Are you frustrated because you can't see your files on an external hard drive on Mac? Don't worry, you're not alone. It doesn't have to mean that your files are gone forever, as many users experience external drive issues where the hard drive isn't showing files, though they still exist on Mac.

Today, we'll dive deeper into this topic, see the possible causes of external hard drives not showing files on a Mac, and show you how to fix the issue through troubleshooting steps.

Table of Content
    1. Recover Deleted or Lost Files Using Data Recovery Tool
    2. Reconnect Your External Hard Drive to Mac
    3. Unhide Your Files and Folders on the External Hard Drive
    4. Mount the External Drive in Disk Utility
    5. Change the Permissions to View Files on the External Drive
    6. Update Hard Drive Drivers
    7. Restart Your Mac to Fix External Hard Drive Not Showing Files
    8. Use First Aid to Fix Hard Drive Corruption or Minor Bugs

How Does an External Hard Drive Work on Mac

When you purchase an external hard drive for Mac and connect it to your Mac computer, an icon should pop up on your desktop. You can double-click this icon to access your drive's data. Furthermore, clicking on the Apple logo in Finder and opening About This Mac should also show you the external drive and information about the type of data and the occupied storage space.

Reasons Why You Can't See Files on an External Drive on Mac

Now that we know how things should work, we can proceed into why they aren't working as they should. So, let's examine the possible causes of why the external hard drive files aren't showing on Mac.

Causes Explanations Solutions
Mistakenly deleted files or formatted the drive Everyone has done it at least once. Accidentally deleting folders, only to realize that you've also deleted vital files, can be incredibly frustrating. However, not everything is lost, as data recovery tools can bring your deleted files back, even if you've emptied the Trash Can. Recover Deleted or Lost Files Using Data Recovery Tool
Connection issues Cables get yanked all the time, and this can cause the drive to not display on Mac. Moreover, older external hard drives might also require the cable to be in a specific position due to old connectors. Reconnect Your External Hard Drive to Mac
Hidden files and folders Whether you've done it or the operating system has, hidden files can cause unnecessary confusion and issues like not seeing files on the external hard drive. Unhide Your Files and Folders on the External Hard Drive
Drive not mounted Whether done accidentally or by the operating system, an unmounted drive will not show on the Desktop or in Finder, even though the drive is correctly connected and working fine. Mount the External Drive in Disk Utility
Permission issues You might not have the necessary permissions to access the files on the external drive. Change the Permissions to View Files on the External Drive
Outdated hard drive drivers Like Windows machines, Macs also use drivers to read and understand internal and external devices. However, older drivers can cause issues, in which case you can experience problems like not seeing your files on an external hard drive. Update Hard Drive Drivers
Software bugs Since your Mac is almost constantly running, opening thousands of files and applications, software bugs can happen and cause you can't see files on the external hard drive. Restart Your Mac to Fix External Hard Drive Not Showing Files
External drive corrupted Hard drives have sectors or blocks in which they write data, which the computer reads when you search for a specific file. However, errors in the file system can cause data in these sectors to become corrupt, primarily if the drive isn't used for an extended period. 1. Use First Aid to Fix Hard Drive Corruption or Minor Bugs
2. Format the External Hard Drive on Mac
Hard drive bugs Like operating system bugs, hard drives can also display errors when constantly reading and writing data off their sectors. Use First Aid to Fix Hard Drive Corruption or Minor Bugs
Incompatible file system format The external drive may be formatted with an incompatible file system (e.g., NTFS). You can reformat the drive using Disk Utility to a Mac-compatible format like APFS or HFS+. But remember to back up your files beforehand. Alternatively, you can use Wondershare Recoverit to recover your vital files after the formatting. 1. Format the External Hard Drive on Mac
2. Recover Deleted or Lost Files Using Data Recovery Tool
Virus/Malware Malware or a virus may have infected your external drive, causing all kinds of issues, including the problem of files on external hard drives not showing up on Mac. Run a malware and virus scan using an antivirus program to identify and remove any threats. Then,
Recover Deleted or Lost Files Using Data Recovery Tool
Physically Damaged Drive Whether you're using older hard disk drives, Fusion drives, or newer SSDs, Mac's storage medium is prone to physical damage. It can happen if you've dropped your Mac, exposed it to strong magnets, or hit it with something. 1. Recover Deleted or Lost Files Using Data Recovery Tool
2. If the damage is too severe, take your Mac to a hard drive repair service.

8 Ways to Fix External Hard Drive Not Showing Files on Mac

Whether your situation is caused by one of the abovementioned factors or something else entirely, there's no need to panic, as the problem is often fixable. So, let's dive straight into the best methods for fixing this.

Way 1: Recover Deleted or Lost Files Using Data Recovery Tool

The quickest way to resolve the issue of not seeing your external hard drive's files on Mac is to use a dedicated data recovery tool. One such app is Wondershare Recoverit, and it's pretty efficient in recovering all kinds of files. The app can detect over 1000 file formats and work wonders in over 500 data loss situations, including accidental deletion, disk formatting, virus attack, hard drive corruption, and more.

