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Teach 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 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 . 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.

read only external hard drive mac

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

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  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 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.

read only external hard drive

Read more about Paragon NTFS Paragon NTFS For Mac OS X Review Paragon NTFS For Mac OS X Review One of the drawbacks when switching from Windows to Mac is the lack of native NTFS support. You can read from NTFS volumes with no problems, but writing is another story. Luckily software like Paragon... Read More , 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).

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:

read only external hard drive

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:

read only external hard drive 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!

  1. Empot
    August 18, 2016 at 5:31 am

    Hello, Just wanted to check if the above will work as well for OS X Mavericks? Thank you

  2. DragonStargazer
    August 17, 2016 at 4:30 am

    Thank you so much for your post, it saved my life! I was trying to back up my files to an external drive previously used on a Windows computer, and it was read-only and I freaked out! Thanks to you, I was able to backup all my important files and make the drive compatible so I could upgrade from Snow Leopard to Lion!

  3. Mac
    August 3, 2016 at 3:33 am

    This is BS. So the whole world uses NTFS and my stupid MAC needs to be taught a trick. Thanks but I prefer Windows. SO much easier.

  4. Hebah
    April 25, 2016 at 4:46 am

    This link saved my life: when I updated to El Capitan on my OSX my Seagate external hard drive became read-only. I installed this driver and not only did I not have to format (wipe) my hard drive, it solved the incompatibility issue in 1 minute. I backed up my hard drive just out of paranoid precaution beforehand, but looks like I didn't need to. http://www.seagate.com/em/en/support/external-hard-drives/desktop-hard-drives/backup-plus-desk/ntfs-driver-for-mac-os-master-dl/

    • Christina
      May 18, 2016 at 2:26 am

      hEY this posting save my life lol. i was so panicked because my Seagate external also became read-only once i updated to El Capitan. but it's solved beautifully done now. THANKS.

    • Manali Bhattacharya
      June 28, 2016 at 7:13 pm

      hey thank you so much for the above mentioned link :) it really helped!

    • Amar Vyas
      August 12, 2016 at 4:17 am

      Hello Hebah,

      Thanks for posting the link- I had the same problem, now solved!

      My third attempt to post a comment.

    • Luna
      August 12, 2016 at 8:07 am

      Thanks to this info, my problem is solved in a minute with just a driver installation and a reboot. I am using a Samsung external hard drive. I downloaded the driver at: http://www.seagate.com/sg/en/support/downloads/item/samsung-ntfs-driver-master-dl/

    • Marie
      August 13, 2016 at 3:34 pm

      Thaaaank you so much! I just got my laptop back from the genius bar at Apple. Tthey installed a new hard drive - something went wrong while I tried updating the OS earlier this year (Perhaps my 2011 hard drive couldn't handle the update?). Anyway, I saved most of my files on my seagate external hard drive before everything went down hill. Ran into the same problem and was literally seconds away from wiping it clean, luckily, I saw this comment! Solved the issue in no time.

  5. james
    January 29, 2016 at 5:34 am

    Well I edited fstab per guidance and in deed my drives disappeared from Finder. Creating a short cut on the desktop to hidden drives and doing this for any NTFS USB or other drives is not acceptable. It means that I cannot use native Mac and need windows on fusion.

    • Justin Pot
      January 29, 2016 at 4:08 pm

      I haven't looked into this method in the rootless age, and honestly this article could use an update in any case. I believe someone is one it.

  6. Shubham
    December 8, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    Is NTFS 3G finally working for El Captain or not?

    • Justin Pot
      December 8, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      Only if you disable rootless, which is not usually advised. I highly recommend going with one of the other options.

  7. Emily Santana
    November 10, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    I read that program (NTFS) corrupts data. I had no problem with my hard drives being written to until I switched to Capitan! What do I do?

    • Justin Pot
      November 10, 2015 at 10:15 pm

      It seems like I'm going to have to re-do this tutorial for El Capitan, because the instructions don't work right now and I've no idea how to make them work.

  8. Shwetank Bansal
    October 22, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Hi.

    Recently moved to OS X El Capitan and have an external drive that I am unable to write to, but can read perfectly. It worked perfectly using Paragon NTFS before updating the software. Tried the solution as detailed by you above, but the NTFS-3G program won't install. I get an error message saying that it's incompatible with this software version of the Mac.

    Could you please help ?

    • Justin Pot
      October 22, 2015 at 4:35 pm

      It looks like there's a new version of Paragon that works with El Capitan:

      http://www.paragon-software.com/home/ntfs-mac/

      • Shwetank Bansal
        October 22, 2015 at 4:39 pm

        Just tried that out. It works like a charm. Thank you so much !

        • Justin Pot
          October 22, 2015 at 4:42 pm

          I'm glad it's working again!

