Full NTFS Support in OS X – Read AND Write

If you want both Mac and Windows compatibility with a large external hard drive, work with large file sizes, or want to quickly shuttle files from OS X to your Boot Camp partition, you’re going to run into some difficulty.

While OS X supports many Windows specific ways of doing things, dealing with the very common NTFS filesystem is a little sketchy. See, while OS X can read NTFS formatted drives (volumes), it can’t write to them. Here’s how to get over that and fully work with NTFS in OS X.

A Little Background:

NTFS, Fat32 and HFS+ are three different filesystems. Think of them as a method your computer organizes a Hard Drive for storage. They are not interchangeable or compatible. Your computer must have the ability to speak to the Hard Drive in these formats or it will say the drive is empty.

NTFS and Fat32 are Windows filesystems. HFS+ is OS X’s file system. Obviously, a Windows machine can’t handle HFS+ so if you want an external drive to be compatible, you have to choose Fat32 or NTFS.

Here’s the problem. Out of the box, OS X is set up to read and write Fat32. NTFS can only be read in OS X (10.4 and up).

Note: Snow Leopard supposedly has full NTFS support but it’s not turned on. Yet.

Why NTFS over Fat32?

You may be thinking right now, “Why not just use Fat32?”. First off, Fat32 is an older filesystem that’s well on its way to becoming obsolete. Its limitations were addressed in NTFS and as Microsoft moves forward, they are moving away from Fat32. With Vista and Windows 7, Fat32 is for memory cards and USB Flash media.

Fat32′s Limitations:

Maximum Filesize: With Fat32, you can’t have a file larger than 4GB (minus one byte). So, a large TrueCrypt volume can’t be handled. Same as an .ISO of a DVD or large video imports from your DV camera. A 4GB file may not seem like it’s all that common now, but in less than 5 years, I’d bet you’ll see them often.

Maximum Volume Size: Fat32 can not handle a volume larger than 2TB without modifying the cluster size, which may cause issues with OS X. 2TB external hard drives are not expensive anymore and by next year, 4TB and 8TB drives will be affordable.

No File Permissions: Fat32 does not support ownership or file permissions. If you want to secure your files in some way, you don’t want Fat32.

Boot Camp Issues:

With Boot Camp, running Windows on a Mac is really simple. However, if you’ve formatted your Boot Camp Partition as NTFS, you may have realized you can read it but not write to it. Kind of a pain when you want to quickly transfer a file over and you’re running in OS X.

Full NTFS Compatibility in OS X:

So, for maximum compatibility and none of the limitations, it would be nice if OS X could both read and write to NTFS. It can, thanks to NTFS-3G. This is how you set it up:

1. Download the OS X port of NTFS-3G.

2. Run the installer.

3. Restart when prompted.

That’s all you need to do until Apple unleashes full NTFS compatibility within Snow Leopard.

One Comments

  1. Rick says:

    Works perfectly. I have an external 1.5 Tb Firewire drive that is NTFS and with NTFS-3G, I can read and write with zero problems in Snow Leopard.