How do I read Mac OS extended format on Windows?

Mac OS Extended (also known as HFS Plus) is a file system format developed by Apple for use on macOS. It allows for larger storage capacities and adds features like journaling and unicode support compared to the older HFS format. Mac OS Extended has long been the default file system for Mac hard drives and external storage devices.

Users may need to access a Mac OS Extended drive from a Windows PC to transfer files between Macs and PCs. However, Windows cannot natively read or write to the Mac OS Extended format. This means the drive will appear blank or unreadable when connected to a Windows computer. There are several methods users can try to enable Windows PCs to read Mac OS Extended volumes which will be covered in this guide.

Challenges of Reading Mac Drives on Windows

The main challenge of reading Mac drives on Windows PCs stems from differences in the file systems used by each operating system. By default, macOS uses the HFS+ or APFS file systems while Windows uses NTFS. This file system incompatibility prevents Windows from being able to natively read or write to HFS+ or APFS drives.

Specifically, Windows lacks the ability to understand and interpret the HFS+ and APFS file structures and metadata formats. When a Mac-formatted drive is connected to a Windows PC, Windows will recognize that a drive is attached but will be unable to access any of the files on it. The drive may show up as an empty volume with no way to view folder structures or file contents.

According to this MakeUseOf article, the HFS+ file system also uses resource forks to store data associated with a file, like custom icons or metadata. Windows has no concept of resource forks, making it impossible to fully access these Mac-specific file attributes when using the default Windows tools.

The built-in Windows disk management tools are designed for NTFS and do not have the capability to mount, read, or modify HFS+ or APFS volumes. To access files on a Mac drive, Windows users need to utilize third-party software, drivers, or workarounds that can add support for these non-native file systems.


To read Mac-formatted drives on Windows, you’ll need the following software and hardware:

From a software perspective, you’ll need a third-party utility that enables Windows to access Mac-formatted drives. Some popular options include HFSExplorer, Paragon HFS+, and MacDrive. These utilities install drivers or add-ons that allow Windows to recognize and interact with drives formatted in Mac file systems like HFS+ or APFS.

In terms of hardware, you’ll need a Mac-formatted drive with a file system Windows doesn’t natively support, such as HFS+ or APFS. This could be an external USB drive, Thunderbolt drive, or even an internal drive mounted in an enclosure. The drive must be physically connected to your Windows PC in some way for the software utilities to access it.

You’ll also need a Windows PC with an available USB, Thunderbolt, or SATA port to connect the Mac-formatted drive. Make sure your Windows PC meets the minimum system requirements for whichever third-party software utility you choose. An internet connection is also required to download and activate the software.

Using Third-Party Software

One option for reading Mac-formatted drives on Windows is to use third-party software designed for this purpose. Some popular options include:

Paragon HFS+ – This software allows you to access HFS+ formatted drives on Windows. It installs a driver that enables Windows to recognize Mac drives and read/write files on them. Paragon HFS+ has both a free trial version and paid licenses available.

HFSExplorer – HFSExplorer is a free, open source tool that can read Mac-formatted volumes on Windows. It provides read-only access without any drivers needing to be installed. The interface is more technical than other options.

MacDrive – MacDrive has been around for over 20 years and is designed specifically for mounting Mac disks and volumes on a Windows PC. It enables full read/write access and works with USB drives, CD/DVD media, and network shares. Both trial and paid versions are available.

The advantage of third-party software is that it simplifies access to HFS+ drives on Windows without reformatting. The downside is there is often a cost associated with these utilities after any trial period expires. Performance and stability can also vary between different applications.

Enabling Built-In NTFS Support

Mac OS has built-in read-only support for NTFS drives, allowing you to access files but not modify them. However, it is possible to enable full read/write capabilities using Boot Camp or virtualization software like Parallels or VMware Fusion.

Boot Camp allows you to install Windows directly on your Mac hardware, essentially dual-booting between Mac OS and Windows. With Windows running natively, NTFS drives will have full read/write support.

The downside to Boot Camp is that you have to reboot your Mac to switch between operating systems. Virtualization provides another option, allowing you to run Windows side-by-side with Mac OS. The virtual Windows environment will be able to fully access NTFS drives connected to your Mac.

Solutions like Parallels Desktop ( and VMware Fusion ( make it easy to set up and run Windows virtually. The virtual disk can even be configured to directly access external drives connected over USB.

Enabling NTFS support through Boot Camp or virtualization eliminates the need for third-party software. Just be aware that these solutions require you to install Windows on your Mac, whereas standalone NTFS drivers don’t.

