Can’t Drag and Drop in OS X Lion?

Here’s a strange problem a client of mine ran into when upgrading from Snow Leopard to Lion: when trying to drag and drop icons on the desktop, the icons would get stuck to the cursor and never drop! Strangest problem I have ever seen. Anyway, it was ridiculously annoying because the person could not copy files, move files, or drag files to the trash. The whole drag and drop option was basically useless.

Thankfully, after some playing around there were a couple of annoying solutions that did solve the problem. Hopefully, Apple comes out with a fix for this in the next few releases of Lion. If not, then read on and try a couple of these hack solutions for a while.

Method 1 – Sleep/Wake Computer

The first thing you can try is to simply put the Mac to sleep and then wake it up again. You can do this by clicking on the Apple logo and choosing Sleep.

cant drag and drop

Then just press Enter to wake the computer up. If you are looking for a quick shortcut, just press Control + Shift + Eject.

sleep shortcut

That should hopefully allow you to drag and drop again for some time. If that doesn’t work for you, try the next solution.

Method 2 – Switch User Accounts

Another hack that works is creating a new user account and then simply switching to the new user account and then switching back to the original account. For whatever reason, this also fixes the issue for a certain amount of time.

To create a new user account, go to System Preferences and then click on Users and Groups. Click on the + icon at the bottom left to add a new user.

add new user

To switch accounts, simply click on the Apple logo and choose Log Out YourName.

log out

Method 3 – Uninstall Screen SharingSoftware

If you have either DisplayPad or AirDisplay installed on your Mac, they have been known to cause this issue. Go ahead and delete them, if you can, and see what happens. If your issue disappears, you may need to try and download the latest versions of the programs to see if it’s compatible with Lion.

For DisplayPad, you also need to go to System/Library/Extensions and delete these two files:



Other possible problematic software are iScreen, iDisplay, AirParrot or DisplayLink. If you either of those installed, delete the app and any drivers. Make sure you try to use the uninstall option from the DMG for these programs. If you don’t have the DMG, just download it again from the website.

Some users have reported that the Logitech software and driver for their mouse/keyboard was the cause of the problem. You should uninstall the software and delete the kext file in System/Library/Extensions.

Lastly, virtual display drivers can cause this issue too, i.e. Slashtop for Mac, etc.

Method 4 – Repair Disk Permissions

If nothing above is working for you, try to repair the disk permissions and see if that fixes anything. You can do this by going to Applications, Utilities and clicking on Disk Utility. Click on your Mac hard drive on the left side and then click on Repair Disk Permissions.

repair permissions

Method 5 – Drag Options

Go to System Preferences, Universal Access, click on Mouse & Trackpad, then click on Trackpad Options.

trackpad options

Now go ahead and check Dragging and choose without Drag Lock.

drag lock

Method 6 – Relaunch Finder

Another hack solution to this problem is to relaunch Finder. You can do this by click on the Apple logo, choosing Force Quit and then choosing the Finder.

relaunch finder

So, in conclusion, you can either uninstall some third-party display software that is the root cause or if you do not want to uninstall the program, then you can use one of the above mentioned hacks to keep getting the functionality back until the software vendor releases a new version that works properly on Lion. If you have any questions or comments, post them here!

Comments [39]

  1. Man, THANK YOU so much. I was desperate with this, and this helped me to solve the problem. (What worked for me was to Force quit finder.)

    I can breathe again!


  2. Thaaaaaaaaaanks ! Method 5 worked for me (Drag options in Universal access).
    Appeared with new user account. Main account not affected. (MPB 13″ Lion 10.7.4)
    Spent hours on that and no tips worked before.
    Symptoms : no drag ability with trackpad on icons, windows neither text selection. Working with mouse.
    Found this somewhere :
    “Called in and they said it was a hardware problem with the trackpad.”
    Don’t think so as it affects specific account.

  3. This happened to me recently. The only thing I can think is that it was related to a recent OS X Lion update. For the past few days I was not able to drag files between any app and the finder. For example, I could not drag files out of a ZIP archive onto the desktop, and I was not able to drag files from Transmit FTP to any of my Documents folders.

    I tried restarting, sleeping, swithing users, etc. Finally, I ran Onyx and restarting. The problem appears to be fixed.

  4. I would be amazed if “Repair Disk Permissions” fixed this for anyone ever. All of the evidence, including from the other methods outlined here, indicate that it’s not a disk permissions issue.

    We’ve seriously got to stop trying to use “Repair Disk Permissions” to solve every problem. It’s like waving a polaroid to develop it: it’s not going to help, but it’s so ingrained that people think they have to do it.

