Move Files While Keeping Permissions Intact with “Paste Item Exactly” in the Mac OS X Finder

Aug 28, 2014 - 6 Comments

Finder Cutting and pasting files within the OS X Finder is an easy way to move files and folders around on the Mac, particularly for Windows converts, but by default the cut and paste function changes permissions and ownership during the file move process. For the most part that is desirable, but if you are logged in as an administrator and are modifying another users files or folders, even the Guest user, you may wish to preserve file ownership and user privileges (permissions in unix-speak) when moving the documents around. OS X makes this simple through a hidden function called “Paste Item Exactly”, it’s a somewhat advanced feature in terms of need, but it’s accessible easily through the Edit menu.


You can think Paste Item Exactly as the file relocation version of the Duplicate Exactly function, which copies a file while maintaining ownership and permissions as they originated, of course the difference being that this is moving the file or folder, rather than making a copy of it.

Relocate Files While Preserving Ownerships & Permissions in OS X

Here’s how to use “Paste Item Exactly” to move something in OS X while maintaining ownership and permissions of the origin file and/or directories within the Mac Finder:

  1. From the OS X Finder, select the file/folder to copy
  2. Right-click (or control+click) and choose “Copy (filename)”
  3. Copy a File in the Mac Finder for Relocation

  4. Navigate to the new destination directory within the Finder
  5. Hold down Shift+Option and access the “Edit” menu and choose “Paste Item Exactly” to move the file to the new location while maintaining permissions data for the file / folder
  6. Paste Item Exactly to relocate a file while maintaining permissions in OS X

You can confirm the file ownership and privileges is the same if you want by using the Get Info window to view the files permissions, accessible through Command+i or from the File menu.

Keyboard Shortcuts for Moving Files While Maintaining Ownerships & Permissions

You can also do the exact same function of relocating a file while preserving the ownership and permissions quickly with keyboard shortcuts, here are the keystrokes to use in OS X for that purpose:

  1. Select the file or directory as usual
  2. Hit Command+C to copy the file (it will not move yet)
  3. Navigate to the destination directory in Finder
  4. Hit Command+Shift+Option+V to “Paste Item Exactly” at the new location (this moves the file while keeping permissions)
  5. Authenticate as necessary

Again, for most purposes you want to use the standard cut & paste file operation, or just move the file with drag and drop which is what most Mac users are accustomed to. Using “Paste Item Exactly” is intended for specific item relocation where a user wants to maintain the files permissions exactly as they originated, and not change the permission and not reassign them to a new user.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

6 Comments

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  1. Great stuff. I was confused at first since you are posting screenshots of Yosemite. This works great in Mavericks too.

    • Gimli Gimmlecakes says:

      This should work as far back as Lion, but it’s available in Mavericks and Yosemite too.

      Beyond administrative usage, is there any reason for this?

  2. John Robinson says:

    Cool, never heard of this. Thanks.

  3. Luca says:

    how did you make a screenshot while hold down Shift+Option?

    Anyway, Paste item Exactly is not so exactly, it doesn’t preserve the ACL (Access Control List) of the file.

  4. kostas pattas says:

    use the “ditto” command instead as it preserves the ACL

  5. I have to say, at the risk of ostracism, that the whole permissions thing and the incessant whining about passwords is a royal damn pain in the ass and makes me pine for OS9.

    More or less.

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