Free Download
Free Download

Whether you've lost pictures, movies, videos, music, documents, etc., the app can quickly and effectively recover your data. Here's how you can recover files from external hard drive on Mac using Recoverit:

  1. Plug in the external hard drive that's not showing files on Mac and open Wondershare Recoverit.
  2. Choose Hard Drives and Locations on the left, and select your external device.
    connect the external drive and launch recoverit
  3. Recoverit automatically starts the lost data scan.
    start scanning for files
  4. You can preview the files Recoverit has found to check if that's what you're looking for. When ready, select the files you want to save and hit Recover.
    recover external drive files on mac

If Recoverit has already found the data you're after, you can stop the scan anytime or speed it up by adjusting filters and using keywords to find the files you're looking for even quicker. You can also check this by previewing images, videos, movies, audio files, documents, etc.

Free Download
Free Download

Way 2: Reconnect Your External Hard Drive to Mac

Sometimes, the most obvious solution is the best one. The external drive might not be properly connected to your Mac or the cable might be faulty. To fix a Mac not showing files on an external hard drive, ensure the drive is properly connected, try using a different USB port, or replace the cable if necessary. Here's how:

  1. Disconnect the external hard drive from the Mac.
  2. Remove the cable from the external hard drive.
  3. Inspect the cable, then plug it into the external hard drive again.
  4. Check whether the cable is connected correctly, then plug the other end of the cable into the Mac.

It's worth noting that accidental drops can also cause the cable connector of your external hard drive's enclosure to move slightly, causing issues where the external hard drive will only work when the cable is inserted at a slight angle or pressed into one side of the connector.

Way 3: Unhide Your Files and Folders on the External Hard Drive

Whether it was done by the operating system or by you and you forgot about it, there's a possibility that your external hard drive isn't showing files on Mac because they're hidden. Fortunately, the fix to this is straightforward, and you can do it by following these steps:

  1. Go into Applications > Utilities > Terminal.
  2. Type in the following command into Terminal and hit Enter:
    defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles YES
  3. Then, type in this and hit Enter to restart Finder:
    killall Finder
unhide external hard drive files on macos

Alternatively, you can open your external hard drive through the desktop and press Command, Shift, and Period together to hide/unhide files. If hidden files are causing you to not see the files on your external hard drive on your Mac, these simple commands will undoubtedly fix it.

Way 4: Mount the External Drive in Disk Utility

An unmounted external drive isn't caused only by Disk Utility's First Aid. Instead, it's a common problem that can cause the external hard drive not to show files on the Mac. Fortunately, mounting the disk drive back is an easy fix, and here's how you can do it:

  1. Once again, launch Disk Utility by going into Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility or searching for Disk Utility with Spotlight (Command + F).
  2. Click the View button on the screen's top left side and select Show All Devices.
  3. Select your external hard drive, and click Mount at the top of the app's screen.
    mount an hdd on a mac

Unmounting and mounting the external drive again can also fix the issue of a hard drive that's not showing on the desktop once you connect it, but it might also work for fixing the problem of external hard drive files not showing on Mac.

Way 5. Change the Permissions to View Files on the External Drive

If you can't see files on an external hard drive on your Mac due to permission issues, you can try the following steps to fix it:

  1. Open Finder and locate your external hard drive in the sidebar under Locations or Devices.
  2. Click on the external hard drive to display its contents.
  3. If you are unable to access a specific folder or file, click on it once to select it. If you can't see any files or folders, click on the empty space within the external hard drive window.
  4. Press Command + I (Cmd + I) on your keyboard to open the Get Info window. Alternatively, you can right-click (or Control-click) and select Get Info from the context menu.
  5. Scroll down to the Sharing & Permissions section and click on the small triangle to expand it if it's not already expanded.
  6. If the lock icon at the bottom-right corner of the Sharing & Permissions section is locked, click on it and enter your Mac's administrator password to unlock it. This will allow you to modify the permissions.
  7. Click the "+" button below the list of users to add your user account.
  8. In the user selection window, find your user account (usually your name or username), and click on Select.
  9. Now, your user account should appear in the list of users. Change the permission level for your user to Read & Write using the dropdown menu next to your username.
    modify permission to view files on mac
  10. Click on the gear icon at the bottom of the Sharing & Permissions section and select Apply to enclosed items. This will apply the same permissions to all files and folders within the selected folder. If you are changing permissions on the entire drive, it will apply the permissions to all contents of the drive.
  11. Click the lock icon again to prevent further changes, and close the Get Info window.

You should now have the necessary permissions to access and view the files. If you still can't see files on the external hard drive on your Mac, you may need to repeat these steps for other folders or files that are still inaccessible.

