Correcting Dropbox Folder Permissions in Mac OS X to Solve the Error: can't syc __ permission denied


Though most things were syncing between my computers, I always had the message that some files could not sync: “can’t sync ____ permission denied.”  Reading through help topics on the Dropbox site did not help me solve the problem.  Finally, on a long snow-day at home, I started Googling and got plenty of results to work with.

I’ll share my process below, with the understanding that it is “USE AT YOUR OWN RISK.”

First, it is always important to give credit, and at the LINK I chose to follow, a guy named Phil Norton originally posted a request for help and 25 others clicked the “I have this problem too” button.  Dropbox is very customer-friendly, and they joined in the discussion, asking Phil to update his client software and email them so they could look at what may have caused the problem. (Whether he did is not clear.) They also posted this:

hey all,
could i have you shoot us an e-mail over to doing this will allow us to take a peek beneath the hood of your accounts to see what could be causing the issues. thanks!

(When I emailed Dropbox about an unrelated problem, they were super, and they helped me fix my mistake quickly and easily.  I highly recommend their customer support.)

In the forum, several users had success with the solution shared by “willbank.”  He shared a Dropbox support article link that solved his problem.  However, that was in 2010, and it looks like the article has changed.  Luckily, “willbank” was kind enough to break it down for us in his reply.   (Former link location:

Directions to manually change Dropbox permissions are posted below, along with some clarifications that I needed along the way:

For reference:
I am using Mac OS X on a 2006 MacBook Pro for this fix.
Other machines syncing to my account are a 2010 OS X iMac, an HP Tablet PC, and an iPad.

  1. If you have ever moved the Dropbox folder, or are unsure, you will need to find the path for your Dropbox folder and make note of it.
    • To find the path, right click (or control-click) on the Dropbox folder & select “Get Info”
    • In the new window, look for “Where.”
    • It should like something like this:  Where: /Users/MyUserName/Desktop

  2. Open the Terminal
    • It is usually located in the Applications folder and then the Utilities folder.

  3. Copy & paste the following lines into Terminal one at a time or type them exactly as written and hit the return key after each line: (In the first two, REPLACE “(path)” with the path you found in step 1. ie: sudo chown -R $USER /Users/MyUserName/Desktop
      1. sudo chown -R $USER (path)
      2. sudo chmod -R u+rw (path)
      3. sudo chown -R $USER ~/.dropbox
      4. sudo chmod -R u+rw ~/.dropbox

You may get a warning message, letting you know that you are messing with serious commands and that they could seriously impact your data.  Do not ignore those warnings.  If you are not familiar with the Terminal, this is not the place to mess around.

The original directions looked easy and worry-free, but the warning was enough to convince me that I should have assistance.  Since my spouse happens to be a genius (not the Apple kind, but the real kind 😉  – find him on twitter, @raowen or at, I had him check over my intended changes and asked him to stand by via text in case I goofed.

After securing my backup guy, I typed very carefully, with the knowledge that it could all go wrong.  (I’ll open just about anything with a screwdriver, but software makes me nervous!)

It looks like everything on this machine is now syncing perfectly, the way Dropbox intended!



Changes made for clarification and broken links: Jan. 30, 2014

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