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How to lock a file or folder in MacOS Finder - to save you from yourself

This MacOS feature protects you from a disaster of your own making.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
Young woman sitting at the desk at her home, working on the laptop while her puppy pet sits on her lap.
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Have you ever wanted to protect a file or folder from either being changed or deleted by anyone who might have access to your account on a MacOS device?

For instance, you might have a folder that contains several important documents (such as tax information, the deed to your house, W2s, 1099s, or your will). Of course, when you have those types of sensitive documents, you'd want them stored more securely than within a locked file. But if the files are less sensitive yet you still don't want anyone monkeying with them, MacOS Finder has a feature that can help you out.

Also: I added a hardware security key to my MacBook, and it made my logins faster and safer

The feature effectively locks and protects a file or folder from being modified or deleted. Once a file or folder is locked, the only way it can be deleted is after authenticating with your password. If a file is locked, it cannot be changed without first unlocking it.

OK, you might find yourself shrugging your shoulders -- and I get it. But Apple didn't create this feature with security in mind. Instead, it's a way to add a hurdle or to thwart you or anyone from accidentally deleting or modifying a file you don't want to change. That doesn't mean you can't get around the lock. You can, and it's actually pretty easy.

For example. you've created a new presentation or video and it's finalized. You haven't either sent or published the file, so you want to make sure you don't accidentally change it or delete it before it's time to do so. When you try to move a locked file to the trash, Finder will warn you that it's locked and ask you if you want to continue.

Imagine how that can save you from a disaster of your own making.

That's where locking files comes in handy. Trust me, I've been in situations where I unwittingly trashed a file I still needed. Had that file been locked, Finder would have prevented it from happening.

How to lock a file or folder in MacOS Finder  

What you'll need: The only things you'll need for this are a MacOS device (either MacBook or iMac) and a folder or file to lock. I would suggest using a test file or folder first to make sure you understand how it works.

1. Open Finder

The first thing to do is open Finder and navigate to the file or folder you want to lock. As I mentioned, you might want to create a test folder and add a few empty files or folders to it until you know how this feature works.

Also: How to group apps together in MacOS Launchpad (and why you should)

2. Open the Info window

To open the Info window, right-click (or double-finger tap) the file or folder in question and select Get Info. This will open the Info pop-up for the file or folder in question.

The Finder context menu.

Right-click or double-finger tap on a file or folder to open the context menu.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

3. Lock the file or folder

Under the General section, you'll see a checkbox for Locked. Click that checkbox to lock the file or folder. Once you've done that, the file or folder in question is now locked. You'll see a small lock icon on the folder or file. Once you see that lock, you can't add files to the folder, edit individual files or those within the folder, or delete the file or folder without first verifying that you actually do want to delete it.

The Finder Info window.

As you might expect, you can also view information about the file in this window.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

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If you want to remove the lock on the file or folder, simply reverse the process and uncheck the box for Locked.

The MacOS lock feature has saved me, on several occasions, from accidentally deleting or editing something I needed to remain as-is. Although it's not intended to be used as a security mechanism, it's a handy addition that can save you from yourself.

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