Share files between Mac and Windows with exFAT

Sharing your files between a Mac and Windows machine is not easy. In fact, just thinking about it gives me a headache.

You can transfer a few photos or smaller files with a USB drive (usually formatted as FAT32). But if you want to have a shared hard drive to watch movies, a shared library with large amounts of data, a shared anything, FAT32 will definitely let you down.

Why is that?

One of the biggest limitations of FAT32 is that you can’t transfer files that are larger than 4GB (such as raw movie files). As a result of the format, if you want to transfer a larger file, you just can’t do it. Additionally, if you think you can format a hard drive in Windows as a FAT32 partition, the maximum size available will always be 32 GB. Thus where the 32 in FAT32 comes from. Which means you might end up making a hundred teeny partitions if you want to want to share any file that’s bigger.

So what do you do?

The answer is: exFAT.

exFAT is a Microsoft proprietary file system that Windows and Mac can both read and write. It eliminates the 4GB limitation you have with FAT32, and with a maximum recommended capacity of 512 TB, you won’t have to worry about storage space anymore. Furthermore, it is extremely easy to format a hard drive using the Windows format tool.

How to:

In Windows 7, select your device (usually an external hard drive of some kind). Right click and select “Format…”, selecting exFAT from the file system drop-down menu. Click “Start”, wait until it does its thing, and you’re done!
windows7 format
harddrive exfat
Some words of caution, however. Nothing is perfect and exFAT is not perfect either. Please keep in mind that some of the disadvantages of exFAT include:

  • No Journaling– The changes on the hard drive are not being recorded, and therefore they are more likely to be corrupted than usual, making it harder to recover information over the long term.
  • No Time Machine Support–Unfortunately, the Mac Time Machine doesn’t support the exFAT file format. But you can always have an extra drive just for your Time Machine backup, or create another partition within your external hard drive.

Nevertheless, I certainly believe the advantages of exFAT outweigh the few disadvantages listed above. It allows you to easily transfer compatible files between Mac and Windows computers, making your life and that of your friend, partner, spouse, or sibling, that much easier.