If you have an external USB hard drive for your Mac, it can be tricky to share it with a Windows laptop or PC as Microsoft doesn’t support Apple’s HFS file system in Windows.
When you connect a Mac-formatted drive to Windows, you’ll be informed that “you need to format the disk in drive X: before you can use it.” Don’t click the “Format disk” button or Windows will erase the contents of the drive–click.
This message appears because Windows doesn’t understand Apple’s HFS+ file system.
Don’t worry, there are third-party tools to access the HFS, HFS+ and HSFX-formatted drives from Windows.
HFSExplorer is completely free. You can use it to access Mac file systems from Windows without paying a dime.
It does require Java, however, so you’ll have to install that first. Then, install HFSExplorer like you would any other Windows program.
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.
Paragon HFS+ for Windows is a paid application, but it distinguishes itself with additional features and promises high performance also it doesn’t require you have the insecure Java installed.
This tool installs a file system driver that allows you to access a Mac-formatted drive like any other drive in File Explorer, or any other Windows application with an open or save dialog.
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 need to work with Mac-formatted drives on a regular basis and you want the operating system integration, speed, and write access, Paragon HFS+ is a great choice and will be worth it for you.
MacDrive is another fairly popular option here and it is similar to Paragon’s HFS+ for Windows, but with more features.
It offers a few unique features, like support for Mac-formatted RAID disks. It also offers a graphical interface with support for verifying, repairing, and formatting Mac-formatted drives.
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.
If you know you’re going to use a drive on both Mac and Windows, you should use the exFAT file system, which is compatible with both and have full read-write support for exFAT drives without any additional third-party software.
To format the drive in Windows, right-click it in the File Explorer window and select “Format.” Choose the “exFAT” file system in the list and click “Start.”
Note: This will erase all the files on the drive! Be absolutely sure you have your files off the drive and that you’ve selected the correct drive you want to format!