Write to Windows NTFS Drives Natively in Snow Leopard

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Windows vs. Mac File Systems

Any current Mac user will tell you how frustrating it can be to get Windows and Mac OS X to be able to read and write files from one another’s drives. The issue is the file system that each operating system uses. Windows uses a system called NTFS which was originally created specifically for Windows NT. Mac OS X, however, uses a file system called Journaled HFS+ which has remained reasonably the same since its introduction back in 1998 on OS 8.1.

It’s because of these discrepancies that, without the use of expensive additional software, Windows is unable to read or write to any OS X formatted media. And up until Snow Leopard, OS X has been able to read Windows media but has required the use of extra software to write files to Windows partitions. While this extra software is free, it is kind of a pain to install and, to be quite honest, there’s always some nervousness about using it because of the fact that there might be instability issues.

One hidden feature of Snow Leopard is that it includes native NTFS write support. Apple developers decided to disable it by default on all mounted Windows drives. While there has been no clear-cut reason provided as to why the ability to write to NTFS media is disabled, there is strong speculation that it is because it is buggy in nature. I cannot emphasize this enough: there have been reports of people being unable to boot from their Windows installations after trying this trick so please backup your data and try this at your own risk. Please only try this for a drive that you don’t care if you lose and that you want to be able to converse with Windows (say, for example, you have an external drive that you want to store some music on and have it be fully readable/writable in both Mac OS X and Windows).

Let’s Write Something

So if you’ve decided that you’d like to be able to read/write NTFS drives instead of just viewing the files on them and you’d like to do so without extra software, simply follow the steps below:

  1. Go to Applications -> Utilities -> Terminal.
  2. Type in “diskutil info /Volumes/[vol_name]”, minus the quotes. Replace [vol_name] with the name of the volume to which you’d like to gain read/write access.
  3. You’ll get some output. Make note of the Volume UUID value (it’ll be a long string of letters and numbers, and look something like C2375FE4-A4CC-4EBD-B0B1-4BBECF6C5B35).
  4. Check to see if you have an /etc/fstab file. If you do, make sure to back it up. If not, just skip to the next step.
  5. Type in “sudo pico /etc/fstab”, minus the quotes.
  6. Type in “UUID=[uuid] none ntfs rw”, minus the quotes. Replace [uuid] with the UUID that you copied in step 3. So, for example, if the value you copied was the example given in step 3, you would add the line UUID=C2375FE4-A4CC-4EBD-B0B1-4BBECF6C5B35 none ntfs rw to the file. Make sure that you do not put in any extra spaces or other text as this will cause the fstab file to be read incorrectly.
  7. Press Ctrl-X, Y, and then press enter to exit the application.

The changes will only take effect upon you restarting, so the final step to trying out this neat little feature is to reboot your computer. Afterwards, your NTFS partition should show up and you should be able to write files to it.

Closing Thoughts

Remember that this has been noted as a very unstable setup so, to be quite honest, I’d strongly advise against using it in day to day operations. If you have an external drive with the odd, “don’t care if they get lost” documents, and you’d like to avoid the hassles of NTFS-3G or other solutions, then this trick may be for you. However, please don’t use this on data that you really care about.

Boot Camp now includes drivers that will allow Windows systems to read Mac HFS+ drives. As such, if you install these on your Windows installation, you’ll be able to read Mac drives from Windows and read Windows drives from OS X, thereby permitting file transfers without any third-party software. This is suggested for critical writing tasks as this involves no third-party software or terminal hacks.

With that said, if you do decide to try this little easter egg in Snow Leopard, I invite you to share your experiences. Perhaps if more people try this out, the Mac community can identify some causes of corruption or maybe there will be systems that work perfectly!