3 Best Ways To Format USB On Mac

Any new USB drive comes formatted in a particular format such as FAT32, exFAT, APFS, NTFS, etc. Depending on the formatting, the USB can be used with the data systems on Windows or Mac laptops and desktops. 

Since Windows is the most popular and most used OS in the world, many USBs come formatted as FAT32. However, these USB drives aren’t very compatible with macOS. They will keep running into trouble. 

Thus, it is important that you format USB on Mac laptops with Mac-compatible formats such as APFS, exFAT, or Mac OS Extended before using them.

Why It’s Necessary to Format USB On Macs

The two most popular OS are Mac and Windows. These operating systems have different file systems, and only a few are cross-compatible. 

A file system is a system that your Operating System uses to store, retrieve, and identify files on your system. Without it, it would be impossible for the OS to store, retrieve or identify any files. 

We use USB flash drives to store information in the form of files. When plugged into the system, the OS retrieves, stores, or identifies the files on the USB drives using the file system in which the USB drive is formatted.

Generally, most USBs come formatted as FAT32, a Windows OS file system. Thus, many users reported that it sometimes gives errors when plugging into a macOS. 

Thus, it is important to format your USB so that the file system can be compatible with macOS.

What is the best format for a USB flash drive on Mac?

There are several file systems in which you can format a USB on Mac. The formattings that are most common with macOS are:

APFS (Apple File System)

The default file system developed for macOS 10.13 and above is APFS. It is appropriate for SSD. Since the file system is only compatible with the latest macOS version, you will not be able to use USBs formatted to this format in older macOS versions.

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Mac OS X Extended (Journaled) And The Mac OS X Extended (Case-sensitive, Journaled)

The default file system of macOS 10.12 and lower is HFS+ or macOS X Extended. The greatest advantage of the HFS+ file system is that it does not limit the file size that can be stored on the drive. 

The file format is partially compatible with Windows OS as it can be read by Windows but not written. Additionally, if you plan on using the USB drive for time machine backup, then Mac OS X Extended is the required format.

Mac OS X Extended (Journaled, Encrypted) And Mac OS X Extended (Case-sensitive, Journaled, Encrypted)

Both these formats are similar to the previous with the exception that you should enter a password to connect your USB drive to Mac as it will be encrypted.

MS-DOS (FAT)

FAT or FAT32 is the most widely compatible file system that suits both macOS and Windows OS and can be used to transfer data between the two OS. However, before formatting your USB to FAT32, you should know that the file system does not allows files that have long names, and the file size cannot be more than 4GB.

ExFAT

Extended FAT or ExFAT is the improved version of FAT32, which allows larger storage space and larger files. The format is also cross-compatible between Windows and macOS.

How To Format USB On Mac?

After going through various user forums, we compiled this guide describing various methods to format USB on Mac in various file systems such as FAT32, exFAT, and NTFS.

  1. How to Format USB to FAT32 on Mac?
    1. Disk Utility
    2. Terminal Command Line
  2. How to Format USB to ExFAT on Mac?
  3. How to Format USB to NTFS on Mac?

1. How to Format USB to FAT32 on Mac?

FAT32 is a highly flexible format for both Mac and Windows. It can be read and written by both the operating systems and hence is highly popular. Any drive formatted with FAT32 can be scanned and written by macOS. 

We can format USB drives to FAT32 on Mac using two methods:

  1. Disk Utility
  2. Terminal Command Line

1. Disk Utility

  • Start by inserting your USB drive into your Mac’s USB port and allowing the OS to scan it and show its icon on the screen.
  • In the upper right corner, select Search and type “Disk Utility.” Choose the Disk Utility option.
  • Navigate to the left-hand side and choose your USB drive from the drop-down menu. Now tap Erase given on top.
  • Enter the name of the drive and choose the format you want the drive to be formatted in.
format usb on mac
  • Click on erase. You can check the formatting progress on the progress bar. Once the process completes, click Done.
Formatting in progress
  • Exit from the Disk Utility.
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Once the process completes, your USB disk drive will be formatted in FAT32. The process will delete all the data on your drive, so make sure to backup it somewhere.

2. Terminal Command Line

For users who are unable to format their USB devices using Disk Utility, they can use the terminal command line in Mac for the same. Please follow the underneath steps to format the USB on Mac in FAT32 using the terminal.

