One of the most usual problem encountered in file transfer between computers using a disk has something to do with disk format. Here’s how it normally goes: you plug in a disk to your computer running on Mac OS, and it’s all well and good until you notice that, even though your computer can read the disk, you can’t write anything to them or can’t save any files to them.
This is actually a cross platform compatibility issue that arises when the disk you use has been previously formatted using a Windows OS.
To understand this problem, you should know about file systems. A file system is an operating system’s way of organizing and storing files on drives, and specifies which information can be attached to files, such as permissions, filenames, and attributes. For instance, Windows retrieves, stores and formats any flash drive or external hard disk using its default format, that is: NTFS (New Technology File System). The thing is, although Apple largely has support for NTFS and other Windows formats, write support to NTFS drives is disabled in OS X. This means, when using a computer with a Mac OS and a Windows-formatted disk drive, you are not allowed to save to the drive or alter existing files in there.
Simplest Solution? Format your Drives in FAT
The easiest way to bridge this gap between formats is to just re-format your drive into FAT. By the way, FAT (File Allocation Table) is an older file system created by Windows, and which OS X has full read and write compatibility with.
Obviously, NTFS has several advantages as a format—it’s newer and has been tested to work faster than its FAT-formatted counterparts. But if your drive is relatively new, and you don’t have any files in your drives to keep intact, re-formatting and converting your drive to FAT is an easy workaround to the issue.
This might not be the solution for you for the following reasons:
- If you’ve data on your drive that you haven’t backed up. Re-formatting your drive to FAT format will erase all the data saved on it.
- If you need to transfer files that are higher than 4GB on one go, FAT isn’t the format for you. FAT only allows file transfer of size 4GB and below.
If the above are not your concerns, and want to make transfer between your computers with different operating systems easy, re-formatting your drive is the fix for you.
Third Party Utilities
There are applications available online that have been developed for this OS X limitation. Some are free, but these may be more difficult to set up and less reliable, so if you want surer options when working with your drive, you may want to consider going for paid applications.
OSXFUSE – FUSE for macOS is an open source, GitHub-hosted application that basically operates a mechanism that allows the implementation of a fully-functional file system in a macOS program. The process that FUSE for macOS uses is tedious and can get very technical, which might make people who are not very comfortable in rebooting into recovery mode and using Terminal quite uneasy.
In any case, you can use FUSE for macOS to write over NTFS formatted disk by following these steps:
- Download osxfuse. Install it.
- Make sure you have downloaded Homebrew, which is a command line package manager.
- Open Terminal. You do this by opening your Applications folder, where the Terminal application is located.
- After you’ve opened Terminal, type in this command:
brew install homebrew/fuse/ntfs-3g
- Restart your Mac, and before the OS X starts, press and hold Command+R until the Apple icon and a progress bar appears, and then release. This will boot you to Recovery mode, instead of restarting.
- Open Terminal from the Utilities menu and type this command:
This will disable SIP (System Integrity Protection) or “rootless” mode, and it should show in a display message. Restart your computer.
- After you have rebooted, open Terminal again and type these commands:
sudo mv /sbin/mount_ntfs /sbin/mount_ntfs.original
sudo ln -s /usr/local/sbin/mount_ntfs /sbin/mount_ntfs
- Reboot your computer again and repeat what you did in Step 5, so that you reboot into recovery mode.
- Once you’re in recovery, re-enable SIP by opening Terminal and typing this command:
- Reboot your Mac again. If you did all of the above correctly, NTFS will now fully work on your Mac OS.
You should note that the System Integrity Protection exists to prevent unwanted modification of system files. Disabling SIP will allow root programs to alter protected files on the operating system that may lead to a corrupt startup disk and the onset of malware.
Again, if this is something that alarms you, there are other methods of allowing to write to your NTFS disks on your Mac OS that may be more comfortable for you to use.
