Mac OS tip for Error Code -36

Mac OS tip for Error Code -36

Mac OS tip for Error Code -36

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
March 30 2008 2:34 PM

Mac OS tip for Error Code -36

I just had a problem on my Mac that I could not solve anywhere on the web, but wound up solving on my own. If you don't own a Mac, then move along, but if you do, this may save you hours of frustration.

I have a Western Digital 500 Gb external hard drive (which I named Colossus for those who get it). It's formatted as Mac OS Extended (journaled). It came FAT32 of course, but that has issues -- like it won't allow files bigger than 4Gb which is simply stupid. So I reformatted it, and everything has been cool... until last week.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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I tried moving a movie file over today by dragging it off the Desktop and onto my external drive, and I got an error message saying Finder couldn't move it because all or part of the file had a problem. This is the dreaded "Error Code -36" message, which I assume Apple stole from Microsoft because it is a generic message which tells you nothing.

Anyway, I searched high and low on the web for some way to fix this, but nothing helped. I changed permissions, I checked for errors using disk utility, and lots of other things. Nothing worked.

I also noticed that text files moved over just fine. So did an XLS file. Just not AVIs.

I was scratching my head, and then suddenly thought: wait a sec! OSX (I'm still using 10.4 by the way) is based on Unix. I know lots of Unix!

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So I opened a terminal and cd'ed to the external drive directory. Everything looked fine. Permissions and everything were set correctly.

What I did next appears to have fixed the problem: instead of using Finder, in the terminal window I used the Unix command mv to move an AVI file from my internal drive to the external. It looked something like this:

prompt%> mv /Users/phil/Desktop/movie.avi .

... which translates to "Move the file from my desktop to the current directory" (remember, I had already cd'ed to my external drive's movie directory, which looks like /Volumes/Colossus/movies).

That worked. Aha! Maybe the problem was with Finder! So I went back and tried to move another movie file (similar to the first) using drag-and-drop, and this time it worked. W00t!

I'm not sure what was going on; maybe Finder got all bollixed up, and by directly moving the files in Unix Finder was able to find its way back to reality. I don't know why this worked. But if you ever get the Error Code -36 message, try this. I just made myself very happy after being very sad.