Drag & Drop Not Working in Mac OS X? Simple Troubleshooting Tips

Sep 7, 2015 - 63 Comments

Troubleshooting Mac drag and drop failures in OS X

Drag and drop is an essential feature on the Mac that is used frequently for interactions in the OS X Finder and throughout other applications, so obviously if drag and drop stops working seemingly out of the blue, you’ll want to resolve that fairly quickly. While this is a somewhat rare issue, a failure of drawing and dropping capabilities does happen frequently enough that we get questions about it, and it’s thereby worth covering. You’ll find that if you can’t drag and drop at all, troubleshooting the issue is the same regardless of whether you use a trackpad or mouse with a Mac, so read on to resolve the issue.


For best results you’ll probably want to try these in order, they’re arranged in order of simplicity to slightly more complex.

WAIT! First, Check the Hardware for Gunk & Grime!

Before we get started with any of the software based troubleshooting tips, check to see if there is any material, gunk, or grime buildup on the surface of the trackpad, or in the tracking surface of the mouse, and in the buttons. If there is, clean that off first, as physical obstructions can definitely cause weird behavior with input interfaces. If you’ve done that and you’re certain it’s not the cause of an inability to drag and drop, carry on with the tips below.

1: Forcibly Restart the OS X Finder

If drag and drop is failing in file system interactions, often the easiest solution is to simplyrestarting the Finder, which is quite easy:

  1. Hit Command+Option+Escape to bring up the “Force Quit” menu
  2. Choose “Finder” from the list and click on ‘Relaunch’ to quit and re-open the Finder app
  3. Relaunching the Finder in Mac OS X

  4. Close the Force Quit menu

Try using drag and drop again, does it work? It should work fine now, but if it doesn’t we have a few other troubleshooting trick…

2: Reboot the Computer

Rebooting often works to resolve drag and drop issues when restarting the Finder has failed. This is particularly true if you’re one of us who basically never reboots their Mac.

  1. Go to the  Apple menu and choose “Restart”
  2. When the Mac boots up again, try to use drag and drop as usual

Drag and drop working in Mac OS X now? Great! If not… well we have yet another solution, so fear not!

Troubleshoot drag & drop not working in Mac OS X

3: Trash Related plist Files & Reboot

If you have already forced the Finder to relaunch and rebooted the Mac but you’re still experiencing issues with dragging and dropping, it’s quite likely the problem comes down to a preference file. Thus, we’ll trash the preferences and start anew, which is an effective technique for troubleshooting strange behavior for a Mac mouse and trackpad, and then reboot the Mac again.

You’ll be deleting some user level preference files here, it’s a good idea to complete a back up of the Mac first just in case you break something:

  1. From the OS X Finder, hit Command+Shift+G to bring up the ever useful “Go To Folder” screen, specifying ~/Library/Preferences/ as the destination and click Go
  2. Locate the following plist file(s) from the user Library Preferences folder:
  3. com.apple.AppleMultitouchTrackpad.plist
    com.apple.driver.AppleBluetoothMultitouch.trackpad.plist
    com.apple.preference.trackpad.plist
    com.apple.driver.AppleBluetoothMultitouch.mouse.plist
    com.apple.driver.AppleHIDMouse.plist

    Mouse and trackpad preferences in Mac OS X

  4. Delete those preference files and reboot the Mac again

Once again, try using drag and drop where you were experiencing the original failures in OS X, it should work just fine at this point.

Keep in mind that if you trash preference files you will lose any customizations you had set for those devices, so in this case you may lose a customization to tracking speed, force touch, mouse clicks, and whatever else you adjusted for a mouse or trackpad.

Did this work for you? Do you have another solution or fix for when drag and drop stops working in Mac OS X? Let us know in the comments!

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Troubleshooting

63 Comments

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  1. Douglas says:

    Ah, but what about doing drag & drop with the Force Click trackpad on the new MacBook ?

    • Paul says:

      Drag and drop works fine on the new Mac Force Touch trackpads, use it frequently, though when you first encounter it on a new Mac, it does take a little getting used to. The secondary force click is smart enough to not activate while dragging, too.

  2. Kevin says:

    Anyone using AirParrot will have this problem. Only fix is to uninstall, not delete, the app completely.

  3. Rene van Hezewijk says:

    Good to know, but it has not happened to me, yet. However, a maybe related problem that makes the drag and drop really needed is the following. I want to send an email to someone, and I want to include a file F. In the mail program I go to the icon that makes including possible, click on it, get Finder, and want to choose the folder X to find and choose file F there. But what Mail does is imediately include folder X. So I have to delete it and then drag and drop F to the email. This was not the case some updates of OSX ago, but it keeps on happening. A bug in my computer, in mail, or in my brain?