Paragon NTFS – Paragon is a driver that allows a full read and write access to NTFS drives on Mac OS X. You can easily write, copy, move, and edit files on the NTFS drive by just installing the software and rebooting your computer to allow the change to happen on your Mac OS X, all hassle free and seamless. This application also boasts to be six time faster than any other NTFS-write software out there. It also comes in a beautiful interface and other functionalities such as a color-coded space indicator, disk formatter and partition creator.
Paragon can be downloaded for free for a 10-day trial, and then for purchase at $19.95, which we can vouch is truly bang for buck.
If your drive also happens to be a Seagate drive, you get a free license for Paragon NTFS, limited for Seagate-manufactured drives.
Tuxera NTFS for Mac – Tuxera is another easy-to-use paid application that allows NTFS drive writing while using Mac OS. It edges out its commercial competition with some of its powerful functions such as smart file caching during transfers and other advanced features. It’s also as easy to install and operate, like its other paid counterparts.
Tuxera can be downloaded for a 15-day free trial, and available for a one-time lifetime, all-devices purchase for $31.
Exploit Mac’s Experimental Feature
Technically speaking, Apple actually can allow you to write on NTFS drive, but this is an experimental feature that should be taken with a grain of salt. You can do this by using a command line that does not need the disabling of the System Integrity Protection, but still comes with the necessary risks. Be forewarned, tweaking with this might corrupt your disk and your data and might cause you to lose your data totally.
Enable Apple’s experimental feature by following these steps:
- Open Terminal. Again, you do this by opening your Applications folder, where the Terminal application is located.
- Enter the following command, which will enable the support for the NTFS drive:
LABEL=DRIVE_NAME none ntfs rw,auto,nobrowse
- Substitute DRIVE_NAME with your disk name
- As you replace your drive name, make sure that there are not spaces, as this may cause some issues.
- Restart your Mac
If by any chance you do have a drive with a complicated name with spaces included, use the device UUID to be able to write support for that as well. This is how you do it:
- Run your Terminal and type in the following command, but substitute “DRIVENAME” with your disk name:
diskutil info /Volumes/DRIVENAME | grep UUID
- This will give you the UUID of your disk.
- Once you open the Terminal again, type the following command:
sudo nano /etc/fstab
- Add to the file the following command, replacing “DEVICEUUID” with the UUID you obtained in Steps 1 and 2:
UUID=DEVICEUUID none ntfs rw,auto,nobrowse
Again, it pays to remember that the above method is experimental, and that no one holds accountability if the method will work, or if it will cause any corruption in your disk and make you lose your data. There’s no guarantee that paying for third party apps can give you, such as ease of access and plain peace of mind. In addition, if you are working with more than one disk, this experimental feature requires you to add one line per disk. This task, needless to say, can be quite laborious.
Wait for Future Updates
There is reason to believe that Mac OS X may develop native support for full compatibility with NTFS. Although this possibility is largely unconfirmed, the fact that Mac currently has an experimental feature in place already hints at how cognizant they are about this limitation. Nevertheless, Apple may totally choose to remove NTFS support altogether and decide to endorse third party apps instead to their users for writing NTFS disks.
Format to exFAT
Our out of the box suggestion, when you have the luxury of a new or empty disk is to format your disk to exFAT. exFAT is an improvement from FAT32—a newer version of FAT that is less efficient than NTFS but has more widespread support than NTFS and exFAT. Like NTFS, exFAT enables you to transfer files bigger than the 4GB limitation of FAT32. Most notably, exFAT is also supported by Windows and OS X both. All recent Windows versions and the recent versions of Mac OS have full read and write support for exFAT, something that cannot be said for NTFS.
This method has certain caveats too. Some devices such as PlayStation 3 and Xbox One does not support exFAT, as well as the now defunct Windows XP and older versions of Windows. exFAT is ideally used if you don’t have to deal with these devices, but exFAT is a good choice of file system format if you want greater compatibility than NTFS and a bigger file size limit than FAT.
If you do want to stick with your NTFS, now you at least have a variety of options available for your file transfer needs. Just pick the one you think is safest and most convenient for you. Do not forget to back-up your files first, so you don’t lose any data in case something goes awry, or better yet, stick with a paid application that will do the job for you without any worries.