Difference Between Mac File Systems

Have you decided to format an external hard drive or USB stick with your Mac, but after launching Disk Utility, did you realize that it can choose different file systems, and you don’t know which is the best choice? No fear! You have come to the right article. In this short guide, I will explain in detail what are the differences between the Mac file systems.

As with Windows, macOS also allows you to format a disk or flash drive with different file systems. You can choose from APFSMac OS Extended (journaled)Mac OS Extended (case sensitive, journaled)MS-DOS (FAT)exFAT. The choice of the file system depends a lot on the type of use you will make of the device you intend to format. So before proceeding, it is essential to understand the main differences between these five file systems.

APFS file system

The Apple File System (APFS) is the default Mac file system found in macOS 10.13 or later. The file system in question is only compatible with Apple products. It’s pretty fast, secure, and ideal if you’re planning on formatting external SSDs. It is also the file system that you must select if you want to format a disk to install a version of macOS High Sierra or newer versions of the Apple operating system.

Mac OS Extended (Journaled)

Mac OS Extended (journaled) is used to format disks used on macOS 10.12 or earlier. You can also use it to format a mechanical external hard drive to use only with the Mac. The same goes for SSD or flash drives that you will use with older versions of macOS.

If you want to format an external drive to use Time Machine features and back up your Mac, you will need to use Mac OS Extended, as the APFS file system is not compatible with this tool.

The Mac OS extended version (case sensitive, journaled) has the same characteristics as the version seen above. The only difference is that it distinguishes between uppercase and lowercase characters for folder names. For example, the “Wallpaper” folder and the “WALLPAPER” folder are two different folders.

MS-DOS (FAT) and exFAT

MS-DOS (FAT) and exFAT are Mac file systems compatible with Windows and many other devices, such as car radios, consoles, and TVs. It is also the most compatible file system with the various devices on the market.

MS-DOS (FAT) is mainly indicated for formatting volumes equal to or less than 32 GB. Even exFAT is quite compatible with the latest devices but does not have the same level of compatibility as MS-DOS (FAT). However, you can use it to format volumes larger than 32 GB.

Basically, if you need to format an external drive or USB stick that you will use on Windows and Mac, I recommend using exFAT. If you want to format a 32GB or smaller key for use on multiple devices, use MS-DOS (FAT). In case the size of the USB stick is greater than 32 GB, you can partition it. You can also use the exFAT file system.

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