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Why is it that I can do chmod on my files when they are on my laptops hard drive, but when i make files on my external drive, i can't change their access rights.

I do:
chmod 755 somefile, and on my local drive, the rights change accordingly,
but the very same command does nothing on my external drive.

How comes?

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What filesystem are you using on your external drive? – jsbillings Aug 8 '12 at 14:36
The good old 'fuseblk'. – Hermann Ingjaldsson Aug 8 '12 at 14:38
fuseblk is used to mount NTFS. What is the output for mount? Consider changing the filesystem if you only use the drive with Linux. – jippie Aug 8 '12 at 19:16
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Most probably the filesystem of your external hard drive does not manage or accept change of permissions.

If the filesystem were ext3, ext4, UFS, ZFS or any kind of Unix filesystem you will not have any kind of problems but I guess you are mounting an NTFS or even FAT32 disk. You can check it out with the 'mount' command.

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