How can I access and edit a text file found in a folder owned by another user?

I am in the original user account setup for this macOS Mojave installation, and have the system admin password. So I perform su or sudo as needed.

I do not want to change the permissions on the containing folder nor the text file. So this Question does not apply.

I just want to:

  1. Open the text file, preferably in TextEdit.app.
  2. Edit the text.
  3. Save the file.

Bonus: Be able to navigate the folder hierarchy and see file listings using the Finder or via cd/ls command-line tools in the console (Terminal.app).

I tried sudo cd /path/to/protected_folder, and entered admin password as prompted, without error. But then ls shows me my starting directory rather than the /path/to/protected_folder folder contents.

I tried sudo open /path/to/protected_folder which does bring the Finder to the front, but with the protected folder showing and selected, but not opened.


If you know the path to the file that you want to edit, you can use:

sudo -e /path/to/file/name/here.txt

and it will allow you to edit it with your $EDITOR of choice.

If you want to use the Open dialog box, you might think this will work:

sudo /Applications/TextEdit.app/Contents/MacOS/TextEdit

But that fails with an error:

"Illegal instruction: 4"

However, BBEdit will work:

sudo /Applications/BBEdit.app/Contents/MacOS/BBEdit

And you can use BBEdit for free.

Oh, and both methods keep the original ownership of the file and permissions intact.

  • This answer needs more explanation. Basically you can edit with sudo and a terminal based editor. A gui one like texted it won't work with sudo. – Mark Oct 26 '18 at 19:28
  • Um… a) BBEdit is not a terminal-based editor, and b) GUI apps can and do work with sudo. Just like I demonstrated in my answer. The fact that TextEdit doesn't is an exceptional case, which is why I mentioned it specifically. – TJ Luoma Oct 27 '18 at 0:57

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