Updated by Tina Sieber on January 21, 2017.
Windows and Mac OS X use different file systems. Windows uses the NTFS file system for its internal drives, while Macs use HFS+. External hard disks and USB drives are generally formatted with the Windows FAT32 file system for maximum compatibility — most devices, including Macs, can read and write from FAT32 devices.
Some Mac drives may be formatted with the HFS+ file system — some drives marketed to Mac users may even come pre-formatted with HFS+. Windows can’t read this file system by default, but there are ways to read that HFS+ drive from Windows.
We show you how to access your Mac-formatted drive on Windows.
1. Install Apple HFS+ Drivers
If read access to the files is all you need, you can install the Apple HFS+ drivers for Windows. Be sure to remove Paragon or MacDrive before proceeding.
Download your matching Windows driver package here, then follow these steps:
- Copy the ApplsHFS.sys and AppleMNT.sys files to C:\Windows\System32\drivers
- Merge the Add_AppleHFS.reg file with your Windows registry.
- Restart your system.
The video below also demonstrates the process.
After restarting, your Mac-formatted drive should show up under This PC. This method only gives you read access to the drive. If you would like to edit or delete files, try one of the alternative methods below.
You’ll probably want to use HFSExplorer for this. Unlike all the other options available here, HFSExplorer is completely free. You can use it to access Mac file systems from Windows without paying a dime. Note that you need to run it as Administrator in Windows.
HFSExplorer does require the Java runtime environment installed. We generally recommend against having Java installed, but it’s necessary here unless you want to spend money. Be sure to disable the Java browser plug-in after installing Java to stay as safe as possible.
This tool is fairly simple to use. Connect your Mac-formatted drive to your Windows system, open HFSExplorer, and click File > Load File System From Device. HFSExplorer can automatically locate any connected devices with HFS+ file systems and open them. You can then extract files from the HFSExplorer window to your Windows drive.
Note that HFSExplorer is read-only, so you can’t actually modify files stored on your Mac drive or delete them. It also doesn’t integrate with Windows Explorer or File Explorer — files are available in the HFSExplorer application and you must copy them elsewhere.
Price: $20, 10-day free trial
Paragon HFS+ for Windows is a paid application, but it distinguishes itself with additional features. Unlike HFSExplorer, Paragon HFS+ for Windows provides full read/write access to Mac drives and promises high performance. It even integrates HFS+ file systems with Windows Explorer or File Explorer on Windows. Any Windows program can read from or write to the Mac drive.
This application does cost $20, but it also offers a 10-day free trial. If you just need to recover files from a drive, 10 days is plenty of time to install this file system driver, copy your files over, and uninstall it. If you want to use Mac drives on Windows on an ongoing basis, paying $20 so you can use the drive properly is a pretty good deal. As a bonus, Paragon HFS+ doesn’t require you have the insecure Java installed.
Readers noted that this cool caused them an inaccessible_boot_device error. The fix appears to be to booting into the BIOS, setting SATA mode to IDEA, booting into Windows Safe Mode, doing a System Restore, followed by switching SATA mode back to AHCI in the BIOS.
Price: $50, 5-day free trial (trial appears to no longer work)
MacDrive is another fairly popular option here. It’s a paid application and is both more expensive and has a shorter free trial than Paragon HFS+. Like Paragon HFS+, MacDrive offers full read/write access via Windows File Explorer fast performance. It also offers disk repair and partitioning tools for working with and creating Mac file systems. These are additional features, but you probably won’t need them.
This tool is a bit pricier than Paragon HFS+, so you’ll likely want to stick with Paragon HFS+ if you want a paid application. If Paragon HFS+ doesn’t work well for you for some reason, you may want to go with MacDrive. Luckily, thanks to the free trials, you can try it out to see if that extra $30 over Paragon HFS+ is actually worth it.
Workaround: Linux Live USB
The next best way to access and copy your Mac drive on a Windows system requires a little workaround called Linux Live CD / USB.
The concept is simple: You run Linux from a Live CD or USB drive, which will recognize your Mac device. Now you can copy the files to your Windows computer.
Use Rufus to create a bootable Ubuntu Linux USB flash drive (download the Ubuntu ISO here), then reboot your system — make sure your BIOS is set to boot from USB — and boot into Ubuntu, where you should be able to read your Mac-formatted drive.
Bonus: Format the Drive
Let’s say you have a Mac drive lying around and you no longer have a Mac. You’re not stuck with the Mac file system forever. After recovering the files from your drive with one of the tools above, you can then format the drive and convert it to a standard FAT32 partition that will work with most devices.
Formatting will erase all the files on your drive, so be sure you’ve recovered your files first. To format the drive, just use the dialog that appears when you connect the drive to your computer.
You can also use the Disk Management utility to erase the Mac partition and create a new partition.
Which tool do you prefer for accessing Mac-formatted drives on Windows? Would you recommend another tool than the ones mentioned above? Leave a comment and share your experience!