5 Things to Know About macOS ExFAT

Some users ask if macOS can read ExFAT since this file system is known to be associated with the Windows operating system. If you are among those users, here is the answer. macOS provides full read-write support for drives formatted as ExFAT. 

The Finder in macOS can’t mount any ExFAT device as you plug it into the Mac. Users can then access all the files that the ExFAT drive is storing. 

If you are new to the ExFAT file system and want to learn about macOS ExFAT support and compatibility, keep reading the article. 

What Is the ExFAT File System?

ExFAT, or Extensible File Allocation Table, is known to be the proprietary file system developed and introduced by Microsoft in 2006. This file system is optimized for SD cards, and USB flash drives to make them extensible for future innovations.  

The main aim behind the development of ExFAT is to retain the functional simplicity of traditional FAT-based file systems. Another reason is to enable high-volume storage drives and large files from 32MB to 512TB to function appropriately. 

How ExFAT Works on Mac?

Starting from macOS Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6.5), Mac supports reading and writing on ExFAT drives. The latest versions of macOS, including macOS Monterey, Big Sur, and Mojave, can recognize and mount drives with the ExFAT file system. 

In addition, all external drives and digital devices, including SSDs, digital cameras, flash drives, portable media players, flat-panel TVs, camcorders, or digital photo frames with ExFAT, are supported in Mac computers.

How to Get ExFAT File System on Mac?

Formatting external disks with ExFAT on Mac is easy. You can change the APFS to ExFAT and convert HFS+ to ExFAT using built-in tools like Disk Utility. To convert the file system, open Disk Utility, click Finder, tap Applications, and then select Utilities. 

From the side panel, select the drive and click on the Erase tool displayed on the top. 

Select the ExFAT option from the format list after entering the label of the drive. Keep GUID as default. Now, click Erase and wait for the format process to complete. 

If you wish to format a disk to use on both Mac and Windows computers, Disk Utility comes in handy. Wondering why you would use different computers. Based on certain scenarios, you might be using a Mac at the office and Windows at home. 

Other than that, you might be using a Mac computer at home and a Windows-based PC at school. In that case, transferring data from one computer to another is a common practice for you. That’s when you need to format the flash drive to work on both operating systems. 

Important ExFAT Things You Must Know 

When formatting storage drives to macOS ExFAT, you need to know a few relevant things to save your time and effort. ExFAT is not compatible with the macOS backup utility – Time Machine. Starting with macOS 11 (Big Sur), APFS is the default file system for Time Machine. 

Since ExFAT is not a journaled file system, you must eject ExFAT drives carefully to prevent file corruption. So, if you do not eject the ExFAT-mounted drive correctly, you might have to face data loss due to a corrupt drive. 

If you are using macOS and Windows on Mac computers, make sure the drive is formatted in macOS. Though ExFAT is cross-compatible with all the versions of Windows and the latest macOS versions, built-in backup utilities don’t support it.

If you are using an older version of macOS, you may find difficulty using external drives. In this case, the solution is to format the drive to the local file system. You need to handle it carefully to avoid corruption due to the non-logging nature of the ExFAT. 

Make sure to perform a clean install on the drive before using as it will erase all data before installing the latest operating system, macOS Ventura, for example. Do not forget to backup data to be on a safer size and pay attention to details for a clean install.  

Where to Use ExFAT File System?

ExFAT is appropriate for external removable drives that you may use to transfer data between systems. Avoid using these drives for accessing information live. This may prevent data loss and save you from other data privacy issues. 

  • If you are primarily on macOS, format the drive as HFS+. Prefer buying external storage drives that can read and write Windows-supported formats on Mac computers. 
  • If you are primarily on Windows, format the drives as NTFS. Then purchase an external drive that can read and write Mac-supported formats on Windows computers.   

When using different operating systems, you might need to transfer files frequently. Since you don’t have to back up frequently or reformat each time you switch, ExFAT is a good option. In addition, several Linux distributions also support this file system.

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