Solving The “Read Only” External Hard Drive Problem On Your Mac

ntfs 300   Solving The Read Only External Hard Drive Problem On Your MacTeach your Mac a new trick. If you’ve plugged a USB stick or external hard drive only to find out it’s “Read Only”, don’t panic: there’s a reason for this, and there’s a way to fix it.

Different operating systems organize files in different ways. Mac OS X, for example, uses a filing structure called HFS+ – modern versions of Windows use NTFS. These different ways of physically arranging files on a drive confuse operating systems that aren’t used to them. Windows computers cannot open HFS drives, for example. Macs can read NTFS drives, but not write to them.

Why is this? It’s complicated, but the answer basically boils down to patents. For Windows computers to read HFS drives, Microsoft would have to pay Apple… something they won’t do. Enabling Apple computers to write to NTFS drives would involve similar expense. It’s a little more complex than this, but the basic result is that your Mac cannot write to NTFS drives.

For now.

osx bootcamp mounted   Solving The Read Only External Hard Drive Problem On Your Mac

Like I said: don’t panic. You can fix this. You’ve got three main options:

  1. Reformat your USB drive with FAT. This format can be read by Macs and Windows PCs alike. This is probably the simplest method, but there’s one drawback: reformatting requires deleting everything on the drive, so back it up first. On your Mac you can use Disk Utility to reformat; in Windows you need to right-click the drive, then click Format. Be sure to select FAT32 as your filesystem.
  2. Turning on OS X’s built-in support for writing to NTFS. Doing so requires some confidence, as the process isn’t entirely user-friendly – and needs to be re-done for every NTFS drive you wish to mount. Check out this blog post by Prateek V. Joshi for more information.
  3. Install software that automatically allows you to read every NTFS drive. This is the simplest option, and it’s what I’m going to outline below.

Below I’ll outline the easy-to-use paid options (one of which you can get from MakeUseOf Rewards) and a slightly-more-complex free alternative.

Using Commercial Software

Let’s go over the easiest way to solve this problem first: commercial software. Paragon NTFS for Mac is easy to install, and enables NTFS writing almost instantly. Once it’s installed you won’t even notice it’s there, save for a single entry in your OS X preferences window.

system preferences xn   Solving The Read Only External Hard Drive Problem On Your Mac

Read more about Paragon NTFS, if you’re interested. The software isn’t expensive – it runs you $20 – and it’s one of the first such programs out there to officially support Mountain Lion (10.8).

If you’d rather not pay $20, however, you’re in luck: you can pick it up for 400 points over at MakeUseOf Rewards, assuming our licenses haven’t all been snapped up. Hurry!

Paragon isn’t the only paid software for the job out there – Tuxera (which maintains the free solution outlined below) offers similar software for 25 euros ($31). Check out Tuxera.com for more information.

NTFS-3G: The Free Alternative

Prefer a free alternative? NTFS-3G is an open source driver used by many Linux users to read and write to NTFS drives, and and you can use it on your Mac too. It’s just a matter of knowing where to find it – and the answer is this blog post from 2010. It includes the most recent download for NTFS-3G for Mac.

The installation process is easy, but pay attention during this part:

ntfs 3g cacheing   Solving The Read Only External Hard Drive Problem On Your Mac

It’s probably safest to go without the caching, but there are performance advantages to using it. It’s up to you.

Of course, if you’re using Lion or Mountain Lion (and you probably are), you’ll notice this software doesn’t work. You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?

Fixing NTFS-3G for Mountain Lion

Simply installing NTFS-3G isn’t enough if you use Mountain Lion or Lion – the free software hasn’t been updated for these releases, and doesn’t work. You’ll see warnings at boot, and none of your NTFS drives will mount.

Again: don’t panic. This blog post by Julian Xhokaxhiu has all the answers. To summarize, you need to:

  1. Install MacFUSE.
  2. Install the Fuse error fix package
  3. Install Install OS X Fuse. Be sure to check Emulate MacFUSE during installation:

osx fuse enable1   Solving The Read Only External Hard Drive Problem On Your Mac

Do all of this and you should be able to mount your NTFS drives without any problems – and write to them. Enjoy!

Conclusion

Incompatibilities between Macs and Windows PCs used to be a lot worse than today – the two computers had hardly any file formats in common. Those days are largely past, but a few reminders remain. NTFS hiccups are one of them.

As you can tell, though, there are ways around most computer frustrations – including this one. You can buy software that solves the problem, or you can do a little work and solve the problem for yourself using free alternatives. It’s up to you, and I want to know: which tool did you use for the job? Share in the comments below!

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If you have any questions related to what's mentioned in the article or need help with any computer issue, ask it on MakeUseOf Answers—We and our community will be more than happy to help.

40 Comments -

dan anik

i think it’s important that people also know about exFAT, as this is a file system that allows for reading and writing in windows and OS X. but a major downside to it is that there isn’t write support in linux.

PG

Hey. Could you please expand on that part (exFAT) and how to do it?
I am a noob in Macs and I just bought this new hard drive and unable to turn it to write . :(
Please help

Dan Anik

Probably the easiest way is to use the Erase option in Disk Utility.

