I copied a lot of read-only files from a Windows system to my Mac. When viewing the Info for each file using "Get Info", I can see they are Locked. I'm writing a bash script to copy over some files and I'm getting an error that says "Operation not permitted" So, first I need to unlock the files. Since I'll be pulling files from the Windows system often, I want my script to unlock these files.

What is the terminal command to unlock "Locked" files on OSX?


To unlock files you can use:

  • chflags = change flags on files/folders such as "locked"
  • -R = recursive or for everything and follow directories within the specified directory
  • nouchg = means the file can be changed
  • /PATH/ = of course is the path to the files you want to change. Something like: ~/Sites/mysite/directory/with/locked/files/ works as well.
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This is helpful if you want to search an entire directory and unlock all files.

In the terminal cd to the directory

This command finds and will print a list of them.

$ find . -flags uchg

This command unlocks them.

$ find . -flags uchg -exec chflags nouchg {} \;

You can use the first command to double check that all the files are unlocked after running the second command, voilĂ  !

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  • 1
    While this works, it can be extremely slow for large numbers of files because it starts a new process for each file. – Richard Waite Aug 23 '14 at 23:52
  • I find I have to use + : find . -flags +uchg even to find files that only seem to have the one flag, uchg, set. – Chris F Carroll Nov 28 '19 at 13:05

You can also use SetFile -a l, even though it does the same thing as chflags nouchg:

SetFile -a l file.ext

-a l unsets the bit for the locked attribute. You can install SetFile by downloading the Command Line Tools package from Xcode's preferences or from developer.apple.com/downloads.

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  • This is the method that worked for me on macOS Sierra with a few files copied from a Windows machine. I used : SetFile -a l ~/Documents/Arduino/Samples/* – callisto May 18 '17 at 6:59

There are actually two lock flags that can be set on a file: uchg and schg. A file that has the uchg flag set is immutable by normal users but it is mutable by the system. A file that has the schg flag set is immutable by anyone. Both flags can be set at the same time.

To see which flags are set on a file, use

ls -lO FILE

That is a capital letter o, not zero.

To definitely unlock a file, you would have to execute

chflags nouchg,noschg FILE

as if both flags were set and you remove only one of them, it will still be locked.

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