      • techyman
        December 27, 2015 at 10:46 am

        The link has been hacked and goes to avangate software. Type the link manually gets to the correct place!

  9. dair1477
    October 10, 2015 at 1:22 am

    Hi, I have Yosemite and I did NTSF-3G and Fix for Mountain Lion and it worked! However, theres a message that popped up saying the mount wasn't completely done, and I had two options either force or abort. I chose force, and everything was fine, but I'm worried if it might delete files in the future? I tried plugging in another external hard drive and the message didn't appear again. Thanks!

    • Justin Pot
      October 22, 2015 at 4:43 pm

      Thanks for the update, I actually haven't tried repeating these steps with El Capitan yet so this is really helpful. I'm sure there will be more comments.

  10. Sanjay Raturi
    September 24, 2015 at 10:03 am

    I installed NTFS-3G and now I am not able to even open my external hardisk on MAC... every time I try to connect the external hd it gives me an error below:

    NTFS-3G could not mount /dev/disk2s1
    at /Volumes/Live Forever because the following problem occurred:

    dyld: Library not loaded: /usr/local/lib/libfuse.2.dylib
    Referenced from: /usr/local/bin/ntfs-3g
    Reason: image not found

    Please help me fix this issue or let me know how to uninstall this. So I could get access to my files.

    • Justin Pot
      September 24, 2015 at 2:12 pm

      Did you follow the last section of the article, "Fixing NTFS-3G for Mountain Lion"? Because the messages implies you didn't (though I could be wrong).

  11. puneesh makhija
    September 13, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    NTFS-3G worked as mentioned. Thank you. :)

    • Justin Pot
      September 13, 2015 at 5:01 pm

      I'm glad it's working for you!

  12. Francisco Lobo
    August 26, 2015 at 7:56 am

    Thank you so much¡ The NTFS3G option worked for me

    • Justin Pot
      September 13, 2015 at 5:03 pm

      Awesome! Thanks for letting me know.

  13. Alison Kate
    August 17, 2015 at 9:48 am

    Hi Justin,

    I've just converted from an iMac to a Macbook 2015. My external hard drive works on the iMac, but is read only on the Macbook. Do you know why this is and how I can fix it?

    Thanks,
    Alison

    • Justin Pot
      September 13, 2015 at 5:03 pm

      Just seeing this now for some reason, sorry about that. Did you get everything working? It might be a permissions error but it's hard to troubleshoot without being able to actually test things out.

  14. Abderrahim Fathan
    August 2, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    This works for me too. Thank's !

  15. Ellian Jaisy Rahman
    July 12, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Dear Justin Pot,
    I'm personally amazed with your detailed solution here. Tons of gratitude would not be enough to say. Thank you very much, it works on my Macbook with OS Yosemite. Keep going on with any other solution Sir.
    Cheers

    • Justin Pot
      July 12, 2015 at 6:49 pm

      Thanks for stopping by and reading the article! It means a lot to us, check out MakeUseOf.com again sometime.

  16. Judy Garcia
    June 13, 2015 at 11:27 am

    This is one real super nice blog to fix the related problems... I did the NTFS-3G: The Free Alternative... This help me a lot... Thank you so much...

    • Justin Pot
      June 13, 2015 at 3:55 pm

      I'm really glad this is still useful! Feels good to know it's helping people.

  17. Tiago Santos
    May 26, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    Very clear documentation, thank you. I used the NTFS-3G free solution and it worked just fine.

  18. Rushina Shah
    May 26, 2015 at 1:14 am

    This worked beautifully. I use Yosemite OS X 10.10, and followed your steps for NTFS-3G and the Mountain Lion fix. Did NOT want to reformat my hard drive, and this installation took maybe 10 mins. Thank you!

    • Justin Pot
      June 13, 2015 at 3:56 pm

      Glad to hear it's still working for Yosemite, I haven't tested this in a while. Thanks for leaving a comment!

  19. Milk
    May 16, 2015 at 11:33 am

    You the real MVP. I installed the NTFS-3G with the companion fix update programs and it's working great. Thanks for the article

  20. Lieke
    May 16, 2015 at 10:16 am

    Bless you. This helps A LOT!

  21. Glenn Jensen
    May 11, 2015 at 12:22 am

    If you already have a working filesystem, and you get the read only situation (i.e. the -50 error), double check the SATA cable going to your drive. I had all my user directories on the second drive (first partition) and my workspace on the same drive (in a second partition) - both were showing as read only (huge hint).

    I read this, tried it, and guess what.... it was a bum cable (or one that worked it's way lose with vibration). I spent a few bucks and got a replacement cable with a metal latch - problem solved, hours of reinstallation / reconfiguration averted.

