Your home folder is the center of your Mac universe; At least, it’s where you keep your user data, projects, music, videos, and other documents. Almost anything you work on will have a data file of some kind stored in your home folder.
This is why it can be very worrying when you suddenly have trouble accessing the data in your home folder. The problem can appear in many ways, such as when you are prompted for an administrator password when copying files to or from your home folder, or when you are prompted for a password when putting files in the trash or deleting the trash.
You may also encounter login issues where you can log in to your Mac but your home folder is not available to you.
All these problems are caused by corrupt file and folder permissions. OS X uses file permissions to determine who has the right to access a file or folder. This keeps your home folder reasonably safe from prying eyes; it also explains why you can’t access someone else’s home folder on a shared Mac.
At this point, you may think you need to run Disk Utility First Aid, which can fix file permissions. The problem, as silly as it sounds, is that Disk Utility only repairs drive permissions on system files located on the startup drive. It never accesses or repairs user account files.
With Disk Utility out of the picture, we need to resort to another method of correcting user account file permissions. There are some utilities that can fix this problem, such as Permissions Reset, a Tom’s Mac Software Pick. But while resetting permissions can fix a file or folder of items, it’s not a good option for something as large as a home folder, which contains many different files with different types of permissions.
A better option, if it’s a bit more cumbersome, is Password Reset, another utility that’s built right into your Mac. In addition to resetting a forgotten password, you can also use Password Reset to repair file permissions on a user’s home folder without resetting the password.
The password reset utility is available on the OS X installation disc (OS X 10.6 and earlier) or on the Recovery HD partition (OS X 10.7 and later). Since how to use Password Reset changed with the introduction of Lion, we will cover both Snow Leopard (10.6) and earlier, and Lion (OS X 10.7) and later.
FileVault Data Encryption
If you are using FileVault 2 to encrypt data on your startup drive, you must first disable FileVault 2 before continuing. You can do it with the instructions at:
FileVault 2 – Using Disk Encryption with Mac OS X
Once you’ve completed the process of resetting user account permissions, you can re-enable FileVault 2 after restarting your Mac.
Reset password – Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6) or earlier
- Close all applications that are open on your Mac.
- Locate your OS X installation disc and insert it into the optical drive.
- Restart your Mac by holding down the c key while booting. This will force your Mac to boot from the OS X install disc. The startup time will be a bit longer than usual, so be patient.
- When your Mac finishes booting up, it will display the standard OS X installation process. Select your language, and then click the arrow button or continue button. Don’t worry, we’re not going to install anything. We just have to go to the next step in the installation process, where the Apple menu bar is full of menus.
- From the Utilities menu, select Reset Password.
- In the Reset Password window that opens, select the drive that contains the main folder; it is usually the startup drive of your Mac.
- Use the dropdown menu to select the user account whose home folder permissions you want to correct.
DO NOT enter any password information.
DO NOT click the Save button.
- Instead, click the Reset button located just below the “Reset parent folder permissions and ACLs” text.
- The process may take a while, depending on the size of the home folder. Eventually the Reset button will change to say Done.
- To exit the Password Reset utility, select Exit from the Password Reset menu.
- To quit the OS X Installer, choose Quit Mac OS X Installer from the Mac OS X Installer menu.
- Click the Restart button.
Reset Password – Lion (OS X 10.7) or later
For some reason, Apple removed Reset Password from the Utilities menu in OS X Lion and later. However, the application used to reset user account passwords and permissions is still present; you just need to start the application using Terminal.
- Start by booting from the Recovery HD partition. You can do this by restarting your Mac while holding down the command + r keys. Hold down both keys until the Recovery HD desktop appears.
- You’ll see the OS X Utilities window open on your desktop, with various options available in its window. You can ignore this window; there is nothing we need to do with it.
- Instead, select Terminal from the Utilities menu at the top of the screen.
- In the Terminal window that opens, enter the following:
- Press Enter or Return.
- The Reset Password window will open.
- Make sure the Reset Password window is the first window. Then follow steps 6 through 14 in the “Reset password – Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6) or earlier” section to reset the user account permissions.
- Once you exit the Reset Password application, be sure to exit the Terminal application by selecting Exit Terminal from the Terminal menu.
- From the OS X Utilities menu, select Quit OS X Utilities.
- You’ll be asked if you really want to quit OS X Utilities; click the Restart button.
That’s all it takes to reset your user account’s file permissions to the correct default settings. At this point, you can use your Mac as you normally would. The problems you were experiencing should be gone.