Way 6: Update Hard Drive Drivers

As various operating systems use different file systems for hard disk drives, they also require specific file system drivers to be able to read and write on such HDDs. An outdated driver can sometimes cause the issue of hard drive not showing files though they still exist on Mac, and you'll need to update it to the latest version.

To do that, you should first update your macOS to the latest version by following these steps:

  1. Click on the Apple logo at the top left part of your screen.
  2. Head into System Settings > General > Software Update.
  3. Software Update will automatically search for updates, and if there are any, hit the Upgrade Now button to begin the update process.
    update the macos operating system

Similarly, you might need to visit the external hard drive manufacturer's website and download the latest version of the Mac driver. Even if you already have the newest version, reinstalling the driver might also help.

Moreover, external hard drives with the NTFS file system will require a specific NTFS driver for Mac as this file system is not natively supported on Mac computers.

Finally, it's worth noting that Intel and Apple Silicon Macs don't use the same drivers, and if you've recently upgraded to an M1 or M2 Mac, you might need to update or reinstall the drivers.

Way 7: Restart Your Mac to Fix External Hard Drive Not Showing Files

Although it rarely comes to us as a viable solution, a simple restart can effectively fix numerous issues with electronic devices. A Mac not showing external hard drive files is no exception, as updates, glitches, or prolonged computer usage sessions without restarts can easily cause such a problem, and a simple restart is always worth a shot. Do the following:

  1. Save your work and close down all apps.
  2. Disconnect the peripheral devices like external hard drives.
  3. Click on the Apple icon and choose Restart.

Alternatively, you can press and hold your Mac's power button until it shuts down and then press it again to boot up your Mac. Once it's on, reconnect your external hard drive and see if that fixes the issue.

Way 8: Use First Aid to Fix Hard Drive Corruption or Minor Bugs

A connected hard drive doesn't appear only on a desktop. Instead, it also shows up in Disk Utility, where you can try one of Apple's built-in troubleshooting tools – First Aid. Here's how to do that:

  1. Head into Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility.
  2. On the left side of the screen, click View and select Show All Devices.
    show all external devices on mac
  3. Select your external hard drive underneath, and click First Aid at the top of the screen.
  4. Hit the Run button and let Apple's troubleshooting tool take care of the rest. Click Done.
    run first aid on mac

Disk Utility's First Aid tool can help in numerous cases, but it doesn't perform miracles and might even unmount your external hard drive.

FAQ

  • Why can't my Mac read files on my external hard drive?
    The most common issue when a Mac can't read files on an external hard drive is an incompatible file system, such as NTFS. To fix this, reformat the drive to a Mac-compatible file system like APFS or HFS+, or use third-party software to enable NTFS support. Other possible problems include permission issues, connection problems, hidden files, corrupted files or drive, hardware issues, outdated macOS, malware, or damaged partitions.
  • Why are some files not visible on my external hard drive?
    Some files may not be visible on your external hard drive due to being hidden. Press Command + Shift + period (.) on a Mac to reveal hidden files. Other reasons include file system incompatibility, permission issues, corrupted files, malware, or damaged partitions.
  • How do I view files from an external hard drive on a Mac?
    To view files from an external hard drive on a Mac, follow these steps:
    1. Connect the external hard drive to your Mac using a compatible cable.
    2. Wait for a few seconds for your Mac to recognize the external hard drive.
    3. Open Finder by clicking the Finder icon in the Dock.
    4. In the Finder sidebar, locate your external hard drive under the Locations or Devices section.
    5. Click on the external hard drive to display its contents in the Finder window.
    6. Browse through the folders and files on the external hard drive to view the desired files.
  • How do I find missing files on my external hard drive Mac?
    You can find missing files on your external hard drive using Recoverit for Mac, follow these simple steps:
    1. Download and install Recoverit Data Recovery for Mac from the official website.
    2. Connect your external hard drive to your Mac.
    3. Launch Recoverit on your Mac and select your external hard drive under the External Devices section.
    4. Recoverit will scan your external hard drive for missing or deleted files. This process may take some time, depending on the size of your hard drive.
    5. Once the scan is complete, you can preview the recovered files in the results window.
    6. Select the missing files you want to recover, and click the Recover button.
    7. Choose a safe location on your Mac or another storage device to save the recovered files.

Conclusion

External hard drives are a precious addition to your storage space as they're portable and can be used between multiple computers. However, some users experience issues with the external hard drive files not showing up on Mac, which can be a frustrating and frightening experience.

Numerous reasons can cause this problem, with corrupt drives, accidentally deleted data, formatted HDD, hidden files, virus infection, and physically damaged devices being the most common.

Fortunately, most of these issues can be solved by one of the troubleshooting methods we've mentioned, and even if all else fails, using a dedicated data recovery app like Wondershare Recoverit is highly likely to resolve the issue.

David Darlington
David Darlington Jun 14, 24
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