How to Fix: Drag and Drop Not Working on Mac

One of the great benefits of using a graphical user interface (GUI) is the drag and drop feature. It’s so convenient to drag items across the screen and drop them in the intended location. If it has stopped working on your Mac, you are probably very frustrated.

There are a variety of things that may cause this problem, but the good news is that most of them are simple fixes. These issues can be separated into two different categories: hardware issues, and software problems.

I’m Eric and I have been troubleshooting computers since the early 1980s when problems were very common and without much Internet, sources for solutions were hard to find. I still enjoy troubleshooting macOS-related issues and now I’d like to pass what I learned to you.

Keep reading to learn more about a Mac losing its drag and drop capability, as I will cover some solutions here for you.

What Is Drag and Drop?

When we talk about drag and drop, we are talking about the action of clicking on a file, folder, or icon, holding down the left mouse button as you move the item (or drag it) from one location to another, and then release the mouse button (or drop) to place the item in a new location.

That location may be in a folder in a Finder window, on your desktop, or even in an application. Depending on the item and the application, there are different places you can drag and drop items. 

The effects of this action can be to move or copy an item depending on the application, the location you are dropping to, and the settings on your computer.

Two Types of Problems

When looking at this problem there are basically two categories of issues that can cause this problem. The first category would be hardware and the second would be software

A hardware problem means that there is something wrong internally with your mouse or the interface in your computer that your mouse is connecting to, whether it be a USB port for a wired mouse or a Bluetooth interface for a wireless mouse.

If it is a software problem, there may be a glitch or something going on with your macOS or an application that is running on your system. 

How to Fix: Software Issues

We’ll first look at some software issues and solutions. These are some of the simplest so it makes sense to look at these first.


This is usually my first go-to solution to many peripheral device problems. Just disconnect it and then try reconnecting. Whether it is a wired mouse or a wireless, this is always easy to do and many times will fix your problem right away.

System Reboot

This might seem too obvious of a solution, but if you haven’t rebooted your system in a while, give it a try. Often a simple reboot will clear up any glitches or stale memory problems you may have going on. Sometimes it can be surprising what a simple reboot can fix.

macOS Update

Make sure that your macOS has the latest updates installed. While it may seem like a long shot, there is a chance that the issue may have been fixed in an update.

Mouse or Trackpad Settings

If the problem still exists, you can also check your Mouse or Trackpad settings. Even if you don’t recall changing them recently, there is a possibility that they might have been changed during an update or an app has changed them. 

You’ll just want to verify the basic settings and make sure everything looks ok. You can do that by following the steps below.

Step 1: Click on the Apple menu in the upper left corner of your screen.

Step 2: Select System Preferences.

Step 3: Click on Mouse or Trackpad settings depending on which you are having issues with.

Step 4: Look at the settings to ensure nothing is disabled or turned off.

If the settings all look normal then you can rule this out as a cause of your issue.

How to Fix: Hardware Issues

There are a variety of hardware issues that can affect drag and drop. So let’s look at some of the more common ones to see if any of them will resolve your problem. 

Bad Mouse Battery

If you have a wireless mouse, you may sometimes forget about the battery in it. If the battery is completely dead, then it will be obvious because your mouse won’t work at all but if the battery is just low on power, it may cause it to act up in different ways but still appear to be working.

If it is a low battery causing it to malfunction you may see things like drag and drop not working or the buttons not always working. This is a simple fix. Just replace the batteries or if you have a rechargeable mouse, make sure you get it fully charged.

Once you have new batteries, check to see if you still have the issue. If you do not then, your problem may be solved.

Bad Mouse Button

This may happen with any type of mouse and I see it all the time. After lots of use, the buttons begin to have issues such as sticking or just not making proper contact to function correctly. In this case, it could be that the button is not holding contact which prevents drag and drop.

It’s possible that it could just be dirt, so a good cleaning can sometimes fix it. Especially if you are technical enough to take it apart and clean it. On the other hand, it may be worn out and it’s time to replace it. 

The best way to test this is to get another mouse if you have a spare or can borrow one from someone else. Try connecting it and see if you are still having the same issue. If the backup works it means yours is failing and needs to be cleaned or replaced.

Bad Mouse Cord

For the most part, if your cord is bad, it probably won’t work at all, but there is a slim chance it could create some sporadic failure that would affect drag and drop. Again the best way to test this is to try a backup or borrowed mouse to see if that works.

If you have another computer, you could also try the mouse on that one to see if it has the same issues. If it does you can be pretty sure there is a problem with that particular mouse.

USB or Bluetooth connection Failing

This one can be a little harder to detect, but there are a couple of things to try. If you or a friend have another computer, you can try connecting the mouse to it and see if it has issues on that computer. 

You can also try connecting other devices such as headphones to the USB or Bluetooth connection and see if those work properly. If so, your connection method is probably not the problem.

Why do We Need Drag and Drop?

Drag and Drop is a feature that began with modern graphical user interfaces and operating systems such as macOS. In the old days before we had a desktop with our OS, everything was done from the command line and we had to type things in from the keyboard.

Drag and Drop, along with the GUI allows us to easily move things around our desktop without the need for typing in long and tedious commands. So, while it’s not really a necessity for using our computers, it does save a lot of time and makes our lives much easier when using our Mac.

Final Words

It may not be a showstopper since you can still use your Mac for almost everything you normally do, but it can be very frustrating to lose the ability to drag and drop items from one location to another.

I hope the information I have provided above can lead you to a solution for your drag and drop problem. As usual, let me know if you have any questions or suggestions. I would love to hear from you!

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