  • Start by inserting your USB drive into your Mac’s USB port and allowing the OS to scan it and show its icon on the screen.
Choose the Terminal
  • Continuously press Spacebar and command and type Terminal. Press Enter key.
  • In the terminal command line of mac, type diskutil list to show a list of all the peripheral devices that are plugged into your Mac.
  • In the next command line, type sudo diskutil eraseDisk FAT32 MBRFormat /dev/disk2. It will format the USB drive (disk2) to the FAT32 file system.

Once the process completes, your USB disk drive will be formatted in FAT32. The process will delete all the data on your drive, so make sure to backup it somewhere.

2. How to Format USB to ExFAT on Mac?

Unlike FAT32, Extended FAT or ExFAT provides users with more storage and allows larger files. Also, FAT32 formatted USB drives create problems when connected to Mac.

  • Start by inserting your USB drive into your Mac’s USB port and allowing the OS to scan it and show its icon on the screen.
  • Navigate to Applications under the Finder menu and open the Disk utility.
  • Navigate to the External and choose your USB drive from the drop-down menu. Now tap Erase given on top.
Choose ExFAT format
  • Enter the name of the drive and choose the ExFAT file system in which you want the drive to be formatted.
Enter USB drive name and format
  • Now choose the default GUID Partition Map (GPT).
  • Click on erase. You can check the formatting progress on the progress bar. Once the process completes, click Done.

Once the process completes, your USB disk drive will be formatted in ExFAT. The process will delete all the data on your drive, so make sure to backup it somewhere.

3. How to Format USB to NTFS on Mac?

NTFS format is most suitable for Windows PC, and hence if you want to format USB on Mac to NTFS to use it on Windows, you need to install the NTFS driver on your system.

  • Start by inserting your USB drive into your Mac’s USB port and allowing the OS to scan it and show its icon on the screen.
  • Many users have reviewed drivers like Tuxera NTFS for Mac, NTFS for Mac OS X 8.0, any open source software, NTFS-3G, or any accessible form of Tuxera NTFS.
  • Install the downloaded NTFS driver on Mac.
  • Navigate to Applications under the Finder menu and open the Disk utility.
  • Navigate to the External and choose your USB drive from the drop-down menu. Now tap Erase given on top.
  • Enter the name of the drive and choose the NTFS file system in which you want the drive to be formatted.
  • Click on erase. You can check the formatting progress on the progress bar. Once the process completes, click Done.
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Recover Lost Data From Formatted USB Drive

When you format the USB drive, you will most likely lose data. To recover the lost data from formatted USB drives, you need to stop using the device and use third-party recovery tools such as Tenorshare 4DDiG

The software allows users to recover lost files from external devices such as USB flash drives, SD cards, cameras, and hard drives. It is supported by macOS Monterey, Big Sur, Catalina, and other lower versions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Is The Best Format For A USB Drive On Mac?

There are several file systems in which you can format a USB on Mac, such as APFS (Apple File System), Mac OS X Extended (Journaled) & Mac OS X Extended (Case-sensitive, Journaled).
Mac OS X Extended (Journaled, Encrypted) and Mac OS X Extended (Case-sensitive, Journaled, Encrypted), MS-DOS (FAT), and ExFAT.

How Do I Format A USB To FAT32 On A Mac?

– Start by inserting your USB drive into your Mac’s USB port and allowing the OS to scan it and show its icon on the screen.
– In the upper right corner, select Search and type “Disk Utility.” Choose the Disk Utility option.
– Navigate to the left-hand side and choose your USB drive from the drop-down menu. Now tap Erase given on top.
– Enter the name of the drive and choose the format you want the drive to be formatted in.
– Click on erase. You can check the formatting progress on the progress bar. Once the process completes, click Done.
– Exit from the Disk Utility.

Why Is There No FAT32 Option?

It could be that the FAT32 is unavailable for your USB drive. Since Windows only allows FAT32 drive partitions on drives that are 32GB or less, if the partition is larger than 32 GB, the FAT32 option will be unavailable.

Is ExFAT The Same As A FAT Format?

Extended FAT or ExFAT is the improved version of FAT32, which allows larger storage space and larger files.