I updated to macOS Catalina which requires the user through pop-ups to allow any app trying to access the file system for the first time.

No such pop-up is appearing for Emacs. Running the script shared here, https://gist.github.com/dive/f64c645a9086afce8e5dd2590071dbf9
does not seem to change anything. That is, Emacs and any shell running in it cannot access any file on the file system.

How can I restore the access?

My Emacs version is *GNU Emacs 26.1 (build 1, x86_64-apple-darwin14.5.0, NS appkit-1348.17 Version 10.10.5 (Build 14F2511))

Granting the Emacs app Full Disk Access in "General Settings -> Security & Privacy -> Privacy" does not solve the problem.

  • 1
    Go to "General Settings -> Security & Privacy -> Accessibility" and add there Emacs, to allow it to control your computer. Then trying to open a file from Emacs will open a short dialog asking to confirm permission for that folder. The allowed folders will appear in Privacy -> File and Folders. Maybe it will be useful to upgrade to Emacs 26.3
    – Ian
    Oct 8, 2019 at 14:36
  • Thanks, Emacs was already allowed under Accessibility. I removed and re-added it. I also re-installed and thus upgraded to Emacs 26.3 in the meanwhile. All to no avail!
    – wsaleem
    Oct 8, 2019 at 14:45
  • 1
    Is this other post dealing with the same or a different problem? I tried the selected solution of this problem—adding disk access to both Emacs and ruby—for *that solution and it didn't work, and I'm not sure if that's because the answer here isn't correct or because it's a different problem.
    – HaPsantran
    Nov 25, 2019 at 16:11
  • The solution here solved the problem in this thread for me. I don't know about the other problem.
    – wsaleem
    Nov 25, 2019 at 16:28
  • The accepted answer doesn't work, as noted. I got it to work by reading this thread on github I ran the script suggested in the thread, but it didn't help, but then I did M-x ns-open-file-using-panel and opened ~/Download opened a file. And then it worked. So now it works fine for me at least. But I had to re-do it for ~/Documents etc.
    – larsr
    Jan 19, 2020 at 20:30

3 Answers 3


Emacs.app actually launches using a ruby script. As a result, MacOS Catalina (or later, up to at least Ventura) uses the permissions set for ruby, not the permissions for Emacs.app. Open General Settings -> Security & Privacy -> Privacy, select Full Disk Access in the left pane, then click + and add /usr/bin/ruby to resolve your issue.

/usr is hidden by default on MacOS but you can toggle visibility in Finder by using Shift+Command+Period

  • 4
    @Chris's answer is right, or you can launch emacs in the terminal, which also resolves your problem. Oct 9, 2019 at 2:53
  • 3
    Thank you! Worked great. I had to go back to "Security & Privacy" and click on General (after granting ruby access and trying emacs). And found that I had to "Allow apps downloaded from - App Store and identified developers. I ended up doing this twice. Looks like emacs is using some legacy stuff and that os x is checking more things that are not theirs. BUT worked great after that, so full access to ruby and then the legacy stuff and it worked. Outstanding post, thank you! Oct 9, 2019 at 11:59
  • 7
    Is there a way to allow only a specific folder using "Files and Folders" instead of "Full Disk Access"?
    – Bee
    Nov 15, 2019 at 16:22
  • 7
    I'm not sure it is so secure to give full access to any ruby script....
    – larsr
    Jan 19, 2020 at 20:28
  • 1
    If you run emacs in the terminal, you need to give access to the Terminal app or whichever terminal app you use.
    – nroose
    Mar 27, 2020 at 4:25

@Chris's answer also resolves a different problem for me (which had the same root cause): I'm recording it here to make this answer more findable.

I was getting the error "Listing directory failed but 'access-file' worked" on ~/Downloads (and Documents, Desktop, and some others). I tried adding Emacs to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Full Disk Access, without success, as mentioned above. But adding /usr/bin/ruby solved it.

  • 2
    I used this to resolve the problem (also upvoted, b/c it solves the problem). HOWEVER, I feel like this is a security hole. I don't want ruby to have access to my entire computer. I'd just like Emacs to have access to my user directory, but that doesn't seem possible. I tried, but perhaps I don't know enough to know how to do it. Feb 15, 2021 at 23:21

To get the full functionality of emacs back, I had to follow this document: https://spin.atomicobject.com/2019/12/12/fixing-emacs-macos-catalina/

All the other solutions did not fix the problem of clicking on a txt file with open emacs and opening the file within the open emacs.

Edit: As of May 2020 this seems to have stopped working. But here is a working solution: https://emacs.stackexchange.com/a/54383/2440

  • 1
    Same. Just take care to mv the right binary. I had to mv the lower-numbered *_10 binary instead of *_14 to get things to work, as in the link, even on Catalina. Dunno why
    – Paul
    Sep 2, 2020 at 1:11

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