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Windows and Mac OS X use different file systems From FAT To NTFS To ZFS: File Systems Demystified [MakeUseOf Explains] From FAT To NTFS To ZFS: File Systems Demystified [MakeUseOf Explains] Do you really know what your hard drive does whenever you read a file from it or write one to it? Our hard drives can now store massive amounts of data, and that massive space... Read More . 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 Preparing An External Hard Drive For Use With Mac OS X Preparing An External Hard Drive For Use With Mac OS X If you've just purchased a new external hard drive for your Mac, it's important to take the time to prepare your hard drive for use with Mac OS X. Read More  — 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.

HFSExplorer – Free

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.

HFSExplorer does require the Java runtime environment installed. We generally recommend against having Java installed Is Java Unsafe & Should You Disable It? Is Java Unsafe & Should You Disable It? Oracle’s Java plug-in has become less and less common on the Web, but it’s become more and more common in the news. Whether Java is allowing over 600,000 Macs to be infected or Oracle is... Read More , 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.

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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.

Paragon HFS+ for Windows – $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.

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MacDrive – $50, 5-Day Free Trial

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 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.

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Format the Drive & Erase Its Contents

Let’s say you have a Mac drive lying around and you no longer have a Mac, as one of our MakeUseOf Answers questioners did. 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 External Drive Not Recognized? This Is How to Fix It in Windows External Drive Not Recognized? This Is How to Fix It in Windows Read More to erase the Mac partition and create a new partition.

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Which tool do you prefer for accessing Mac-formatted drives on Windows? Do you prefer MacDrive over Paragon HFS+ for some reason, or do you prefer another paid tool we didn’t cover here? Leave a comment and share your experience!

Image Credit: Ray Weitzenberg on Flickr

  1. gdavisloop
    July 12, 2016 at 8:52 am

    Another free way to do it - Download Ubuntu Linux, burn to a DVD (or put on a flash memory), boot from that - you can run Ubuntu without installing it. Ubuntu will see the Mac device as well as your Windows devices, and you can easily copy files from one to the other.

    This method doesn't many ANY changes to your Windows software.
    --Gary

    • William
      August 3, 2016 at 4:30 am

      Thanks Gary. These are the answers I've been looking for a long time. And it's free. Bill

  2. Pam
    March 27, 2016 at 4:58 am

    Some of these programs cant access files if they are in "core storage". If your Mac is running OSX Lion or something newer this may be the case.

  3. Greg Searle
    February 24, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    Tip: You must run HFS Explorer as Administrator on Windows in order for it to function properly.

    • Tendo
      July 20, 2016 at 3:07 pm

      thanks mate this Works. coz im using a hackintosh Laptop :)

  4. DRM
    January 12, 2016 at 3:28 am

    I cannot get HFS Explorer to find my HFS+ formatted drive - containing a Time Machine backup of my MAC - when i plug the external hard drive into my USB port on my HP laptop running Windows 10. In fact the laptop doesn't even see the drive at all when I plug it in.

    What could the problem be?

  5. Kirk
    December 27, 2015 at 9:47 pm

    Can a "seagate for mac" slim drive be formatted NTFS (not fat 32) and used with windows 10 for external backup drive? Thanks.

  6. hellraiser0110
    October 2, 2015 at 8:58 am

    Don't install Paragon HFS+!!! This program is not working and you can't remove it from your computer!

    • Mark
      January 31, 2016 at 1:09 pm

      I've distrusted Paragon's filesystem code for years. About a decade ago I bought their Windows driver for reading EXT3 (Linux) filesystems. It seemed to work OK for about a month, but then suddenly after writing a file under Windows, the entire EXT3 filesystem became unreadable! Creating robust filesystem drivers is hard. A bug that only occurs on one write in a billion but that clobbers some critical element in some data structure the filesystem depends on can end up with you LOSING ALL THE FILES in the filesystem! Given the high risk of data loss, extensive testing is necessary before a filesystem driver can be deemed trustworthy, and it doesn't look like Paragon's testing is up to the task.

  7. Cyneric Pandox
    September 27, 2015 at 6:32 am

    Be very cautious installing Paragon HFS+ on Windows 10. I used it on 8 with no issues, but twice I have tried to install it on Win 10, and both times it's bricked my computer with an INACCESSIBLE_BOOT_DEVICE error...

    I found out you have to go into your BIOS and set your SATA mode to IDE, then boot into Windows Safe Mode, do a System Restore, back into the BIOS and set SATA mode back to AHCI, then you can boot normally.

    I didn't want to spring for MacDrive, but at least it works.

    • Isaac B
      February 13, 2016 at 3:02 am

      This exact thing happened to me as well. I am in the process of reinstalling 100s of GBs of programs right now.

  8. Hal
    September 25, 2015 at 1:49 am

    Same issue reported by Terry, Paragon HFS+ trial is useless and doesn't do anything. The help is an equally useless small bit of text.

    Transmac won't let you read/write but it works okay. I find I have to close / open the program once in a while to continue working with a drive.

    MacDrive despite costing the most was the one that worked. I recommend this.

  9. Al Breeck
    August 12, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    I needed to open some to open a DMG of an entire Apple DVD - no thanks to the waste of time MacDrive "trial".

    All I had to do was Extract the DMG using 7-zip. Done.

    To examine and edit Apple .pkgs or .mpkgs, I needed Transmac.
    Note that it will BURN a DMG to disc, but just the uncompressed version (now an ISO) since its a PC.

  10. David Maan
    June 20, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    For step 4, formatting the drive to ExFat would be better than FAT32. FAT32 has a size limit of around 4GB, so you can't put any files over that on there. ExFat has unlimited size limits and can read/write from a Mac and PC.

