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How Should I Format a HD Shared Between OS X Yosemite and Windows?

Illustration for article titled How Should I Format a HD Shared Between OS X Yosemite and Windows?

This question has been asked many times on the internet, and each time there’s a different answer. Can anyone help me arrive at the correct solution for my situation? The hard drive in question is going to be used to backup data from a Mac to a PC. The fileserver, which is the final destination, is currently not accessible online, hence the PC middle-computer (the PC’s running XP, for the record). It is also possible that I might want a PC to write files to the hard drive as well.



  • Read/write access for both Mac OS X Yosemite and PC running Windows XP.
  • No partitions: individual files should be writeable from both a PC and Mac (i.e. I am going to be manually copying directories here).
  • No limits on file size, as some of these files will undoubtedly be very large.


  • NTFS (current, default format) doesn’t work on Mac natively, and I don’t want to pay for software that would let me write to NTFS. I found some shell commands that would allow me to write to this and only this drive in OS X Yosemite, but there is a possibility that I will be sharing the drive between multiple OS X computers and I’d rather not do this every single time.
  • FAT32 is out because of the file size limits.
  • HFS was recommended for Macs but Windows can’t read it?
  • exFAT doesn’t have Linux compatibility (at least natively), but I don’t need it at the moment and it seems like it would work for my purposes. As of 2 years ago, Whitson recommended it. Is that still the best solution?

Please feel free to share this post. It would be nice to have an answer tonight, so I can get started on those backups while I’m not using my computer for 6 hours (!) tomorrow. Thank you!

Bonus: Are there any issues I may have forgotten about in terms of compatibility between OS X and XP? This morning, I rediscovered that XP has filename character limits shorter than OS X’s, for example.

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