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 '13 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 '13 at 0:41
  • Tools - Macro -> Macros... If there are any, they'll be listed there. – Dave Aug 26 '13 at 2:55
  • No macros in the workbook. – AJ. Aug 27 '13 at 3:59
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    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. – Graham Perrin Dec 28 '14 at 18:52

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.

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  • No, nothing like that. It's just like 'foobar.xlsx'. – AJ. Aug 26 '13 at 0:41
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    I think this is true. When I removed the "/" symbol. The read-only status disappeared. – user81437 Jun 11 '14 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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