Converting the Drive Format

One option for accessing Mac drives on Windows is to convert the drive’s format to one that is compatible with Windows, such as exFAT or FAT32. The exFAT file system, introduced in 2006, is supported by both Mac and Windows. Converting a drive from HFS+ to exFAT can allow it to be used seamlessly between Mac and Windows environments.

To convert a drive on a Mac, open Disk Utility and select the drive. Click “Erase” and then choose “exFAT” as the format. This will reformat the drive and convert it to the exFAT file system. The drive can then be used on both Mac and Windows without needing any extra software.

However, there are some downsides to converting to exFAT. First, you will lose all existing data on the drive when reformatting, so backups should be made first. Additionally, exFAT does not support permissions or journaling like HFS+, meaning it is less reliable for Macs. Finally, some features like Time Machine backups and FileVault encryption do not work with exFAT.

FAT32 is another option for cross-platform compatibility, but it has a 4GB file size limit, making it impractical for larger files and disks. Converting to exFAT or FAT32 should only be done if partitioning or networking the drive is not an option.

Accessing Files Over a Network

One convenient way to access files on a Mac drive from Windows is by using file sharing over a network. This allows you to connect to the Mac remotely and transfer files back and forth.

Mac OS X has built-in support for SMB file sharing, which allows Windows machines to connect using standard protocols. To enable file sharing on the Mac, open System Preferences > Sharing and check the File Sharing box. You can add specific folders you want to share and set permissions.

On Windows, open File Explorer and click Network in the left pane. Your Mac should appear in the list of devices. Double click it to connect, then enter your username and password for the Mac. You can then access files and drag them over the network.

Macs also support the AFP (Apple Filing Protocol) for file sharing. Using a utility like Netatalk you can install AFP server capabilities on Windows. This allows more seamless integration and may provide better performance than SMB in some cases. See for more details on setting up AFP file sharing.

With either SMB or AFP enabled, you can conveniently access Mac drives over a local network without special tools or reformatting. File sharing provides a fast and flexible way to get Windows and Mac machines talking.

Using Cloud Storage

One convenient way to access files across Mac and Windows is to store them in the cloud. Popular cloud storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, and OneDrive allow you to sync folders on your computer to the cloud. You can then access those synced files from any device by logging into your cloud account. This makes it easy to work with the same files across Mac and Windows machines.

Cloud services like Dropbox and Google Drive offer native apps for Mac and Windows that handle syncing folders in the background. Any changes made to synced files on one device will automatically propagate to the other devices. This seamless syncing enables real-time collaboration across platforms.

Additionally, most cloud services offer web access to your files. You can log into your account on the cloud provider’s website to view, download, or upload files. This gives you a way to access your cloud files from anywhere, even on devices that don’t have the native apps installed.

Overall, storing your files in the cloud allows for platform-agnostic access and real-time syncing. It’s one of the simplest ways to share files between Mac and Windows.

Dual-Booting Mac OS

One way to access Mac files and software on a Windows PC is by dual-booting the computer to run both operating systems. This involves installing Mac OS X or macOS on a separate partition of the hard drive or on an external drive.

To set up a dual boot system, you’ll need to create a partition on the Windows drive with enough space for Mac OS using Disk Utility or a third-party partitioning tool. It’s important to back up any data first.

Then, you can install Mac OS following the standard installation process, being sure to select the empty partition when prompted. Upon restarting, you’ll be able to choose between booting into Windows or Mac OS.

An alternative is using virtualization software like VMware or VirtualBox to install Mac OS virtually on Windows. This allows you to access both operating systems simultaneously without rebooting.

Dual booting or virtualization enables full use of Mac files, apps, and features on a Windows PC. Just be aware of potential compatibility issues between the two operating systems when sharing data.

For a step-by-step guide on dual booting Windows and macOS, check out this helpful Reddit thread: Successfully dual-booted Windows 11 and macOS.


Accessing Mac-formatted drives on Windows can be achieved through various methods. Using third-party software like HFS+ for Windows provides full read/write access, while enabling built-in NTFS support allows partial read-only access.

For full access, converting the drive to a Windows-compatible format like exFAT is recommended. This allows the drive to be used seamlessly between Mac and Windows without third-party software. Just be sure to back up the data first, as formatting will erase the drive.

If the Mac drive contains files that only need occasional access from Windows, using cloud storage, file sharing over a network, or even dual-booting between Mac OS and Windows are convenient options that avoid reformatting the drive.

In summary, while accessing Mac drives on Windows takes some effort, solutions exist to suit different needs and use cases. With the right tools or setup, Mac and Windows users can share and access files easily.