How to fix “can’t save automatically” error saving documents in macOS app

A quirky problem with a quirky fix and some workout.

Auto-save is a very useful feature of macOS that prevents the loss of in-rise changes to documents you’re working on between time periods when you press Command-S or select File> Save. When you’re away from work, the document’s current status is temporarily updated. When you close the file, the changes will be applied even if you are not using the Save command or keystrokes.

But what happens if the save automatically goes south?

Some users, including Macworld readers, have seen bugs in various macOS apps dating back nearly a decade: “It’s not possible to automatically save documents. Your most recent changes may be lost. The dialog explains this has an OK button and nothing else.

What is the explanation? It seems that the permission issue between the application is called a “sandbox” and the operating system about whether a file can be written to. Sandbox apps are apps delivered from the App Store, including free and paid Apple apps, which have some restrictions in place to increase user privacy and security. Sandbox apps can only perform certain tasks and with certain files. (Apps offered by the developer directly have a more free-range, but you may have to approve certain types of access through the Security and Privacy tab of the Security options pane)”

Savvy users have discovered that this issue can be fixed by emptying the list of recent documents. In the affected software, select File> Recently Opened> Delete Menu. When this error occurs, this action appears to free up locations for saving or refresh permissions. Some users only experience autos saving problems when working with extremely large files; others, when they have many documents open.

If you’re having problems and deleting recent files doesn’t solve that problem, here are some other strategies:

Create new documents, copy the contents of old documents (Edit> Select them all), paste them into the new document, and save them immediately.
Turn off autos saving, which is an option in the General Options pane labeled “Request to keep changes when closing a document.” When this box is selected, automatic saving no longer occurs. You can use the Save feature and will be prompted to save when you close a document.
Divide documents into smaller separate files by copying and pasting them one by one into new documents and saving them.
This Mac 911 article is in response to a question from Readers Tommy of Macworld.

Ask Mac 911
We’ve compiled a list of the questions we get most often along with answers and links to columns: read our super FAQ to see if your question is mentioned. Otherwise, we are always looking for new problems to solve! Send your email to, including screenshots if appropriate, and whether you want to use your full name. Not every question will be answered, we don’t reply to emails and can’t give direct troubleshooting advice.