macOS error codes and what they mean

There are a few things more frustrating when you’re trying to get something done on your Mac than an error code popping up on your screen. It could be caused by something simple and harmless, such as a permissions issue with a file that can be easily fixed. Or it could be something much more important, like an inability to partition a disk because it’s failing. In this article, we’ll cover the most common error codes you’re likely to encounter on your Mac and explain what they mean.

What are Mac error codes?

Error codes are a way of logging problems encountered by your Mac. They are a way of communicating a specific problem. If you ever need to talk to a support engineer, giving them the error code can make it quicker for them to identify and resolve your problem.

Apple error codes list: the five most common

Error code -41

This is one of the more common error codes and often appears in a message: ‘The operation can’t be completed because an unexpected error occurred (error code -41).’

Typically, it happens when you copy or move a file from one place to another or perform some actions with it. While Error code 41 covers a wide range of possible issues, it often means that there is a permissions issue with a file or directory or that a file or directory is corrupt or otherwise inaccessible.

Error code -36

This one is so common that we gave it its own article. Error code -36 is usually caused by invisible files that have a ‘’ in their name, such as .DSStore files. It often occurs when you try to copy, move or delete files on a disk that has been moved between a Mac and a Windows computer. One way to fix it is to use the ‘dot_clean’ command in Terminal to delete all invisible files on a volume.

  1. Open Terminal.
  2. Enter: dot_clean
  3. In the Finder, go to the folder that contains the files you were trying to copy, move, or delete.
  4. Drag the folder onto the Terminal window after the command you just typed.
  5. You should now see the file path displayed after the command you typed.
  6. Press Return. Then try moving, copying, or deleting the files again.
  7. Quit Terminal.

Error code -8003

Error Code -8003 usually occurs when you try to empty the Trash and the macOS can’t delete the file in the Trash. That could be because of a permissions issue with the file in question or because it is corrupt. To fix this error, press and hold the Option key and click the Empty Trash button in Trash. This should force empty the Trash and remove any locked files that are causing the error.

How to avoid error codes on your Mac

Error codes, particularly if you see them often, can be a symptom of broader problems on your Mac. One way to avoid them is to run regular maintenance on your Mac. You can do this manually, but it’s much easier to use an application designed for the purpose. One such app is a handy tool called CleanMyMac X. Its Maintenance module can free up RAM, repair disk permissions, and run regular maintenance scripts on your Mac. You can download it for free here.

Free up Mac RAM with CleanMyMacX

Error code -50

This one occurs when you are trying to copy or move a file or files from a remote drive to your startup disk. The remote drive could be an external disk directly connected to your Mac, a USB stick, or a server to which your Mac has connected. It could be caused by an unrecognized character in a filename, but there are other possibilities. For example, it could be caused by a corrupted file or a problem with the disk you are copying from. There are a few ways you can try and fix it.

  • Change the name of the file or its extension before you copy it, then change it back again afterward.
  • Open Disk Utility and try to repair the external disk.

Another way to fix the error code -50 is to copy the file using Terminal. First, make sure there is no file of the same name in the destination folder, or it will be overwritten without warning. Then, follow the steps:

  1. Open Terminal from Applications > Utilities.
  2. Type: cp -R
  3. Press the spacebar.
  4. Drag the file you want to copy from the Finder on to the Terminal window.
  5. Press the spacebar again.
  6. Drag the destination folder on to the Terminal window.
  7. Press Return.

Error code -2003f

This one is slightly different from the others because it doesn’t appear in a dialog box. It shows up as white writing on a black screen while you are attempting to boot your Mac in Internet recovery mode. It means there is an HTTP issue when trying to connect to the recovery server. There are a number of things you can do to try and resolve it:

  • If you are connected to Wi-Fi, try switching to an Ethernet cable if you can.
  • Restart your router.
  • Try booting from a bootable clone if you have one.
  • Try booting from the recovery partition on your Mac instead of Internet Recovery.
How to fix misbehaving apps

Several of the error codes we’ve covered in this article are caused by applications misbehaving or running into problems. Often, the first thing users do in this situation is to remove the app in question and reinstall it. However, that’s not always necessary. A quicker way to attempt to fix misbehaving apps is to reset them. What do we mean by reset? Think of it as putting the app back in its state when you first installed it. So, settings, preferences, and caches are cleared, and the app is ready to start afresh.

Safari reset selected in the Uninstaller module in CMMX

The quickest and easiest way to do that is to use the Uninstaller module in CleanMyMac X. In this case, once you’ve selected the app in the Uninstaller, instead of clicking Uninstall, you choose Reset from the menu next to the app’s name and then press Reset. Easy!

More Mac error codes

While the error codes we’ve described above might be the most common, they are not the only ones you will encounter while using your Mac. Here are some more:

Error code -49168

This error occurs when you try to partition a disk. It’s less common now because most Macs have startup disks formatted as AFPS, which uses containers instead of partitions. But if it happens to you, you may need a third-party disk repair tool to fix it.

Error code -9923

Error 9923 is associated with scanning a document or photo into your Mac, probably using an all-in-one printer and scanner. It signals a communication problem between the scanner and your Mac. If it’s connected by USB, it could be a bad cable or a problem on your Wi-Fi network. It could also be an issue with the drivers for the all-in-one device.

Error code -500

This one is related to the Mac App Store. It occurs when the App Store tries to download an update or when you download an app for the first time. It could be caused by a problem with the purchase, such as incorrect payment details, but it is more likely to be an issue with the App Store app itself. Try signing out of iCloud and signing back in again to fix it. Resetting the App Store may also help solve the issue.

Error code -924

This is a very general error that covers a wide range of possible issues, including a problem with individual files, an issue with macOS, or a hardware problem. Rebooting often fixes it. If not, use Disk Utility to run Disk First Aid. If that doesn’t work, you may need to reinstall macOS.

Error code -100092

This is another seemingly random error, and it can occur when you download files, take screenshots, or even just try to open or close files. Update macOS and your applications, restart your Mac and that should fix it.

There are many error codes you might encounter while using your Mac. The ones mentioned above are the most common, but there are lots of others. In most cases, the solution is straightforward. In others, you may have to reinstall macOS. The worst-case scenario is that there is a hardware problem. If that’s the case, you should seek help from Apple or an Authorized Service Center. To minimize the number of errors you encounter, keep macOS and your apps updated and carry out regular maintenance on your Mac.

Laptop with CleanMyMac
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