  5. The easiest fix is to use a mouse with a middle scroller/clicker. When the issue occurs simply click the middle mouse button and the problem is fixed until your next boot.

  6. Thank you!! This really helped me. Force quit finder worked for me too!

  7. Aseem, you are THE MAN! I’ve been trying to find a solution to this truly “ridiculously annoying” problem since it began three weeks ago. The first method worked for me as well, and I still have 5 others to try should this ever return.

    Thanks again, and keep up the good work!

  8. I have a late Mac Pro with Lion (10.7.4). I cannot drag/drop files. The ‘Universal Access’ menu in you illustration above is not the same as mine (there is a separate ‘trackpad’ icon in the Preferences menu, but it is for Bluetooth); there is no ‘Mouse & Trackpad’ option when Universal Access is activate – just a mouse option.

    Is there any other way to be able to drag files out of one location/file on to the desk top?

  9. Thanks for all these tips. Some of them work for me like putting it into sleep and waking it again. Although this works it is still very annoying as I have to do this every time I use my Mac. The other solutions do not work or apply. I would really like to know what’s actually causing this problem so I can fix it. Can anyone help?

  10. I solved by deleting iDisplay with AppZapper, if you want put it together AirDisplay and DisplayPad

  11. Thank you! This is an excellent article, which brings together a number of fixes and work-arounds I’ve seen in various places, and explains them all simply and clearly. I was quickly able to narrow the problem down to AirDisplay, which I’ve removed. Drag and drop is back! I figured: “how often do I actually use my iPad as an extra external display, compared to the number of times I drag and drop?” No contest – AirDisplay hit the trash…

    RE: Jose’s comment above – I think I forced Finder to quit half a dozen times today, as well as forcing Word and Excel to quit — this was driving me crazy. So good to have a solution!

  12. Happened to me today while updating to Mountain Lion. Method #1 worked for me like a charm! Thanks for your tips!

  13. I just made the upgrade to Mountain Lion and installed AirParrot which caused this problem. I uninstalled it but the problem persisted. The “sleep” option worked for me.

    Thank you for sharing


  14. Method 1 Worked for me too. Strange bug, you’d think someone would’ve caught this one…

  15. I had the same problem with drag and drop. I had AirParrot. After removing it, all works great. They all must be using the same code for their the extensions they use for screen sharing apps

  16. Thank you so much my friend! I was really struggling with this, and most of the advice was very technical and not user friendly to someone like me! I created a new account and logged out and in again and all is well. Thanks again!

  17. Thx !!!! I tried all your advice and the last one was the good one!!!! (restarting the finder)

  18. Most likely you have AirDisplay installed,
    go to Applications>Utilities and run the Uninstall Air Display script.

  19. Thank you incredibly! The switching user method worked for me.

  20. Repairing permissions fixed the click-and-drag problem for my Lion MBP. I also learnt to delay the drag after the click a bit to get it to take 100%

  21. thank you for this, i was googling for a good 20 minutes for a solution, i thought it was a chrome problem at first, then i tried in safari. i have no idea what the root of the problem was but changing the drag options method after a sleep seemed to work for me. thank you so much.

  22. Thank you so much!! The last option of relaunching Finder is what I needed! Tried everything else, but this was the only thing that worked. THANK-YOU!!!!

  23. I’ve tried all of these with no luck. I also can’t copy and paste. My Universal Access window doesn’t look like yours. I’ve attached the photo via the website link.

    I have a MacBook Pro and am running OS X 10.5.8 Thanks!

  24. I find ESC + tap releases it for me. It is a very annoying problem though….

  25. Thanks, i really appreciate it. It was such a hassle. The solution for me was the “quit finder” option. Thanks again.

  26. Thanks for this. I also had air display installed, but want to keep it. But if this happens frequently maybe I will have to uninstall it. But thanks, having just over from a PC to a mac, I really was at a loss here!

  27. “Method 1: Sleep/Wake Computer” solved the problem of being unable to “Drag and Drop” on my iMac’s desktop (Mac OS X 10.8.2 “Mountain Lion”).

    THANK YOU very much for troubleshooting this very annoying quirk!!!

  28. Putting computer to sleep and waking it up fixed the drag and drop issue on my mac (OS X 10.8.3) Thx! 🙂

  29. I tried all I could think of – didn’t work. In the end I came across your page: Method 1 worked for me.
    Thank you very much.

  30. Hey

    I just had to restart my mac 😉 sometimes it’s easier than you think ^^

  31. Awesome! Thank you so much for this! I’ve been looking for solutions for days and this is the only one that has given clear instructions and lots of options.

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