Why does Apple use the FAT32 file system

Use file systems correctly: Mac speaks Windows and Windows Mac

Every hard drive, every USB stick is formatted in a specific file system. You usually only remember this when something doesn't work. Here we give a brief overview of the most important file systems and their use. And reveal how, for example, with the tool NTFS for Mac can also write to hard drives on the Mac that are formatted with NTFS.

What is a filesystem anyway?

The file system determines how the data on storage is managed. There are different file systems for different types of storage. For magnetic tapes, hard drives, flash memories, etc. And of course, file systems have to evolve just as much as the memories they manage. The file system FAT - File Allocation Table - is noted that it is one of the oldest.

What is FAT32 for?

FAT was developed in 1977 in the 8-bit version FAT12 for floppy disks. The FAT16 version was added in 1983. A file system with FAT16 could be up to approx. 4 GB in size. With the FAT32 version, which followed in 1996, the upper size of the file system is approx. 8 TB.

FAT has long been considered the industry standard. Even today, it is the file system that most devices can read and write to. For example, if you want to connect a hard disk to your FRITZ! Box as external storage, the disk must be formatted with FAT32. Most USB sticks are also formatted with FAT32.

However, the format has a catch, which is particularly noticeable in times of increasing video resolutions: the individual file must not be larger than 4 GB. If you fail to copy an HD movie to an external hard drive or stick, you should look at the size of the file and the format of the data carrier. If the video is larger than 4 GB and the data carrier is formatted with FAT32, this cannot work.

  • Pro: Popular exchange format between the operating systems
  • Cons: File size limited to 4GB

What is exFAT for?

In 2006, Microsoft introduced exFAT, which was designed specifically for flash storage. The specifications for SDXC memory cards require the use of exFAT. macOS has supported the format since system version 10.6.5 (Snow Leopard), Windows since version 7. Service packs are available for Windows Vista and XP. Many free operating systems do not support exFAT, however, as license fees are due to Microsoft for use.

What for NTFS?

Windows New Technology File System was released in 1993. It allowed for larger files, longer file names, and ensured file system consistency through metadata journaling. Because changes are recorded in a journal before they are written, a consistent state of the data can be reconstructed even if the write process is aborted. A version of NTFS, which has been further developed over several stages, is still the standard file system of Windows and thus probably the most common format.

NTFS can be read by macOS, but not written to. For this you need a special driver, which I will write about below. In Linux, the open source driver can usually be installed very easily. Then Linux systems can both read and write NTFS.

What for ExtFS?

The various Linux distributions generally all use the extended file system, such as NTFS, a journaling file system. ext 3 (third extended filesystem) was released in 2001 and is also supported by its successor ext4 (fourth extended filesystem). The extFS differentiates between upper and lower case. If you use data carriers with this formatting under operating systems that ignore it, problems can arise. In order to be able to read and write this file system, additional drivers are required under Windows and Mac.

What is HFS + for?

HFS + (Hierarchical File System) is the file system that Apple has been using since 1998. It is also referred to as Mac OS Extended to distinguish it from its predecessor, HFS, which is called Mac OS Standard. Linux distributions can partially read and write data carriers with HFS + directly, sometimes the installation of additional free packages is necessary as and when. Under Windows you need additional software like HFS + for Windows from Paragon. The driver costs just under 20 euros.

What is APFS for?

APFS (Apple File System) was only introduced in 2017 and was specially developed for the requirements of modern SSD data storage devices. When upgrading to the current High Sierra operating system, the HFS + file system is automatically converted to APFS if the operating system is on an SSD. If it is a Fusion Drive consisting of HDD and SSD, HFS + remains as the file system, because APFS cannot yet handle a Fusion Drive.

Problems can also arise when converting from HFS + to APFS. To avoid this, I wrote down what you should pay attention to when upgrading to High Sierra. So that older systems can handle APFS-formatted data media, they have to install an additional driver such as the free APFS Retrofit Kit from Paragon Software.

NTFS for Mac - that's how it works

Tools such as NTFS for Mac, ExtFS for Mac, HFS + for Windows or ExtFS for Windows. NTFS for Mac costs just under 20 euros and can be tried out free of charge for 10 days.

Or you can simply order a Seagate Backup Plus Portable USB 3.0 (4TB) the next time you buy a hard drive. NTFS for Mac is already included.

The company Tuxera also offers NTFS for Mac. The driver can be downloaded and tested free of charge for 15 days. However, if you want to use it permanently, you pay around 25 euros. This company has also developed the open source driver ntfs-3g. You can install it for free if you go to the terminal and have xCode and the package manager Homebrew on your computer.

However, the whole action is a bit cumbersome and would be a topic for a separate article if desired. There are already some instructions online. In my opinion, the around 20 euros for one of the paid versions is well invested.

Conclusion: The correct file system depends on the operating systems and data storage devices used.

If you are only dealing with Windows, NTFS is the appropriate file system. On the Mac, it's HFS + or APFS, depending on whether it's a hard drive or flash memory.
FAT32 can be read and written by almost all operating systems. It is therefore a good choice for USB sticks. The disadvantage: the file size is limited to a maximum of 4 GB. And no matter which computer you are on: there are inexpensive or even free tools with which you can use file systems that the operating system cannot inherently handle.

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