En­able writ­ing to NTFS drives

Your Mac can write data to a Win­dows disk, with a bit of help

Mac Format - - IMPROVE -

OS X can mount drives for­mat­ted as NTFS by a Win­dows sys­tem, but, by de­fault, only as read-only vol­umes. This al­lows you to copy data from them, but not to add or al­ter it.

This has the po­ten­tial to be an­noy­ing: let’s say you’re handed a por­ta­ble hard drive by a Win­dowslov­ing friend, for ex­am­ple; you’ll have to ad­mit that your Mac can’t copy your hol­i­day pho­tos onto it thanks to its ar­cane Mi­crosoft file sys­tem. Ex­cept, with a lit­tle bit of tin­ker­ing, it can. Writ­ing to NTFS vol­umes is dis­abled by de­fault, but the code lurks in the Mac OS and can be en­abled with a touch of Ter­mi­nal know-how.

The his­tory of NTFS goes all the way back to the 1980s, but it be­came main­stream in 1993 when it was in­tro­duced with Win­dows NT (hence the name) 3.1 as the de­fault file sys­tem. Since then, it’s spread across to Mi­crosoft’s con­sumer op­er­at­ing sys­tems from the business-ori­ented NT fam­ily.

Win­dows XP in­tro­duced NTFS 3.1, and it hasn’t been de­vel­oped since, bar a few tweaks (like HFS+, it’s a ma­ture jour­nal­ing file sys­tem with a proven track record that will be with us for some time to come, surely un­til drives start reach­ing into ca­pac­i­ties mea­sured in ex­abytes – bil­lions of gi­ga­bytes – since its max­i­mum the­o­ret­i­cal ca­pac­ity is 16EB). Un­der Win­dows 8, how­ever, this is limited to a mere 256TB.

As Win­dows’ de­fault file sys­tem, it’s fre­quently en­coun­tered if you’re in the habit of ex­chang­ing PC files with your Mac. If you fre­quently find your­self need­ing to write to NTFS drives, it may be worth your while in­vest­ing in a third­party so­lu­tion, such as Paragon NTFS (paragon-soft­ware.com/home/ntf­s­mac), or in­ves­ti­gat­ing the NTFS-FREE or Na­tiveNTFS-OSX projects on Source­forge that of­fer the same sort of func­tion­al­ity as we’re en­abling here, but with­out all the Ter­mi­nal-typ­ing.

If there’s an NTFS vol­ume mounted on your Mac, you can tell it’s a read-only

Ap­ple can’t be held re­spon­si­ble if en­abling NTFS writes leads to any data loss. Be care­ful!

drive in two ways. Firstly, when you dou­ble-click it to dis­play its con­tents, it opens in a min­i­mal Finder win­dow with­out the side­bar or header op­tions. Se­condly, if you try to copy a file or folder to it, a lit­tle white ‘no go’ sym­bol ap­pears next to your cur­sor. It’s not quite a red and white Bri­tish ‘no en­try’ sign, but you’ll get the mes­sage.

The method we de­scribe here works on a per-de­vice ba­sis – this means you’ll have to do it for each dif­fer­ent drive you want to write to, and so should prob­a­bly be con­sid­ered as a method of last re­sort when all oth­ers have been ruled out.

There are cer­tainly more con­ve­nient ways of writ­ing to Win­dows drives, in ad­di­tion to the third-party tools we men­tioned above. If you can re­for­mat the drive you want to write to, there’s a safer way of do­ing things: the exFAT file sys­tem. Another Mi­crosoft in­ven­tion, it’s sup­ported na­tively by OS X and Win­dows, as well as some flavours of Linux, and of­fers sim­i­lar ad­van­tages to the univer­sal FAT32 for­mat as NTFS, namely support for drives larger than 2TB and a more ef­fi­cient method of ar­rang­ing data.

ExFAT support ar­rived on Mac with OS X 10.6.5, and although it’s de­signed for use with flash stor­age, it works with tra­di­tional hard drives, too. Your Mac will hap­pily for­mat a drive as ExFAT from Disc Util­ity. Re­for­mat­ting isn’t an ideal op­tion for an NTFS drive that al­ready has a lot of data on it, how­ever, be­cause it will wipe it – make sure you get the drive owner’s per­mis­sion first.

It’s worth point­ing out be­fore we start that Ap­ple has its rea­sons for set­ting things the way it has. It doesn’t support NTFS writes, and can’t be held re­spon­si­ble if en­abling them leads to data loss. Take a full backup first, and pro­ceed at your own risk. Ian Even­den

Ap­ple is ex­plicit in its warn­ing when mak­ing ad­vanced tweaks in Ter­mi­nal – we’re do­ing se­ri­ous stuff.

Look at the bot­tom of that Get Info box – “You can read and write”. We’ve taken con­trol of our NTFS drive.

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