Mac OS X Disk Space and Permissions

September 2, 2011, By Christian Cawley

Here’s an interesting Mac OS X related scenario for you, concerning the use of multiple accounts on a single system using the Parental Controls software to restrict some actions such as downloading.

As you might know, Parental Controls can be used to control all manner of uses, keeping your Mac secure and safe while monitoring and maintaining the online safety of younger or less experienced family members.

A typical scenario might be that you are running a Mac with three accounts on it – your own administrator account and two standard accounts, one for your son and another for your daughter.

Mac OS X Disk Space and Permissions

This is straightforward to setup, but what happens when someone wants to download files? To avoid your offspring engaging in illegal downloading you can restrict their ability to download without approval, with you authorizing any downloads they want to make. All very tight and secure – until you find that OS X won’t let the download take place!

Is it Too Secure?

So why can’t the required download be performed? Is it a problem with the website, or perhaps an issue with the browser?

You might find that the Safari browser displays a message:

“Safari couldn’t download the file because there is not enough free disk space”

However a similar message would appear regardless of the browser you use. The obvious thing to check is the remaining disk space on your computer, but you will probably find that there is a large amount of empty space. You might also find that one of the accounts is able to download and save to their Downloads folder while the other isn’t.

By now you should probably have sensed that this is a permissions issue, unless disk quotas have been enabled. Sorting out a permissions issue in Mac OS X sadly isn’t as easy as right-clicking a folder and ticking a box due to the way in which the file system is organized. Instead, you will need to use the command prompt.

Configuring Folder Permissions Via the Terminal

Mac OS X users will need to open a command line and enter a basic permissions-related command in order to restore the correct write permission to the required folder.

If you haven’t used the Terminal before, don’t worry – it really isn’t as difficult as it looks. Sadly over the years since graphic user interfaces (the typical mouse-driven desktop) have become more widespread the use of command line instructions has become less common.

To fix the permissions issue and reassign download permissions to the Downloads folder, log into the account experiencing the difficulty and open Applications > Utilities and select the Terminal, before typing:

sudo chmod 700 ~/Downloads

This command will correct the permissions assigned to the Downloads folder, re-enabling the ability to download!

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