Sharing an External Hard Drive Across Mac and Windows: Step-by-Step Guide

Sharing an external hard drive between a Mac and a Windows computer can be pretty tricky for users. It’s essential to first understand the file systems used by both operating systems. The file system typically determines how data stored and retrieved on a drive.

Understanding the File Systems

Before diving into the setup process, let’s talk about the file systems. Windows mainly uses NTFS (New Technology File System), while Mac uses APFS (Apple File System) or HFS+ (Hierarchical File System Plus). Sadly, these file systems aren’t 100% compatible. However, there’s a solution: exFAT (Extended File Allocation Table). exFAT’s the system designed to work well with both Mac and Windows, making it perfect for sharing external hard drives.

Step 1: Backup Everything

Before you go ahead with formatting the external hard drive, it’s crucial to back up any data you have on there. Formatting will erase everything, so make sure you have everything saved elsewhere to avoid any loss.

Step 2: Connect the Drive

Start by connecting the external data drive to your PC. If you’re using a Mac, just plug the drive into a USB port. If you’re a Windows user, the process stays the same.

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Step 3: Format the Drive

On Mac:

  • Fire up Disk Utility: You can spot Disk Utility by looking in Spotlight or by heading to Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility.
  • Select the External Drive: In Disk Utility, there’s a list of drives connected to your system. Pick the external hard drive you want to format.
  • Opt for ‘Erase’: Hit the ‘Erase’ button on top of the Disk Utility window.
  • Format the Drive as exFAT: In the format menu, choose ‘exFAT’. At this point, you’re also free to rename your drive.
  • Erase: Click on ‘Erase’ to kickstart the formatting. When it’s done, your drive will be exFAT, ready for Mac and Windows.

On Windows:

  • Launch Disk Management: You can access Disk Management by right-clicking on ‘This PC’ or ‘My Computer’, choosing ‘Manage’, then navigating to ‘Disk Management’.
  • Choose the External Hard Drive: Right-click on your external hard drive and pick ‘Format’.
  • Opt for exFAT: In the format window, select ‘exFAT’ as the file system. Rename the drive if you want.
  • Start Formatting: Hit ‘OK’ to begin the format. Once it’s done, your drive is good for both systems.

Step 4: Eject Safely and Test

After formatting, it’s vital to safely eject your external drive before disconnecting it. This can be done by right-clicking on the drive icon and selecting ‘Eject’ on Windows, or by dragging the drive icon to the trash on Mac.

To test if it works, connect the external hard drive to the other computer (Mac to Windows or vice versa) and ensure you can access, add, and remove files smoothly.

Tips for Sharing

  • Regular Backup: It’s always a good idea to keep backups of your files.
  • Cloud Storage: Think about using cloud services like Dropbox or Google Drive for additional backup and easy sharing.
  • Eject Properly: Always eject your external drive before disconnecting to avoid any issues.


Sharing an external hard drive between Mac and Windows can be a breeze with the right steps and understanding of file systems. Whether for work or personal use, the ability to transfer and access data seamlessly on different systems is a valuable skill in today’s digital age.

David Jeans

David Jeans is the senior writer and Editor-in-Chief at, where he covers the intersection of AI, defense, and national security. For any inquiries or to get in touch with David, please email him at

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