  4. Joy says:

    “Unplug and plug in the mouse, keyboard and any other USB pointing devices, if present.” should probably be step #2

    Another step might be “Turn Bluetooth off and on again.”

    • Soft Touch says:

      Wow… this tip works for me. My new MacBook Retina got this issues. I turned ON the bluetooth and OFF again. Drag and Drop now working fine!

      • KrazyKags says:

        Turning the bluetooth on and off worked for me. It sounds misguided to suggest this is due to a faulty trackpad when a number of people are having the same problem.

        • Cindy says:

          Ditto what KrazyKags says. Followed Apple’s advice and that of others, and then I turned Bluetooth off and on … without restarting, drag & drop started working.

  5. Mike says:

    It could simply be a defective trackpad.

  6. Tom Lettigton says:

    Your suggestion of removing the .plist files to correct for failed click and drag worked like a charm. Thank you.

  7. Nathan says:

    Or… it could be the mouse itself.
    Just a few minutes ago i had this problem.

    I pried up the mouse button, blew it out, and then put the mouse button back down and clicked a few times forcibly.

    Problem solved.

  8. Mari says:

    Thanks so much! Forcing FINDER to close and reopening solved the issue.

  9. MeMock says:

    Thank you!
    Who would have thought something as simple as relaunching the finder would solve what was causing me so much grief and wasted time.

    Cheers
    MM

  10. Bill says:

    These are not solutions, they are workarounds for a problem that will keep happening.

  11. Ambita Chenai says:

    Thank You. Worked like a charm!

  12. Tomas Aviles says:

    I found a more precise solution derived from part 3:
    Instructions at the bottom——–>vvv
    So I’d tried tips one and two, but neither of them fixed my problem. I’m using the trackpad btw. So I looked at the names of the files mentioned above, —
    com.apple.AppleMultitouchTrackpad.plist
    com.apple.driver.AppleBluetoothMultitouch.trackpad.plist
    com.apple.preference.trackpad.plist
    com.apple.driver.AppleBluetoothMultitouch.mouse.plist
    com.apple.driver.AppleHIDMouse.plist
    — and well, I understand the concept of literally just erasing all the preferences/setting involved with the problem, but it just didn’t seem optimal to me, as I like my preferences and it would be tedious and cumbersome to get everything back to my own settings.

    SO, IN SHORT:

    ->GO TO THE “com.apple.AppleMultitouchTrackpad.plist” FILE
    ->OPEN IT
    ->GO TO THE OPTION LABELED “TrackpadThreeFingerDrag”
    ->CHANGE THE VALUE FROM ‘NO’, TO ‘YES’.
    ->SAVE FILE, CLOSE IT, AND RESTART COMPUTER.

    Note that there’s different little variations of this dragging & dropping issue that brought us here. So if you’re using a mouse, or a bluetooth trackpad or something, look for the appropriate preference label– they’re usually named in a self-reflecting manner, so don’t change something if it’s just named ‘kinda’ like what you’re looking for.
    That’s it, hope it helps anyone :)

    • Laimis says:

      Brilliant solution!

      I have added to my notes Unix command (because this occurs on my system quite frequently)

      ls ~/Library/Preferences | grep -ie trackpad -ie mouse | xargs -I@ open @ # Change TrackpadThreeFingerDrag to YES and restart Mac

      • Laimis says:

        cd ~/Library/Preferences && ls | grep -ie trackpad -ie mouse | xargs -I@ open @ # Change TrackpadThreeFingerDrag to YES and restart Mac

  13. Beth says:

    Thank you so much! Suggestion #1 was the remedy for me!

  14. Geoff says:

    My problem is that drag and drop is intermittent. I can drag the files, but the underlying folder will not highlight, so I can’t drop the files into that folder. I think sometimes, the drag itself does not work either. This is just a finder problem.

    I have a 2015 Macbook Pro and am up to date on OS Patches.

    When I have the problem, I find it will sometimes go away if I close finder windows and re-open.

    I agree with Bill that none of the solutions here are really solutions, just work-arounds for Apple software issues that should not be happening.

  15. Emily says:

    Brand new mac powerbook with OS X capitan. Drag and drop keeps failing. Re-launching the finder and restarting every 5 minutes is not a viable option. Middle of master’s thesis and trying to reorganize files – a nightmare.

  16. Twitchy says:

    I deleted all 3 plists, and restarted the computer. It’s still not working.

  17. Richard says:

    bump on the the last couple of messages. using the trackpad i select a file in finder and hold using one finger, attempt to drag it into another location using another finger. sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t… sometimes it seems to depend on which direction i want to drag it, so i have to trick it into doing what i want (a common theme with macs in general). dragging works fine outside finder.

    seemed to coincide with upgrading to 10.11, so that was some upgrade.

