I have a spreadsheet (.xlsx) file that, when I open it on my MBP running Excel 2011 14.3.6, I get a pop-up telling me the file is locked and can only be opened in read-only mode. About a minute later, Excel opens another pop-up and this time says that the file is unlocked and asks if I want to edit it.

I've triple-checked permissions on the file and it's definitely editable by me. I've also verified in Get Info -> General that it's not locked.

The file is located on a USB flash drive. I created a copy of this file on the local drive (/Users/aj) and it will open fine without the warning. Other Excel files saved on the USB flash drive open without this warning. A copy of this file on the USB drive still has the warning.

What can I do to remove the warning? I use this file all the time and it's super-annoying.

  • Was the Excel spreadsheet created/modified in a Windows version of Excel? If so, are there any plugins/Macros in the spreadsheet?
    – pknz
    Aug 25, 2013 at 23:03
  • Yes it was created on Windows (good question). No, I didn't add any macros, but that doesn't mean there aren't any (I guess)? How can I tell?
    – AJ.
    Aug 26, 2013 at 0:41
  • Tools - Macro -> Macros... If there are any, they'll be listed there.
    – Dave
    Aug 26, 2013 at 2:55
  • No macros in the workbook.
    – AJ.
    Aug 27, 2013 at 3:59
  • 1
    Which version of OS X; which version of Windows; which version of Office for Windows? Is the drive properly ejected from Windows? Is Excel for Windows closed completely before the proper eject? Please edit answers into the question. Thanks. Dec 28, 2014 at 18:52

2 Answers 2


Does your file name contain a /? For example, if you take thisfile.xlsx, and make it into this/file.xlsx, it will only open as read only. I verified this on my own Mac.

  • No, nothing like that. It's just like 'foobar.xlsx'.
    – AJ.
    Aug 26, 2013 at 0:41
  • 1
    I think this is true. When I removed the "/" symbol. The read-only status disappeared.
    – user81437
    Jun 11, 2014 at 13:20

Whilst the first answer did not apply to the opening post, I'll use the old bugs in Microsoft Office to exemplify how a file that is read-only in an Excel window is not an open file.

@AJ. (opening poster): given the available information, multi-platform use of different versions of Excel is the likeliest cause of problems in your case. Please see below, Persistence of temporary files

Microsoft Excel 2011 problems with POSIX-compliant use of HFS Plus by OS X

Excel 14.4.7 (141117) allows the user to include the solidus character / (slash) within the name of a file in, for example, the Save dialogue:

screenshot of Excel allowing entry of / within a file name

Simply saving then closing the workbook with that file name will cause the file to be read-only, to Excel, for as long as there's a character that Excel can not handle.

Editing the saved workbook, before initial closure, may expose additional bugs – one of which is shown at end of this answer.

Other causes of Excel treating a workbook as read-only

Use Terminal with ls(1) and lsof(8) to tell whether any lock-related file is present for the affected workbook; and to tell whether anything other than Excel has the workbook open.

Please note that lsof is executed as the superuser.

Approaches to opening/locking

Not all apps use the same approach.

Example 1: a workbook file.xlsx opened first by NeoOffice then by Microsoft Excel:

screenshot of Mac OS X native file locking by NeoOffice

Excel responds properly to the Mac OS X native file locking of NeoOffice:

  • the Excel window to the workbook is read-only
  • output from lsof confirms that the workbook is not open by Excel.

Also in the screenshot above

The COMMAND column shows that two processes have the file open:

screenshot of Activity Monitor info for filecoordinationd

Example 2: the same workbook file.xlsx opened first by Microsoft Excel then by NeoOffice:

screenshot of file locking by Microsoft Excel

NeoOffice responds properly to Microsoft's approach to locking:

  • the NeoOffice window to the workbook is read-only
  • output from lsof confirms that the workbook is not open by NeoOffice
  • output from lsof confirms that lock file is not open by Excel.


Use lsof to discover what has the workbook open. If not filecoordinationd then it might be a third party backup or synchronisation application, or a metadata-related process … and so on.

Persistence of temporary files

A temporary file may remain in the file system longer than necessary.

In example (2) above we see ~$file.xlsx – a companion to file.xlsx – such files are normally invisible to Finder.

If an (invisible) ~$….xlsx file is present following (for example) a crash of Excel on your own Mac, then Excel should behave properly when the (visible) workbook is next opened.

In contrast: if for any reason an ~$….xlsx file persists after closure of the workbook by another installation of Excel, then Excel on your Mac may respond strangely. With reference to the opening post –

… About a minute later, Excel opens another pop-up and this time says that the file is unlocked and asks if I want to edit it …

– that symptom is very familiar to me from shared use of a workbook served by Microsoft Windows Server to Windows and OS X clients.

(In my case, accepting the prompt to edit rarely allowed edition; there reappeared the alert about read-only access, then another prompt to edit, and so on … and that behaviour would persist after all users had closed the workbook. Resolved only by manual removal, from the server, of the invisible ~$….xlsx file.)

Back to the bugs in Microsoft Office

The solidus / in an existing file name prevents Excel from opening the file (the window to the file is read-only):

screenshot of Excel limiting itself to read-only

That's relatively innocuous.

However, edition following the initial save may present a succession of problems. Screenshots below show AutoSave/AutoRecover failure –

screenshot of Excel preparing to save another file with a name that the application will find troublesome screenshot of Excel failing to access an AutoSave/AutoRecover file screenshot of Excel disabling AutoRecover

– the workbook is saved and remains open (confirmed with lsof) but the behaviours are disconcerting to the end user.

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