How to Format a Hard Drive on Mac

Have you decided to format a hard drive on Mac, but you don’t know how to do it? Maybe you have recently made the transition from Windows to Mac, so you are not yet clear on the steps to take to perform certain operations? No fear! We are here to help you. In this article, we will show you in detail everything you need to do if you want to format an external hard drive from your Mac.

Formatting an external drive on the Mac is really very simple. With the same procedure, you can format a USB stick or any other USB drive connected to your Apple computer. To do this, use the “Disk Utility” function present by default in all macOS systems. The steps to perform, in some ways, are very similar to those you used to format USB sticks or external hard drives on Windows.

Format external hard drive on Mac: here’s how

Before seeing the steps to take to format a hard drive on Mac, it is important to specify a few things:

By formatting the hard disk, all data inside it will be permanently deleted. If important files, folders, or documents are saved on the disk you want to format, I recommend that you backup them before proceeding with formatting.

Another important thing concerns the choice of the file system. This varies according to how you want to use the hard disk. For example, if you will use the device as a backup disk, we recommend that you choose the Mac OS Extended (journaled) file system, while if you want maximum compatibility, you could opt for FAT32 or exFAT. However, in the next paragraphs, we will better see all the characteristics of the various file systems.

Now is the time to move on to the practical part.

How to format hard drive on Mac

  • Connect the hard disk to be formatted to the Mac;
  • Press the CMD + SPACE keys from the keyboard, type “Utility Disk,” and press ENTER (alternatively, click on the “Launchpad” icon, click on the “Other” icon and then click on the “Disk Utility” icon );
  • From the sidebar in the “Utility Disk” window, select the hard disk you want to format (be careful to select the disk icon and not the partition, if you only see partitions: click on the “View” item at the top of the left, then click on “Show all devices” );
  • Click on the “Initialize” icon;
  • From the drop-down menu next to “Format,” select the file system you want to use;
  • In the “Name” field, type the name to be assigned to the hard disk
  • Leave the “Schema” field unchanged, then click on the “Initialize” button to start formatting the disk.

At this point, you have to wait for the formatting to finish and then use the hard disk as you wish.format hard drive on Mac

Security options

When you format a hard drive, the data inside it is deleted, but if not overwritten, it can be recovered by some third-party software. If you want all the data on the hard disk to be permanently deleted during formatting, you can use the “Security Options” on Disk Utility.

Before clicking on the “Initialize” button, click on the “Security Options” button. From the window that opens, you can choose how many times to overwrite the data during formatting. The higher the number of writes, the greater the degree of security. After choosing the number of writes, click on “OK” and then on “Initialize”.

File system choice

Earlier, we talked about the various file systems you can choose from the “Format” drop-down menu before starting formatting. Now it’s time to get more specific and understand what are the differences between the various file systems:

Mac OS Extended (Journaled) and APFS

These are the macOS file systems. Perfect if you want to format a hard drive to be used only on Apple computers. If you choose these formats, in fact, you will not be able to use the disc on other devices or operating systems. APFS is the latest and most performing file system recommended especially for use on SSDs.


It is the oldest Microsoft file system, but for this reason, it is the most compatible of all those available. A hard disk formatted with FAT32 can be used on all operating systems and many other devices, such as smart TVs, DVD players, radios, and consoles. However, it has some not insignificant flaws. In fact, this file system does not allow you to archive and manage files larger than 4GB and has a high fragmentation that slows down the disk very quickly. We recommend choosing this file system only if you need to use the disc on several devices and don’t need to use files larger than 4GB.


this file system is the evolution of FAT32. Like the predecessor, it is compatible with most devices (older devices may not support exFAT), and the previously seen limits are removed. exFAT allows handling of files larger than 4GB, and its fragmentation is much lower than FAT32. If you need to use the external hard drive on multiple devices, we recommend using this file system.


It is the current Microsoft file system. Its compatibility is not very high (on the Mac, it is supported only in reading). However, it offers excellent performance and no constraints regarding file size. However, we recommend that you only use this file system if you will mostly use the disk on Windows computers.


These are the Linux file systems, so choose them only if you intend to use the disk exclusively on various Linux distributions.

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