  18. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you so much – all working now

  19. Tom says:

    My fix on a mcbook pro 15″ was
    – system Settings
    – Accessibility
    – Mouce and track pad

    – DOUBLE CLICK DELAY
    (I have mine on the setting 3rd from the right- ‘fast’)- I have had problems with opening files with a double click if this was too slow

    – SPRING-LOADING DELAY
    ***(unclicking this for me solved the drag and drop issue)

    Good luck!

  20. Paul Hillman says:

    I am having trouble with Mail while typing a message. I select a passage, drag it to a new location. That works but the original is left behind. It moved a copy. I think this is happening in a few other apps too. I wan it to move the passage not copy the passage. I looked at the preferences files and I do not see many of them (yes, I was looking in my user library/preferences) just com.apple.AppleMultitouchTrackpad (El Capitan/earlie 2008 MBP)

  21. Rachel says:

    I had trouble with the drag and drop not working and it ended up being gunk on the track pad, so definitely check that before you make any significant changes to your Mac! Wiping it up with a simple wet wipe and letting it dry will do the trick. Thanks for sharing the tips!

  22. Nicole says:

    Thank you!
    Relaunching the Finder Window solved the problem.

  23. Jan says:

    Thanks a lot !!
    Relaunching Finder solves it for me

  24. Lisa says:

    Thank you. Relaunching the finder worked perfectly.

  25. Mark says:

    Yes, relaunching the Finder did it for me too!

  26. forever gh says:

    I solved my drag n drop problem by going into the
    system preferences
    Accessibility
    locate mouse & trackpad
    Click trackpad options
    click Enable dragging next in the box choose three finger drag

    Thanks. Trust it works for you.

    • Bryan says:

      This worked for me as well.

      System Preferences > Accessibility > Mouse & Trackpad > Trackpad Options > CLICK Enable dragging (Three Finger Drag)

      I don’t know what unset this setting, it happened all of a sudden out of nowhere for me.

    • Bryan says:

      This worked for me as well.

      System Preferences > Accessibility > Mouse & Trackpad > Trackpad Options > CLICK Enable dragging (Three Finger Drag)

      I don’t know what unset this setting, it happened all of a sudden out of nowhere for me.

    • Bravo Delta says:

      This worked for me as well.

      System Preferences > Accessibility > Mouse & Trackpad > Trackpad Options > CLICK Enable dragging (Three Finger Drag)

      I don’t know what unset this setting, it happened all of a sudden out of nowhere for me.

    • jeb says:

      wish u’d been at TOP of list b4 i tried everything else that did not work.
      Urs worked like a champ.
      nowif i could just get the space bar to work better…..
      EGAD! ’tis always something, eh?

  27. Dino says:

    Ok, my problem is even simpler.
    When drag and drop doesn’t work, where the heck files go ???
    I have no more neither in the original folder nor in the destination (although apparently it highlighted it before moving) – thankfully it’s “only” a video I can download it again at worst, yet it’s anyway upsetting !

  28. Dino says:

    ps I have a wireless apple mouse – no idea how do you call it yet it’s Mac’s original mouse.
    I selected the file and tried to move onto another folder but nothing happened and the file is vanished and no more in neither of the two folders, nor on the desktop. Where should I look for it ? Thanks

  29. Paulo Oviedo says:

    I am having some trouble with drag and drop since I updated to macOS Sierra. Everytime I am dragging photos, videos or any other file to any app opened in the dock (like finder, final cut pro x, messages, mail) it works for the first time, then the second time the app just blinks but doesn’t come up. So I have to minimize all other windows that are opened to be able to drag and drop. It is so annoying. Does anyone have the same problem as me?

  30. DButler says:

    Yes I think I have the same problem on 2 of my Mac’s after upgrading to Sierra. I find that if I double click my mouse (in fact I using a Wacom Tablet) I can get the drag select to start working again, and I can easily break it again by double clicking. It’s a real pain.

  31. perfectlyGoodInk says:

    How I hate, hate, hate planned/forced obsolescence and the feature creep in software. I NEVER had this problem with Snow Leopard, even if I didn’t reboot for weeks, if not months. But I had little choice but to upgrade after apps (e.g., Chrome, R) stopped supporting it.

    El Capitan has been issue after issue like this. Spotlight is so much slower, Launchpad is a joke of sluggishness, and the new side-by-side feature sometimes hangs the machine so as to be unusable.

    The only benefit has been the ability to run newer software, but I can’t help thinking the world would be a much better place if Apple just stopped messing with Snow Leopard and all the latest apps continued to support it.

  32. Allen says:

    Thanks very much for posting this solution. In my case it was a question of click and HOLD – the mouse wouldn’t let go! (A Logitech wireless mouse on a Mac Mini, El Capitan). No trackpad, but I went through the plist deletion solution, chucking out any drivers of mice etc., and hey presto, after a reboot the mouse was back to behaving properly. Many many thanks – it was driving me nuts!