    • Mark
      January 31, 2016 at 1:36 pm

      But ExFat is legally-encumbered so that anyone who tries to write a Linux driver for it is subject to a nasty lawsuit from Microsoft. FAT32 is the only filesystem I know of that can be both read and written under all three major operating systems (Windows, OS-X, and Linux) as well as by various special purpose devices like digital cameras. It's unfortunate that FAT32 is an archaic design and has some serious limitations, but if your files are smaller than 4 GB and the partition containing your filesystem is under 2 TB, FAT32 provides portability between OS's that no other filesystem can.

  11. Terry Wall
    June 6, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    For the record, The Paragon app won't let you run the free trial any more. I downloaded the app TWICE, restarted the computer both times, and nada...zero...zilch...bupkis...no funtioning app. What gives?? All I can access is the help menu, which ain't helpful at all! And like Pablo said earlier, Why offer a 'trial' version, if you won't let us TRY it?!?! Dumb!

  12. Pablo
    May 17, 2015 at 9:23 am

    MacDrive no longer allows access to Mac drives during the evaluation period... How we are supposed to evaluate it without actually evaluating it is beyond my little brain.

  13. John
    April 26, 2015 at 11:17 pm

    Is MacDrive the only option that allows formatting disks in HFS+ format (and is that identical to or is MacDrive able to format and partition Macintosh Journaled volumes?) ?

    My wife's iMac HD died, I replaced it with a Crucial M550 1TB SSD and now it's telling me the disk is bad. All I have to check to see if the drive is actually bad is a Windows 7 x64 machine as her Air sure won't help. After two supposed hard drive failures in 3 months I'm a bit suspicious of the SATA controller or cabling. The Crucial SSD firmware update LINUX disc that boots a Mac or PC to update firmware failed repeatedly on the Mac with an error 13, which according to Crucial is common and issued an RMA. After I pulled the drive, I decided to plug into my test PC and the firmware updated fine and the disk management utility sees 3 healthy partitions, but I can't read them without one of the products mentioned in this thread. It sounds like MacDrive is the one I need, but seek confirmation as I do intend to purchase the product that best suits.

  14. Chris
    February 25, 2015 at 4:25 am

    Paragon did everything i needed it to do, read, edit and save , job done!

    With the trial version, happy to buy after trial experience.

  15. Henry
    January 29, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    Hmmm, HFS+ for Windows. After trialling the free version and finding it appeared to do what I wanted it to do and did it reasonably well and simply, I thought I'd do the right thing purchased a license.
    But the purchased licence won't load while the trial version is installed & I can't uninstall the trial version despite being the administrator and disabling the User Account Control. So far, after 2 weeks, I'm still waiting for a response to my request for help from Paragon and it seems I could be waiting a while.
    Apparently, irrespective of the fact I have purchased a license, because I didn't also purchase a 'support package' I've gone on a 'no guarantee' waiting list while those who purchased a support package get preferential treatment. (WTF! Doesn't Paragon understand any person who goes to the effort of purchasing a license expects sufficient technical support to at least get what was purchased working. But apparently not. Further it seems some customers are more important that others).
    So, my strong recommendation is, 'think 2 or 3 times about when you want the application to work before you purchase. If you don't need it for several weeks, then go ahead but if you want it to work now, or if you expect support for your purchased license, FORGET IT!!!

  16. mtec
    October 16, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    The problem with Microsoft proprietary disk formats like NTFS or EXFAT is that there are no repair tools for other platforms which can reliably detect & fix errors on the volume if it becomes corrupted. So if you dont want to buy a Windows machine just to maintain your portable drives, dont use Microsoft formats.

  17. Cfreak
    May 22, 2014 at 3:39 am

    I am a Mac user, video editor. The Fat32 limit of 4 GB makes it unsuable for my needs.

    I once had to prepare files for a non-profit client using windows XP. I instructed them to use the update for ExFat and prepared an ExFat drive to mail them original high quality HD video files on. It all went well until I realized some characters are illegal in ExFat and that made for a lot of initial problems. Once I removed any character like: !@#$%^&*() all was well.

    Somebody should mention that when talking about ExFat. Does anyone have a good link to reference?

    Thanks

  18. Deepak
    May 2, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Always format hard disk as EXFAT in mac. Read/Write both in Mac and Windows :)

    • Jill
      May 5, 2014 at 10:34 pm

      "Always format hard disk as EXFAT in mac. Read/Write both in Mac and Windows :)"

      Always and never are too terms not often used in IT. There are several situations where a Mac drive should be formatted in HFS+, but if you don't that then there's no point in explaining it to you. You can look it up if you care.

    • Jill
      May 5, 2014 at 10:35 pm

      Typos, sorry.

      Always and never are two terms not often used in IT. There are several situations where a Mac drive should be formatted in HFS+, but if you don't know that then there's no point in explaining it to you. You can look it up if you care to.

    • Wiz
      February 7, 2015 at 6:13 pm

      4GB filesize limitation.

      Have not had success with HFS+. It randomly stops working, and I have to reinstall. Going to try MacDrive.

  19. olive
    May 1, 2014 at 12:39 am

    i had a mac but reverted to windows after my board died installed a software not quite sure i think it was paragon hfs works fine i didnt need to format i still use the drive in mac format

  20. Jonathan Peel
    April 30, 2014 at 7:00 am

    Palu, installing the filesystem drivers that come with bootcamp on a non Apple computer is possible, I did it a few months ago to get files off an old hard drive.

    It was read only, but that was good enough for what I wanted to do.

  21. Palu
    April 29, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    I have a imac with bootcamp, so my win partition reads mac drives correctly

    This article comes in handy, if i ever need to go back to a windows machine full time.

    Always had the idea you could install the bootcamp drivers on a non-apple branded pc, but doesnt look like its a possibility. Shake, would have been perfect :)

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