Write to Windows Hard Drives & Partitions with NTFS-3g

Many computer users either want or need to run multiple operating systems on the same computer.  Unfortunately, incompatible file systems often cause problems.  Windows 7 uses the NTFS file system by default.  Mac OS X uses HFS+, while Linux generally uses Ext3 or Ext4, with some distributions using other options.

And in nearly every case, a particular operating system has issues reading and writing to the others.  This can also be an issue if you just switched to Mac from Windows, and all your files are on an external hard drive using the NTFS file system.

Yes, NTFS is the most supported file system, but on Mac OS X it is still an issue.  Connect an external hard drive formatted with the NTFS file system, and you’ll see (when right clicking) that no option exists to create a new folder.  You can read, but you can’t write.

Before NTFS 3g (No New Folder Option)

Native support for writing to NTFS formatted drives and partitions was planned for Snow Leopard (10.6), but the feature was turned off.  It can be turned on, but if tales of file system corruption and data loss are to be believed, it seems a wise choice to leave it off and assume Apple knew what it was doing.

Fortunately, a free solution, called NTFS-3g, is available, and can be installed and set up with minimal effort.

Download and Install MacFUSE

First we need to install MacFUSE, a project which extends OS X to support other file systems.  Head to the MacFUSE home page, click the downloads tab, and download the most recent version.

Download MacFuse

When the file finishes downloading, find it on your Desktop (or in your Downloads folder), then double-click or right-click to mount the image.

Mount MacFuse Image

When the image has mounted, a new window will appear with the installation package.  Double-click or right-click this file in order to begin the installation process.

Open MacFuse Installer

Follow the installation process until the end.  When everything is finished, close the installer, unmount the disk image, and put it aside or throw it in the trash.  It’s time to install NTFS-3g.

Download and Install NTFS-3g

To download NTFS-3g, go to this blog.  NTFS-3g is free software, but the codebase is used to create a commercial software product that does the same thing, with a few added features, called Tuxera NTFS.  When downloading, be sure you’re grabbing the free version, called simply NTFS-3g.

Download NTFS 3g

When downloaded, go through the same steps as you did with the MacFUSE installer.  First, mount the disk image.

Mount NTFS 3g Image

Then, open the installer package.

Open NTFS 3g Installer

Again, follow the installation steps.  Only one thing to worry about here is the following screen, which should pop up near the end of the installation process.

NTFS 3g Caching or No Caching

The decision here is whether or not to enable disk caching.  No caching is safer, and is recommended, while turning caching on should lead to performance improvements, but could also lead to data loss if your disk unexpected disconnects or if you lose power.  Be sure to read the options carefully before making your decision.

When you’re finished installing NTFS-3g, quit the installer, unmount the disk image and set it aside (or again, throw it in the Trash).  Now restart your computer.  It’s not necessary, but is probably a good idea.

Testing Your NTFS-3G Installation

To see if everything went as it should, plug in a drive formatted with NTFS.  It should appear on the desktop, and when open, you should now have the ability to create a new folder.

After NTFS 3g

If this is the case, you can head to the preferences, and go over your global or volume-specific preferences.

NTFS 3g Prefs

Once you’ve done this, you’re all finished!

Trouble Shooting, if Necessary

But it’s also possible, especially if you’re running newer Mac hardware, you may see this screen.

NTFS 3g/MacFuse Error Message

This error message pops up immediately upon trying to mount any NTFS drive, and basically tells you that the MacFUSE kext (kernel extension), failed to load.  After a bit of searching, it turns out this is a common problem, and occurs most often when the computer is running the 64-bit kernel.  This is a problem, as the newest version of MacFUSE (2.0.3.2), only runs on 32-bit systems.

Fortunately, this is also an issue that’s not to difficult to get past.  In fact, Tuxera NTFS, the commercial version of NTFS-3g, has already released a version that enables support on 64-bit systems, and this code has made its way to a new build of MacFUSE, available here.

64 Bit MacFuse Build

The only thing to do is download it, mount the disk image and run the installer package, as outlined earlier.  When finished, everything should be working as you’d expect.  Your NTFS drives will mount, you can read and write to them, and assuming your Linux setup is configured properly, you should be able to use one hard drive or partition on all your operating systems.

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