  33. Dick H. says:

    Simply replacing the batteries on my cordless mouse solved the problem. I could still point and click before, but not drag. Use the touchpad with three fingers to test before you invest in new batteries. Great Luck!!!

  34. Natalie says:

    What worked for me:
    Go to preferences – trackpad
    Untick the setting ‘force click and haptic feedback’
    Using new (late 2016) MacBook Pro and sierra.

  35. Kim says:

    I solved the drag and drop problem another way on my MacBook Pro, Sierra os. By chance, I discovered that it usually works if I select the file using less pressure on the touchpad than usual.

  36. sissi says:

    it worked just like you said, relaunched finder and I dragged and dropped like normal. thanks a million I don’t shut my computer down much but will start doing it more often.

  37. Mike Mac says:

    My drag and drop was not working, so went looking for cause. I tried all of suggestions above, plus updating to a new operating system and still no success. And tech at Apple Store was baffled. Turned out we were looking at only a symptom as drag and drop was working in Word. And I also noted i could not create a new folder on my Desktop. So, I went to my User folder and noted that my Desktop was not listed as a folder, but as “package”. So, I googled for that problem and found a recommendation way down in the comments that indicated how to change Desktop back to a folder; the recommendation (that worked perfectly) was (to quote):

    Another solution you can use is the Terminal command:

    xattr -d com.apple.FinderInfo ~/Desktop

    This will reset the bundle bit on the Desktop folder.

  38. Benedetta Machado says:

    I had a problem closing the Finder window and was unable to move icons on the desktop. I tried method one (force relaunch of finder) and it worked. Thanks.

  39. Jeeju Mohan says:

    Hello

    Very recently I have clean installed my MacBook with OS Sierra 10.12.4 where this drag and drop using finder failed completely.

    I tried all the method given in this site, but nothing solved the issues.

    Then I did a bit of tuning as stated and it started working perfectly with no issues at all. The option is like this

    System Preferences > Accessibility > Trackpad options > enable dragging without drag lock.

    At least that’s one place to find an option on this.

    With kind regards JMohan

  40. Gail Timms says:

    Bluetooth worked for me thank you.. but concerning it seems a common issue on something this expensive. Hope it isn’t going to be regular x

  41. Satish says:

    Great Job Jeeju Mohan.

    In MacBook with OS Sierra 10.12.4 where this drag and drop using finder failed completely.

    I tried all the method given in this site, but nothing solved the issues.

    The One place to find an option on System Preference is:

    System Preferences > Accessibility > Trackpad options > enable dragging without drag lock.

  42. Sharon says:

    I am only recently having issues with Drag and Drop.

    I have tried the methods suggested without the issue being solved.

    For example
    In Finder … If I drag a .pdf file from my download folder to hover over the documents file … nothing happens, except the red pdf changes to silver and the document folder won’t open and expand to accept the new file.

    Please tell me there is a fix

  43. D says:

    Worked..Thanks!

  44. Nickib says:

    Thank you so much! First thing you suggested worked a treat!

  45. Dee says:

    I’m having the exact same issue as Sharon. 2016 macbook pro with a new ‘stupid charger access on bottom of mouse’ mac mouse.

    Drag and drop works but I can’t navigate through multiple directories before dropping. I have to move a file one friggin’ level at a time, or open two windows side by side… insanely frustrating.

    Did not help with this particular issue:
    Bluetooth on/off
    Relaunch finder window (command/option/escape)
    Restart computer
    Thoroughly looked through finder settings (maybe not thoroughly enough?)

    I’ll keep looking ‘n post if I find a fix :)

    • yeabo says:

      Yes drag and drop on Mac requires you to click and drag from one folder to another, often with two windows side by side. That’s how it works.

      • Dee says:

        Thanks for trying, maybe I’m not explaining well, but I assure you, the functionality I’m looking for exists. It just suddenly stopped working for me on my new laptop, probably after some update where I didn’t notice right away. More, my husband’s file system (both Macs of course) is still working the ‘correct’ way…

        you click, drag, hover (the file system then moves you into the folder you’re hovering over after a sec), so that you can drop in a sub directory, or continue to hover and navigate until you reach the place you want to drop.

  46. Stephanos Prunebelli says:

    Just bought a new 2015 Mac Pro and have issues with try to drag and drop items from folder to folder or to a software.
    Trying to delete the plist files I could not track down the following
    com.apple.preferences.trackpad.plist

    could this be the reason I’m having these drag and drop issues?
    and how do I solve it?

    Thank you

  47. BobS says:

    Ok, I deleted those .plist files and now even the “click” function on my MacBook Air stopped working. Aaaaaargh.

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