How to Attach an External USB Hard Drive to your AirPort Extreme

This tutorial will guide you through the (very simple, actually) process of attaching an external USB hard drive to your Airport Extreme. It will also show you how to determine who has access to the hard drive and review the security options.

  1. As usual, Apple has made the process quite simple. Just plug your external USB hard drive into the USB slot on your AirPort Extreme station (and make sure the drive itself is powered on). Now head to your Mac. Open up a Finder window, and listed under the SHARED column, you’ll see the name of your AirPort Extreme station. Select it and you’ll be able to view your external hard drive (in the screenshot below, my drive is named Airport).
  2. The default setting for USB drives plugged into an AirPort Extreme is to allow anyone who is connected to your AirPort Extreme network to be able to access (read, write and deleted) all the files on that drive. Unless you’ve set up a Guest Network network, and are connected to it. To adjust any of the drive settings – eg. who can access it and who can’t – open the AirPort Utility app from your Applications -> Utilities folder. Once it has loaded, select your AirPort Extreme station from the list in the left column, then click the Manual Setup button.
  3. Select the Disks button from the top bar.
  4. Select the File Sharing tab.
  5. From here you adjust who has access to the USB drive connected to your Airport Extreme station. As previously mentioned – the default is to allow anyone connected to your AirPort Extreme network (though not guests) to access the drive. If you’d like to change this, make sure File Sharing is selected, and click the Secure Shared Disks:

  6. Your options are: With AirPort Extreme password (the default), With a disk password and With accounts. With a disk password means that you can set a password for that hard drive, and anyone you tell the password to will be able to access it. With accounts means that you have to set up an account for each person you want to allow to access the disk. If you want to change your settings to With accounts, select it and carry on with the next step. If you want to use With a disk password jump down to step #13.
  7. Once you’ve select With accounts, click the Configure Accounts… button.
  8. Click the + (plug sign) button.
  9. Enter the user name and password for the person you want to be able to access the USB hard drive attached to your AirPort Extreme station. Then select the permissions you wish them to have – your options are Not allowed, Read only or Read and Write. Click the Done button. Repeat this step until you’ve set up accounts for everyone on your network that you wish to allow access to your drive.
  10. Click the Update button to make these changes go into effect. Your AirPort Extreme station will reset (and you’ll go offline momentarily if you’re currently connected to that network).
  11. Once the AirPort Extreme station has started again, select your remove hard drive from a Finder window. Click the Connect As button.
  12. Enter the user name and password that you created in step #9 and click the Connect button. You’ll now be able to access the files on the drive attached to your AirPort Extreme station. You’re done!
  13. If you want to secure your drive by using a disk password, select With a disk password from the Secure Shared Disks: drop-down menu. Enter the password in both spots and then click the Update button. Your AirPort Extreme station will probably restart at this point. Wait until everything is back online, and then select your drive from the left column of a Finder window.
  14. You’ll be prompted to enter the disk password – as will everyone else who attempts to access this drive from your network.

Comments [21]

  1. Great post, but I have one side question… how did you get Skitch in the finder toolbar?

  2. Steve –

    By just dragging the app to the Finder toolbar. It'll create a shortcut. And w/ apps like Skitch, you can just drag and drop a photo on it, and it'll launch Skitch and open that photo. Which is good for lazy people like me 🙂

  3. I am trying to do the same thing… I want to add a 1TB drive to my airport extreme. I've tried two (2) different drives and neither seem to work. I've used a Buffalo drive that had NAS connection that I thought would be cool but didn't work. Now I am trying to use an Iomega Prestige drive but it doesn't work either…

    I called Apple and they told me to format the drive as FAT32 even though their help says to use Mac Journaled. Still nothing.

    Do you know if there are only a select few drives that actually work or should you be able to put any USB 2.0 drive on the extreme and let the mac work its magic?

    I am at a loss and I'd appreciate any help or advice. Thanks!


  4. Blake –

    You should be able to plug any (USB 2.0, probably even 1.x) drive into the AirPort Extreme. So far I've had 3 different drives connected, and all worked fine. They were all Mac Journaed. I've had issues w/ more than 2 hard drives being connected using a USB hub, but the problem may be with the hub.

    When you plug them in, what happens? Also – are they powered drives, or USB powered drives? ie. do the drives have their own power source, or do they draw power from the USB connection..

    Do the drives even show up in the AirPort Utility?

  5. Thanks for your complete information Ross.

    My problem is: I plugged my 320 GB LaCie d2 QUADRA external hard disk to my Aiport Extreme and it doesn't appear in the finder. It did appeared in the Aiport utility under the file disks (just name and capacity, not available, used and users; niether has a blue color, it`s gray). I followed your instructions: I chose a new disk password and finally the airport extreme reset after update… but I don't have it in my finder. Curiously in the shared column the only object I find is my Epson Wi Fi Printer that I installed using my Aiport Extreme. I don't see the aiport extreme there. I tried the external hard disk plugged directly to my iMac and it worked just fine

    Hopefully you can find where am I wrong. Thanks


  6. I have to make a precision. It`s not the printer, it's the memorycard in the printer what I can see in the shared column

    Thanks again


  7. Luis –

    Are you using a USB hub on the AirPort station? Or is the hard drive plugged directly into it?