    Reminding you that you still need to backup invaluable data (or at least have it on box.com or dropbox)

    • Justin Pot
      May 11, 2015 at 1:36 pm

      I'm sorry my article wasn't the help you were looking for, but I'm glad you figured it out! We take cables for granted, it's often the last thing we'll think of.

  22. Glen
    April 26, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    Bought Paragon, installed, finally read users manual that admitted that Paragon does not work with Yosemite. Learned that too late to save $20.

  23. Stuart
    April 8, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    Good explanation but the part where you need to open a terminal window and type 'open /Volumes' in order to access your external drive is not ideal. One way around it is to create a symbolic link (or a shortcut) on your Desktop

    Open a terminal window:

    cd /Users//Desktop

    ln -s /Volumes/

    A shortcut should now appear on your desktop for more convenient access to your write enabled external drive.

    • Justin Pot
      April 8, 2015 at 10:29 pm

      The terminal wasn't mentioned once in this article, so I'm not sure what this is referring to.

    • Stuart
      April 9, 2015 at 9:18 am

      You're right Justin. My mistake. I had a few tutorials open and posted to wrong one. Feel free to delete my entry.

    • Stuart
      April 9, 2015 at 9:19 am

      You're right Justin. I had a few tutorials open and I posted to the wrong one. Feel free to delete my post.

  24. vol24
    March 3, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    Thanks I followed your instruction on:
    1) NTFS-3G: The Free Alternative
    2)Fixing NTFS-3G for Mountain Lion. (Mine is OS X Mavericks v10.9.3)
    And it works wonderfully for me! Thanks so much!

    • Justin Pot
      March 4, 2015 at 10:06 pm

      I'm glad it worked for you! I'll have to check and see if it works for Yosemite or not at some point...

  25. Vidya
    January 20, 2015 at 7:27 am

    Well written and easy to follow. Thank you!

    • Justin Pot
      January 20, 2015 at 3:40 pm

      Glad I could help!

  26. Xavier
    December 11, 2013 at 6:47 pm

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

  27. kerim
    November 4, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    helped me a lot! thanks

  28. Anonymous
    October 24, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    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
      October 24, 2013 at 4:38 pm

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

  29. Yujie
    October 12, 2013 at 11:58 pm

    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
      October 13, 2013 at 1:47 pm

      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
      October 13, 2013 at 9:59 pm

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

    • Justin P
      October 14, 2013 at 2:32 pm

      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.

  30. Extra
    September 28, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    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.

  31. Anonymous
    September 25, 2013 at 11:41 am

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

  32. Jojo
    September 9, 2013 at 2:26 am

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

    • Justin P
      September 9, 2013 at 2:50 pm

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

    • Justin P
      September 9, 2013 at 2:50 pm

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

  33. Max
    September 1, 2013 at 10:06 pm

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

  34. Bud
    June 20, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    Good article, easy to read and understand ! Thanks !

  35. Chanel @ La Viajera Morena
    June 20, 2013 at 12:41 am

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

    • Justin Pot
      June 20, 2013 at 2:52 pm

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

  36. Rahul N
    June 18, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    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
      June 18, 2013 at 1:09 pm

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

  37. Robert J
    June 17, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    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
      June 18, 2013 at 1:08 pm

      That's good to know! Thanks.

      • Robert J
        June 18, 2013 at 3:58 pm

        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
      September 1, 2013 at 10:07 pm

      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
      September 26, 2013 at 11:41 am

      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
      September 26, 2013 at 5:10 pm

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

    • Antipodes
      November 9, 2013 at 5:07 pm

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

    • Mohamad
      November 18, 2013 at 4:07 am

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

    • Evans
      January 1, 2015 at 2:49 am

      I have a SeaGate drive - thanks so much for this tip/reminder that they provide this driver for Macs for free!

    • Fang
      January 4, 2015 at 2:13 pm

      Awesome, thanks for the seagate drive notice. Almost bought it when I could have it for free.

    • Yasmin
      January 24, 2015 at 8:04 pm

      Thank you very much. This solved the problem for me.

  38. Doc
    June 16, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    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
      June 16, 2013 at 8:16 pm

      All great points. Thanks for adding them.

  39. Kimo
    June 16, 2013 at 5:14 am

    People still use Macs?

    • macwitty
      June 16, 2013 at 1:48 pm

      Yes we do

    • macwitty
      June 16, 2013 at 1:50 pm

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

  40. Austin Beatty
    June 16, 2013 at 1:45 am

    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
      June 16, 2013 at 3:06 pm

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

      • Austin Beatty
        June 16, 2013 at 5:59 pm

        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.

  41. KISH
    June 15, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    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

  42. KISH
    June 15, 2013 at 11:14 pm

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

  43. dan anik
    June 15, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    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
      December 2, 2013 at 5:51 pm

      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
      December 2, 2013 at 8:15 pm

      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!

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