Big Sur Drive Icon/Contents Mystery

I updated from Mojave to Big Sur and though I’ve used Macs for a long time, I’m not that technical. Post upgrade, double-clicking on the Finder icon of my hard drive (Sazerac) now only shows the Applications, Library, System and Users folders.

If I go into my System/Volumes folder, I see my same hard drive icon, which when double-clicked reveals the same list of folders as above, but which contains my Docs (not the Apple Documents) folder, with all of my saved documents. There’s also a boot folder.

I cannot seem to write (or create new folders/docs) to the Finder Sazerac, but only to the System-level Sazerac. Doing a Get Info on my System-level Sazerac, it tells me that I don’t have permission to make system-level changes, such as trying to move my Docs folder to the Finder drive image. When I try to add myself as an administrator, though I have my password to add applications and make other changes, it tells me I don’t have the necessary permission.

I have had trouble saving changes to files (and saving some new files) in my Docs folder, but have used some workarounds. Apple Mail has some wonkiness as well, with individual messages taking minutes to show them as having been read, and sometimes minutes to reveal any content in the preview pane after clicking on them.

I am uncertain what I did in the update to cause this to happen, but I’m stumped on how to return the Finder-view drive to the pre-Big Sur state, where I could easily move files and folders, and which displayed my main Docs folder with all its nested folders within.

Any suggestions? Thanks. I’ve attached a few images below

First off, do you have a good backup? Don’t do anything until you do.

Once that’s done, is there a reason you’re storing things in a Docs folder at the root level of the drive, rather than in your Users/username/Documents folder? Most of the time when I see this, it’s an outdated habit from 15-20 years ago. It’s not “wrong” per se, but it is likely to get you into the kind of trouble you’re describing here. Too many things—macOS included—assume that user files are only in the user’s folder. And part of the reason for that assumption was that people used to store their files all the heck over the place and ended up losing data because of it.

What I would do is attempt to copy the entire contents of your Docs folder to the default ~/Documents folder in your user account. In theory, that should work. If it doesn’t, I’d then see if I could copy everything from the backup to that folder. If even that isn’t allow, I’d run Disk Utility and use First Aid on the drive to see if that fixes any issues.

Once you’ve gotten all your data into the proper places in your home folder, I’d delete that Docs folder. How you might do that is a bit of a question; the command line would almost certainly work.


Adam, thanks for the quick reply. Indeed it is an old habit, born out of a “my way” attitude I had where I didn’t want to take Apple’s suggestions of where to store my files. I showed them, didn’t I? Anyway, I do have Time Capsule backups, and will make another to an external drive, and then try to copy my Docs folder contents to the Users/tombentley folder on the drive.

I could probably manage to use Terminal to then delete the Docs folder. I appreciate your help (and the advice you’ve given over the years, as I’ve lurked), Tom

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Glad to help, @bentguy1, and let us know how it all works out.

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Adam, moving all of my folders/files into the Documents folder hasn’t caused any read/write trouble, and access is fine, from the Finder sidebars; thanks for the advice. However, I am yet puzzled by the Big Sur changes to my permission levels on the drive, or I’m not getting the use and relationship of volumes and containers (and permissions, the use of which seemed to have changed).

On a practical level for me that’s possibly not significant, but I’ve attached a few screen shots that illustrate some of my questions. The first, from a Get Info on the Finder icon of my Drive, Sazerac, shows that I only have read permissions on the drive. The second Users and Groups dialog shows my “TomRBentley” identity as the admin.

If I try to add “TomRBentley” or any variants, lowercase or minus the “R,” to have read/write permissions using my system password, I’m told I don’t have permission to do that operation. The third screen shot shows the User folder with my active “tombentley” user folder, where I’ve moved all those aforementioned files into its Documents folder.

So, I’m unsure if there’s a conflict in having the active user being in the tombentley folder and my TomRBentley id as the User admin. I had the older “trbentley” folder on older OSs, but I can’t remember now if it was the active one and if I caused some trouble with permissions and identities when I initially upgraded to Big Sur.

If it further clarifies (or muddies or tells you nothing), I’ve included the Disk Tools screenshot of the drive configuration/containers.

So, is there a problem in my not being able to set read/write permissions at the drive level, even if I can read/write to the drive, install apps, etc.?

I apologize for the long message, but the drive setup and access seems quite different from what I was accustomed to in other Mac OSs. I had gone straight from Mojave to Big Sur, bypassing Catalina. Thanks!
Screen Shot 2021-03-10 at 2.45.11 PM|201x500 Screen Shot 2021-03-10 at 2.46.39 PM

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The volume “Sazerac” is the sealed APFS System Volume, as shown in your Disk Utility screenshot. You should not expect to be able to change that at all.
The same container should have a separate APFS Data Volume “Sazerac - Data” (partly visible in the screenshot). Parts of that should be user-alterable.
Finder presents the two volumes as if they were one, which can be confusing. (I know it confuses me.)

Thanks Mark. That is confusing; I’ve found my understanding of the Mac’s disk structures has dimmed over time. Not sure if that’s my own dimming over time, or because of increased software complexity. Anyway, perhaps my understanding of these opaque structures doesn’t matter as long as I can still use the computer fluidly. But the Mac’s ease of use has lessened for me the past couple of years in general.

As you say, it’s a case of not staying up with changes. In Catalina, Apple created APFS volume groups, which make two volumes look like one. They then put the System on a separate volume from your data and made the System volume read-only for security purposes. So yes, that volume is read-only and will confuse matters when trying to figure out permissions. Look at the permissions on your Home folder and those will be fine.

I’m not sure this is a great example of the Mac getting harder to use since worrying about permissions isn’t something users should have to do. And you hardly ever have to… if you keep your data in your Home folder. :slight_smile: Working in ways that aren’t anticipated by the system’s designers will always be harder and more prone to failure.

Thanks Adam. I indeed haven’t had any issues since moving the files, and it’s undoubtedly unnecessary for what I ask of the computer for me to have a sophisticated understanding of subtle volume distinctions and security mechanisms. I appreciate your help.