – Andrew Ferk Oct 17 '16 at 21:34
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    @AndrewFerk: see these posts apple.stackexchange.com/questions/42177/… unix.stackexchange.com/questions/10/what-does-the-mean-in-ls-l for explanation of the @ extended permissions marker – Adam Michalik Oct 18 '16 at 7:25
  • Another, simpler, solution: apparently, sudo mkdir /private/tmp followed by sudo chmod +t /private/tmp is enough. – Clément Apr 21 at 13:27
  1. Reboot your Mac into recovery mode
  2. Open Utilities menu in the top bar > open Terminal

    csrutil disable
  3. Reboot

  4. Remove the tmp folder

    sudo rm -i /tmp
    sudo rm -i /private/tmp
  5. Create tmp folder

    sudo mkdir /private/tmp
    sudo chown root:wheel /private/tmp
    sudo chmod 1777 /private/tmp
  6. Create the symlink

    sudo ln -s /private/tmp /tmp
  7. Run repair_packages (you may not need to do this)

    sudo /usr/libexec/repair_packages --repair --standard-pkgs --volume /
  8. Reboot back to recovery mode and run

    csrutil enable
  9. Reboot

Props to Andrew Ferk for figuring out a fix; pulling out your comment as a community wiki answer so it's more readable.

  • 2
    Thank you!!! I had spent 3 days pulling my hair out over this. No idea how the permissions got so screwed in the first place, but one day I turned on the mac to a selection of warnings, programs not working and an inability to install anything. This fixed that problem. – johngeorgewright Oct 20 '16 at 10:10
  • Why did you make this CW? – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica Oct 24 '16 at 13:31
  • 1
    Because I didn't want to get credit for an answer which I merely converted from someone else's comment – ento Oct 24 '16 at 14:47
  • Alright, cool. BTW, I did not see your comment until now since there was no @Fiksdal. – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica Nov 3 '16 at 18:03
  • 10.13: sudo: /usr/libexec/repair_packages: command not found – Даниил Пронин Feb 27 '18 at 5:16
sudo chmod 1777 /private/tmp

Did it for me.

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I fixed this by restoring my system from a Time Machine Backup. But the other suggestions in the comments are worth trying too.

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If you got this message in terminal (or iTerm) using maxOS Mojave

Operation not permitted

It turned out I needed to add my terminal app to the Settings.app "Security & Privacy" > "Full Disk Access"
(I added both terminal.app and iTerm.app)

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Try to create and modify permissions on /private/tmp folder without running csrutil disable. This worked for me, after trying unsuccessfully to delete and the error message on boot is gone.

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