  8. I'm having the same issue, I have tried both with my power usb hub and connecting my hard drive straight to the Airport Extreme. I can see the hard drive listed using the Airport Extreme Utility but nothing is showing up on the sidebar as a shared device. Will try to back up data and format using Mac Journal system since Fat32 is not working. Yet I'm able to share my printer just fine.

  9. I have the same problem repeatedly. The Toshiba USB External HD shows up for awhile, then suddenly disappears from the Mac, although it is STILL available via the network from my Windows machine. An Airport Extreme reset sometimes, work, sometimes doesn't. Usually I need to reboot the Mac. Very frustrating as the HD is serving as a shared file storage/server.

  10. I have a WD TV Live and Aiport Extreme and have been reading forums and trying for months to get a USB drive to show up on the WD TV. Finally..finally got it to work. The drive I am using is formatted for Mac (an 1TB) and has movies and music. Once I connect on the Mac under Shared, I tried to create a new folder and share it out, but that option is not there.

    Anyway, this is how it is working for me. Open Airport Utility -> Disk and make sure you can see it there first. (I have a WD 1TB MyBook formatted NFTS and it will not show up). Once you see the drive, click on 'File Sharing'. Of course make sure it is enabled, and use your choice of how to 'Secure Shared Disk'. Now here is the kicker….'Airport Disk Guest Access'. I always left it to 'Not Allowed', finally decided to change it to 'Read and Write' although just read should work. Also make sure 'Share disk over WAN is checked'. Rebooted Airport and now the drive shows up under 'Network Shares on my WD TV'. Have fun guys and pass it on.!!!!!!!!!

  11. All –

    I've spend almost 3-4 hrs trying to find a solution of why my Macbook Pro cannot connect to my share external hard drive on my Airport Extreme and I finally found out.

    Problem: My Macbook Pro cannot detect my external hard drive plugged into the Airport Extreme. In Finder, Shared…. I can see my Airport Extreme but "NOT CONNECTED".

    The Settings for my Airport Extreme are:

    Checked Enable file sharing

    Secure Shared Disks: With a disk password

    Airport Disks Guest Access: Not Allowed

    Checked Share disks over WAN


    1. Go to Finder of the Macbook Pro.

    2. At the top, Click on "GO" and then "CONNECT TO SERVER"

    3. Click on the clock icon right next to the "+" icon. You should see your Airport Extreme Server Address. Add the Address by clicking the "+" icon and then it will prompt for your password (the same that you've put in the Airport Extreme).

    4. Whalla …. Now you should be able to see and connect to your share external hard drive.

    Hope this help,


  12. I had my 1TB MyBook kept disconnecting at Airport Extreme, and I used the settings above – most importantly the "kicker" – check Airport disk Guest Access – and changed to 'Read and Write' – and 'Share disk over WAN' checked – all has been working with two macbooks accessing drive for iTunes and for Picassa Photos – unfortunately each still have separate libraries, which it could be shared.

  13. I made a mistake and assumed an AE could handle a USB 3.0 external drive. Wrong again! Does anyone know if/when this will be supported or should I just see if I can exchange the drive for a 2.0?

  14. If you configure it "with accounts," do you mean every registered user has his own personal storage, as if the disk was partitioned?

    I mean, if they share the same storage (and able to mess with other people's files), I don't see the purpose for setting up multiple accounts. You can just create one account and tell whoever it is the login name & password.

  15. Anyone having experiences with iTunes Library placed on an external hard drive attached to the Airport Extreme? Speed, connection problems etc…?

  16. I am trying to set up an external drive plugged into the USB port on my Airport Extreme. No luck. What I'm wondering is, is my Extreme too old? I am using the mushroom-shaped Extreme that I purchased in 2006. In the AP Utility, I see the printer sharing option but no Disk sharing option. All software (5.5.3) and firmware (5.7) is current. Am I just out of luck given the age of my Airport Extreme? Thanks.

  17. steve any usb 3.0 external hd is backward compatible … ie willl work in usb 2 or 1 socket but only at the usb 2 or 1 speeds

  18. Nothing works! Please, help! I’ve just purchased a brand new airport extreme and attached to it my brand-new netshare GX with a 500GB hard drive… The airport extreme simply WON’T recognize it! First, my unit does not appear in the airport menu icon on the status bar (even though 1 iMac, 2 iPhones, 2 iPads, 1 macbook pro, 1 PS3, 1 Wii and 1 apple tv connect to it just fine!). It’s status on the airport utility window is greener-than-grass… Using the GO tab on finder and trying to manually configure the hard drive does not work! It never connects to the server and the hard drive never appear in the finder’s side bar. If i connect the USB directly to the iMac, it works perfectly! Thanks!

  19. @ Jesse I guess it has something to do with the formatting. Try apple journal-ed format.

  20. How do you do this if your’re a pc user (boo, hiss)? What’s the equivaent of the @finder’window and ‘shared’ column?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *