Here’s what to do if drag and drop stops working on a Mac

Drag and drop is the simplest and most common action carried out in a graphical user interface. In the early days of the Mac, the ability to click on a file and drag it into a different folder or to the Trash was one of the things that set it apart from other operating systems, notably DOS. However, while it works for most Mac users almost all of the time, there are some occasions when it can stop working, and when it does, it can be frustrating. In this article, we’ll explain possible causes and tell you what to do when drag and drop stops working.

What do we mean by drag and drop on Mac?

Quite simply, the act of moving the pointer using a mouse or trackpad, clicking and dragging a file or folder somewhere else, then letting go. Depending on what you’re working in and how you drag and drop, that action will either move the file or folder or copy it.

Why does drag and drop stop working?

There can be many reasons why drag and drop stops working, but they can be split into two broad categories:

  • Hardware
  • Software

In the hardware category, it could be something as simple as a Bluetooth mouse running low on battery power or losing its connection. Or it could be an issue with the surface of a trackpad.

Software issues include your Mac running very slowly or hanging, software being out of date, or even a malware infection.

How to fix it when drag and drop is not working

As with solving any problem, it’s best to eliminate the most obvious and simplest to fix possibilities first. Here are the steps you should take.

1. Check your mouse battery

If you have a Bluetooth mouse, check that the batteries are charged and charge or replace them if necessary. If you use an external trackpad, check its battery.

2. Check your mouse or trackpad connection

If you use a wireless mouse or trackpad, make sure it’s connected. If it uses Bluetooth, go to System Settings > Bluetooth and reconnect it if necessary. If it’s a USB mouse, make sure the cable is securely connected. If you have another mouse or trackpad, try connecting those and see if it solves the problem.

3. Relaunch Finder

Occasionally Finder can run into problems and make it seem like something more serious is wrong. You can relaunch the Finder to fix it.

  • Press Command-Option-Escape.
  • Select Finder.
  • Click Relaunch.

4. Check your mouse or trackpad settings

  • Click the Apple menu and choose System Settings.
  • Select Mouse or Trackpad, depending on which you are using.
  • Check the settings to make sure they are as they should be.

5. Run maintenance scripts

Maintenance Scripts in CleanMyMac X

You can prevent lots of problems with your Mac, including some with drag and drop, by running regular maintenance routines. The easiest way to do that is to use a handy tool like CleanMyMac X. Its Maintenance module can run maintenance scripts, free up RAM, reindex Spotlight, and more. If you run these routines regularly, it should keep your Mac running smoothly. You can download the app for free here.

6. Update macOS

If you’ve ruled out hardware as the cause of the problem, check to make sure you have installed the latest update for whatever version of macOS you are running.

Go to the Apple menu and choose About This Mac > System Settings > General. Then, click Software Update. If there is an update available, install it.

7. Boot in safe mode

When you boot your Mac in safe mode, it starts up without loading some extensions and login items. So, if the drag and drop issue is caused by a faulty extension or login item, it should be working correctly in safe mode. The process for booting your Mac in safe mode is different for Apple silicon and Intel-based Mac computers.

Mac with Apple silicon:

  1. Shut down your Mac.
  2. Press the power button and hold it until you see Startup options.
  3. Select the disk your Mac typically boots from.
  4. Hold down the Shift key, then click Continue in Safe Mode.
  5. Release the Shift key.
  6. Log in. You may have to log in more than once.

Intel-based Mac:

  1. Restart your Mac while holding down the Shift key.
  2. Release the Shift key when you see the login window.
  3. Log in. You might have to log in a second time.
  4. You should see “Safe boot” in the top corner of the login window.

If drag and drop works in safe mode, it’s likely that the problem was caused by a system extension or login item. To find out which, restart your Mac normally. If drag and drop doesn’t work, the issue is a system extension or login item. And it’s much more likely to be a third-party login item than a system extension.

If none of the steps above work, the very last resort is to reinstall macOS. Before you do that, back up your Mac with Time Machine. Then reboot in Recovery mode and choose Reinstall macOS.

If you suddenly find that you can’t drag and drop on your Mac, don’t worry; there’s probably a simple explanation. Follow the steps above in order to identify the cause of the problem and fix it. And remember to use CleanMyMac X’s Maintenance module to keep your Mac running smoothly.