Here’s how to fix error code -36 on your Mac

Most of the time, when we do stuff like copying and moving files on our Macs, it just works. But what about those rare occasions when it doesn’t just work? One example is when you see an error message on your Mac that says something like ‘The Finder can’t complete the operation because… (Error code -36)’. In this article, we’ll show you what to do when you see that error code.

What is error code -36?

Before we tell you what to do when you see the error message, let’s talk about what it means. Error code -36 relates to actions in the Finder, such as moving, copying, or deleting files. It usually means that the Finder can’t read some or all of the data in the file. And the error message will helpfully tell you which file is giving problems. When you see the file name, you may notice that it has a ‘.’ before its name and an ‘’ later in the name. For example, ‘.DSStore’ is one file that may cause the error. That ‘.’ means the file is hidden in the Finder. And the error code -36 indicates that the file can’t be read or written.

Did you know?

Your Mac stores hundreds of invisible files like .DSStore, which contain lots of information about other files on your Mac and are essential for Finder to function correctly. However, they perform no function on other file systems, so when you see one on a USB stick that you use on Windows PCs and your Mac or a network drive, it’s because the other file system has made it visible. Files named .DSStore, for example, contain information about custom attributes for files like icon positions and Get Info comments.

What causes error code -36 on Mac?

Error -36 usually occurs when a file with a '.' and '_' in its name becomes corrupted, or there is some other problem with it. When that happens, the Finder is unable to work with the files you are trying to copy, move, or delete because it can't find the information it needs.

How to fix error code -36

The solution to the error, in most cases, is to merge the files causing the problem with their parent files using a Unix command. That will eliminate the problematic files while retaining the information they hold. As with every other command-line interaction on your Mac, this is done using Terminal. It’s straightforward to do, but you should make sure, as with all Terminal commands, that you type in the command exactly as it is displayed here:

  1. Go to Applications > Utilities.
  2. Double-click Terminal to launch it.
  3. Type: dot_clean
  4. In the Finder, navigate to the folder that contains the files you were trying to copy, move, or delete.
  5. Drag the folder onto the Terminal window after the command you just typed.
  6. You should now see the file path displayed after the command you typed.
  7. Press Return.
  8. Try moving, copying or deleting the files again.
  9. Quit Terminal.

In step 5 above, we told you to drag a folder onto the Terminal window. That’s a shortcut for typing out the path to the folder in full. It can be convenient if you’re unsure of the correct file path or how it should be formatted or if you don’t want to type a long pathname. You can use it with any Terminal command that needs a file path as a parameter.

How to fix error code -36 without Terminal

If you’re not comfortable using Terminal, and lots of Mac users aren’t, there is another way to try and fix this and other Finder errors. It’s a useful app for resolving all kinds of problems on your Mac. As well as helping you fix issues, CleanMyMac X can also improve your Mac’s performance, keep it free from malware, and free up several gigabytes of space currently occupied by junk. To fix the error code -36 problem, we will use CleanMyMac X to reset the Finder. You can download CleanMyMac X for free here.

Safari reset selected in the Uninstaller module in CMMX
  1. Launch CleanMyMac X and choose the Uninstaller module.
  2. Locate Finder in the right-hand window.
  3. Click the arrow to the right of its name.
  4. Check the buttons next to Preferences, Supporting Files, and Logs.
  5. Click Your Selection and choose Reset.
  6. Press the Reset button.

To allow CleanMyMac X to reset all default macOS apps, go to CleanMyMac X Preferences. Here, click Ignore List > Uninstaller. Uncheck the box next to ‘Ignore system applications.’

You can use CleanMyMac X to reset any app. In most cases, you just have to check the app name and choose ‘Reset’ from the drop-down menu. In the case of Finder, because macOS doesn’t allow us to uninstall it or make changes to the app binary itself, we have to select the preferences, supporting files, and logs separately, as in step 4 above.

Error code -36 refers to a rare problem in macOS that affects the Finder. It usually happens when you try to copy, move or delete a file and can be caused by the Finder running into problems with hidden files that store attributes for files and folders, such as the position of icons or comments on files. You can fix it using Terminal or by resetting files in Finder using CleanMyMac X’s Uninstaller module.

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