Mac OS tip for Error Code -36

Contributed by
Mar 30, 2008
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I just had a problem on my Mac that I could not solve anywhere on the web, but wound up solving on my own. If you don't own a Mac, then move along, but if you do, this may save you hours of frustration.

I have a Western Digital 500 Gb external hard drive (which I named Colossus for those who get it). It's formatted as Mac OS Extended (journaled). It came FAT32 of course, but that has issues -- like it won't allow files bigger than 4Gb which is simply stupid. So I reformatted it, and everything has been cool... until last week.

I tried moving a movie file over today by dragging it off the Desktop and onto my external drive, and I got an error message saying Finder couldn't move it because all or part of the file had a problem. This is the dreaded "Error Code -36" message, which I assume Apple stole from Microsoft because it is a generic message which tells you nothing.

Anyway, I searched high and low on the web for some way to fix this, but nothing helped. I changed permissions, I checked for errors using disk utility, and lots of other things. Nothing worked.

I also noticed that text files moved over just fine. So did an XLS file. Just not AVIs.

I was scratching my head, and then suddenly thought: wait a sec! OSX (I'm still using 10.4 by the way) is based on Unix. I know lots of Unix!

So I opened a terminal and cd'ed to the external drive directory. Everything looked fine. Permissions and everything were set correctly.

What I did next appears to have fixed the problem: instead of using Finder, in the terminal window I used the Unix command mv to move an AVI file from my internal drive to the external. It looked something like this:

prompt%> mv /Users/phil/Desktop/movie.avi .

... which translates to "Move the file from my desktop to the current directory" (remember, I had already cd'ed to my external drive's movie directory, which looks like /Volumes/Colossus/movies).

That worked. Aha! Maybe the problem was with Finder! So I went back and tried to move another movie file (similar to the first) using drag-and-drop, and this time it worked. W00t!

I'm not sure what was going on; maybe Finder got all bollixed up, and by directly moving the files in Unix Finder was able to find its way back to reality. I don't know why this worked. But if you ever get the Error Code -36 message, try this. I just made myself very happy after being very sad.