How to Format USB Drive or External Hard Drive on Mac

Have you ever having difficulty formating a USB drive on Mac which has been used on Windows? Here, you’ll get to know how to format USB or flash drive on Mac.

Sep 01,2019 • Filed to: Solve Mac Problems • Proven solutions

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“I just bought a new flash drive last week but i realized it wasn’t meant to be used for Mac. Now it can’t be formatted using the macOS preferred file system and i don’t see a way out. So, please tell me how do I format a USB to fat32 on a Mac?”

Most of the people in the world prefer using a Windows PC. And the Windows system uses a different file system which is known as Fat32. Usually, the Fat32 drive can be read and written by macOS, but it is not considered optimal. Even if you try to format Fat32 drive on Mac, you might end up causing more issues. So, if you have got your hands on a drive which is formatted as Fat32 of any other format instead of Mac OS Extended or APFS, then you should go through this article.

Here, we are going to learn the procedure to format a USB drive and an external hard drive on Mac. Even if you want to reformat the drive on Mac, we have all the answers for you.

Part 1. Overview of Formatting Drive on Mac

Formatting isn’t just a process of erasing the existing data on a drive. It is done as a routine maintenance task. But if you want to ensure that the drive has a complete Mac compatibility, then you’ll have to format the drive using the Mac OS Extended filesystem. It is possible to read and write on a drive which has a different file system. But unless you format the drive on Mac, it can’t be used as a bootable disk or with Time Machine.

Unless you intend to use the drive for file exchange between Windows and Mac, the formatting would be the right thing to do. Here are some other factors that will conclude that formatting the external drive with Mac is necessary as it will also improve the performance of the drive.

Thus, formatting the USB drive or external hard drive will get rid of any software conflict that you are facing and even glitches will disappear.


Part 2. How to Format a Hard Drive on Mac?

Now you can understand that there are several benefits of formatting a drive. Technically, when you want to switch a USB or hard drive system to another OS, it is termed as reformatting. It allows the users to reinstall OS and all other software once the format is complete. It is considered as a better process as it is comparatively easy to format the drive for Mac instead of removing files which are malfunctioning. So, from here on, reformat will be considered as a format.

So, here is the process by which you can format hard drive or USB for Mac. The same procedure is followed for all other storage devices too.

  1. Connect the hard drive or USB with Mac and open Disk Utility from Applications.
  2. Locate the drive from the left side panel of Disk Utility and open it.

    format-drive-with-disk-utility

  3. Now switch to the Erase tab and click on the Format drag-down menu. Choose the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) option.

    select-mac-os-extended-format

  4. Change the name of the drive if you want to and finally tap on the Erase option at the bottom of the interface.

A popup window will appear and ask you to confirm the action. As you press the Erase button, everything on the drive will be deleted completely. If you are formatting a small flash drive or USB drive, the process will complete quickly. But if you are formatting a big size hard drive, then the process might take longer than you expect. And make sure that you don’t close the Disk Utility before the process finishes.

- 2 minutes to read it.

Part 3. The Best Format Choice of External Drive on Mac

Using the external drive on Mac is a good idea as it provides additional storage. But it is hard to pick the suitable format as it depends on your usage. So, it is better that you know your options and understand which format is right for you. So, here are the best formats for an external hard drive for Mac. You can choose from a variety of file systems.

1. Apple File System (APFS):

All new Macs come pre-installed with this file system. It is optimal for use if you prefer using a Solid State Drive or flash drive. But it is also compatible with the mechanical hard disk drives too. If you don’t want to use the drive with Windows OS, then you can pick this format.

2. Mac OS Extended (HFS+):

This format means Hierarchical File System plus. This was the main file format for MacOS before APFS was released. You can reformat USB on Mac to this format easily. This format is suitable for both mechanical and SSD. This format can’t be accessed by Windows and if you want to do that, you’ll need an additional program.

3. exFAT (Extended File Allocation Table):

This format is designed to overcome the limitation of format fat32 on Mac. By using this format, you can easily share the content between Mac and Windows.

4. MS-DOS (FAT):

It is the FAT32 format on Mac and it is labeled as MS-DOS (FAT). This format is only ideal for old computers. If you need to transfer the files from an old computer, then you can switch to this format. Otherwise, you’ll have to deal with its limitation. It is only good for Windows XP, so, you better avoid it for Mac.

As you can see, using the APFS or HFS+ format for Mac is ideal to avoid complication with your data files.


Part 4. How to Format USB to FAT32 on Mac?

process, make sure that you have made a backup or extracted the files of the drive.

Method 1. With Disk Utility:

  1. Connect the USB drive to Mac and launch Disk Utility from Application. On the left side panel, you will see the USB drive name.
  2. Click on the USB name and switch to the Erase Tab. There, you will see the Format option where you have to select the MS-DOS (FAT) format and Master Boot Record scheme.

    erase-usb-drive

Finally click on the Erase button and the USB drive format will complete.

Method 2. Using Mac Command Line:

  1. Connect the USB drive to Mac and press CMD + Space key to run Spotlight. Type Terminal in the search bar and hit Enter.

    open-terminal

  2. When the Terminal window opens up, type diskutil list and you’ll find out which is your USB drive.
  3. Type the command sudo diskutil eraseDisk FAT32 MBRFormat /dev/disk2 where
    • Sudo is the user right
    • Diskutil call the disk utility program
    • EraseDisk command is to format
    • FAT32 set the file system
    • MBRFormat commands the Disk utility to use Master Boot Record to format.
    • /dev/disk2 is the location of your drive.

    erase-drive-using-terminal

Wait for the process to finish and type diskutil list again to check whether formatting is done correctly or not. Now, you can use the USB with the FAT32 file system on Mac.


Part 5. How to Recover Formatted Data on Mac?

You will need a strong and reliable data recovery tool for this and Recoverit is the perfect answer. This software is specifically designed so that the users can restore the files that are lost from their system. Recoverit Data Recovery for Mac makes is convenient to get them back. It has a wide array of format and file support. Plus, you can perform selective recovery along with the deep scan mode which has a 96% success rate.

You can download and install the software from the official website. Once it is installed, you can follow the steps below to recover the lost word files on Mac:

Step 1: Select the Recycle Bin Recovery mode

Launch the software and specify the location on the drive where you want to look for the lost files. In case you don’t know the exact location, choose the “i can find my partition” option and hit the Start button.

select-scan-location

Step 2: Scan the Location

The software will scan the Mac drive to look for lost or deleted files. Once the scan is finished, the results will be displayed on the screen. The files will be sorted out according to their formats. Now you can select the files.

scan-location

Step 3: Preview and Recover

Click on the file to have a preview and make sure that it is not damaged. You can perform multiple selections with this tool. After you’ve selected all the files, you can tap on the Recover option at the bottom of the screen.

recover-email

So, you now know what you can to do if you ever lost your important files on Mac. However, while you are saving recovered screenshots on Mac, don’t save them to the location from where they get lost.


As you can see, it is easy to format USB for Mac and Windows both. As Windows OS is more common, people know a thing or two about it. But Mac OS seems complicated to them. Once you get familiar with the OS, it is not that hard. And if some error arises or anything goes wrong, Recoverit is always here to retrieve your lost data.

Sue Wen

staff Editor

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