Is NTFS Compatible With MacBook?

MacBooks have limited support for Windows-formatted devices.
... Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images

MacBooks are partially compatible with the New Technology File System. MacBooks can read data stored on NTFS-formatted storage devices, but are unable to write data to NTFS-formatted storage devices. MacBooks may encounter NTFS-formatted devices when working with storage devices that are primarily used with Windows-based PCs. MacBooks that only share storage devices with other Mac OS X running computers are unlikely to encounter NTFS. According to PC Magazine, Apple's Mac OS X 10.3 version added the ability to read the NTFS format.

1 The File System

NTFS is a type of file system that's primarily used with Windows computers and storage devices. Comparatively, Macs run a file system called Hierarchal File System Plus that has similar compatibility issues with Windows-based computers. File systems are a method for recording and reading information stored on a device like a hard drive, optical disc, or flash drive. The file system is like an index for data locations on a storage device and helps the computer locate stored information. If a computer can't understand a file system, it can't make sense of the data stored on a device.

2 What MacBooks Can Do

A MacBook can connect to a NTFS-formatted storage device and copy data that's been written to the device by a PC; however, any changes a MacBook makes to any files can't be moved back to a PC through the NTFS-formatted device. For example, if you're working on a Photoshop file on a PC, you can copy it to a NTFS-formatted flash drive, connect the flash drive to a MacBook, copy the file to the MacBook and continue working in Photoshop. However, the data trip is one-way: the MacBook is not able to write to the NTFS-formatted flash drive, so the MacBook can't update the file stored on the flash drive for the PC to come back to later.

3 Not an Internal Issue

A MacBook will not encounter compatibility problems with its internal hard drive being formatted in NFTS; it can only happen with external storage devices. The Mac OS X operating system needs to run on the HFS+ file system. If you swap out the old hard drive for a different hard drive that's been formatted in NTFS, the MacBook will need to clear all data on the hard drive and format it in the HFS+ file system to work.

4 Cross Platform Support Options

Both PCs and Macs can read storage devices that use the FAT32 and ExFAT file systems, so either format will work as a cross-platform communication solution. However, if neither FAT32 or ExFAT is an option, MacBooks can enable NTFS-format device writing with the help of third-party software. Once installed, programs like Paragon NTFS for Mac and Tuxera NTFS for Mac allow the MacBook to read NTFS-formatted storage devices as if the storage devices were formatted in HFS+. Tuxera NTFS is compatible with OS X 10.4 and later whereas Paragon NTFS requires at least OS X 10.5.

Dan Stone started writing professionally in 2006, specializing in education, technology and music. He is a web developer for a communications company and previously worked in television. Stone received a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and a Master of Arts in communication studies from Northern Illinois University.