Open Disk Utility from Applications/Utilities. With your hard drive plugged in, select it on the left column. Then click the Erase tab. Choose ExFAT from the drop down and name it what you want (limited to 11 characters). Then click the Erase button.

Then you should be good to go!

KISH

Thanks Justin probably easiest i feel is first option to format USB drive to FAT will do the work

KISH

Nice article and helpful one . Was looking for easier option and i think the first option of formation USB drive to FAT will give easier solution as most of the time i need to transfer data from windows to Mac

Austin Beatty

FAT32 is such a crappy filesystem and it’s a shame there’s no filesystem with full default support by the main 3 OSes. Linux distros usually come with NTFS-3G by default now, but Mac OS doesn’t. Then there’s exFAT which is more geared towards Flash drives as opposed to spinning Hard Drives, but you need to install an extra package in most Linux distros to get it to work. I only use FAT32 if I need to (like I want to use it on a PS3 or in a phone that requires it) or if it’s a drive under 4 GB. (FAT32 has a 4 GB file limit, which is annoying on large drives).

Doc

FAT32 has a 4GB file limit, but how many files (other than ISOs) will be more than 4GB?

Austin Beatty

High res or long videos. I often record videos on my capture card that are 1-2 hours long, and they can be over 4 GB, and I need to transfer them to my Desktop. It doesn’t come up all the time, but it’s definetely annoying when it does, and I’d rather not have to deal with it.

Kimo

People still use Macs?

macwitty

Yes we do

macwitty

The Paragon NTFS I got as a reward work very well. So well I forget it is insalled

Doc

Some things to be aware of:

Most USB drives come pre-formatted with FAT32.

Windows XP and up will not allow you to format a partition larger than 32GB as FAT32 for “stability reasons.”

Most Windows XP systems will not be able to read/write ExFAT without adding in a driver (free from Microsoft); I’m not sure if ExFAT was added in a Service Pack or optional update, although my copy (I’m using an XP machine) has it.

Justin Pot

All great points. Thanks for adding them.

Robert J

If you own a Seagate GoFlex or Backup Plus drive you can download their free version of Paragon’s NTFS Driver for Mac OS on their downloads page.

http://www.seagate.com/support/downloads/

Justin Pot

That’s good to know! Thanks.

Robert J

Also, check the deals Paragon has going on frequently.

I not only saved $$ on the Mac software but they also included the software that lets me read/write HFS+ in Windows AND a free upgrade to the next version that came out several weeks later.

Max

Oh I didn’t know that. However this post helped me a lot. Maybe I will install this driver in some other Mac. Thanks.

Liv

This is not working on my Mac, it used to, but now I have to turn paragon off to access my seagate hard drive, and even then it’s only read only.

Justin P

You installed the Seagate copy of Paragon and it’s not working, Liv?

Antipodes

Thank you – this was the solution that finally worked for me.

Mohamad

I spent hours and installed more than 2 GB, and then saw this.

Rahul N

Tried a few options but Tuxera NTFS works perfectly on my MBP Retina Pro SSD..
Sadly Apple file sys is not supported by my TV and other usb readers.

Justin Pot

Yeah, there’s not much you can do to get devices like that to read your Apple products…

Chanel @ La Viajera Morena

Thank you for this, easy to follow and understand :D

Justin Pot

You’ve no idea how much of a compliment that is. Thanks for taking the time to leave it.

Bud

Good article, easy to read and understand ! Thanks !

Max

Oh great! It works! :)
Thanks Justin! :)

Jojo

Awesome :) The NTFS-3G worked like a charm! I was hoping to find a quick fix and this was it!

Justin P

It works, but can be a pain to set up on newer Macs. Glad your happy in any case. :)

Justin P

It works, but can be a pain to set up on newer Macs. Glad your happy in any case. :)

Anonymous

Used the suggested workaround for the Mountain Lion. worked perfectly.

Extra

Likewise, it was upsetting me so much, as I used PC and am now stepping up on Mac in addition, and I was guessing there were incompatibilities. Thanks so much for taking the time to help by posting, it makes a difference.

Yujie

Thank you so much for the help! Now I can freely write into my 1TB external drive!

However, I have a small problem. Though I can freely read and write on my external hard drive, I can’t make other changes to it, such as renaming it. When I click on “Get Info” of the hard drive, it shows that I have custom access. Is there a way that I can change my status to administrator so that I can rename my hard drive?

Thank you so much!

Justin P

I have to say: I’ve no idea. Are there other changes you’re trying to make, or is it just the name thing?

Yujie

It’s just the naming :) So far I haven’t encountered any other problems with that custom access. :) Thank you anyways :D

Justin P

Thinking about this more, I suppose you could try disabling all the tweaks you made, then changing the name, then re-enabling them. If you want.

Anonymous

I clicked to install NTFS-3G but a box appeared: “Install NTFS-3G” can’t be opened because it is from an unidentified developer.

What do I do?

Justin P

Open your Mac’s System Preferences, then click Security. Under “Allow Apps Downloaded From”, click “Anywhere”. Good luck!

kerim

helped me a lot! thanks

Xavier

Although I still get the warnings when mounting, installing the ntfs-3g plus its 3 dependencies did the trick on mavericks.
Thanks very much!