How To Format USB on Mac

Velina Nenova
Velina Nenova

Updated · Jun 08, 2022

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USB flash drives (or thumb drives) are among the most popular external storage devices. Their compactness, mobility, and ease of use make them a preferred method of transferring and storing files.

However, USBs can be formatted for different file systems. Some of them are specifically developed for Mac or Windows, while others can work on both. If you own a Mac computer, you might need to format your flash drive to a system that works with it.

Let’s get to it:

How To Format USB on Mac?

Formatting a thumb drive on Mac can happen in two ways: either through Disk Utility or the Terminal:

Disk Utility

The Disk Utility feature conveniently comes with the Apple machine. To format your USB, just follow these simple steps:

  1. Connect the flash drive to your Mac device.
  2. Go to the Finder, then select Applications, and click on Utilities. Find Disk Utility and launch it. You’ll see a list of all available devices on the left and some disk management options and device details on the right.
  3. Find your device from the list on the left. Select Erase
  4. Here’s where you need to pick the file system for your drive. You’ll see a drop-down menu. We’re going to discuss some of the options in a minute, so you can pick a compatible Mac OS USB format.
  5. Give a name to the device.
  6. Before you continue, you could look at the Security Options on the lower left as well. If you select the Fastest option there, a specialized program could later recover your erased files. If you pick Most Secure, you won’t be able to restore your data.
  7. Click on Erase to start the formatting process.

Terminal

Now I’ll show you how to change USB format on Mac through the Terminal. Keep in mind, however, that this method requires specific syntax. Unless you’re an advanced Mac user, I advise going with the previous guide.

Here are the steps:

  1. Go to Finder, then Utilities. Click on Terminal.
  2. Type the command diskutil list to see a list of available devices.
  3. Find the device you wish to format and click on it.
  4. Enter the following syntax: 

diskutil erasedisk FILE_SYSTEM DISK_NAME DISK_IDENTIFIER

  • In place of DISK_NAME, enter whatever you want to call your device.
  • The disk identifier can be found on the list with devices, under the Identifier column. 
  • In place of FILE_SYSTEM, you’ll put your format of choice. More on that below.

Now that you know how to format a flash drive on Mac, we’ll look at the different format types and help you pick the most suitable one:

Different Types Of Format

Let’s cover them one by one and see what they mean:

Formatting USB Drive to NTFS on Mac

NTFS is the file system developed for Windows by Microsoft. It supports very large files, it’s efficient in data organization, and has integrated file compression.    

A Mac device can read data from an NTFS formatted USB but can’t write files to it. 

MacOS can’t natively format a USB drive for an NTFS system. You’ll have to install a driver.

Let me walk you through the process:

  1. Connect the flash drive to your Mac device.
  2. Download an NTFS driver for Mac (Tuxera NTFS, for example) and install it.
  3. Same as above, go to the Finder, then select ApplicationsUtilitiesDisk Utility. Launch it.
  4. Your USB should be on the list of available devices on the left. Find it and click on it.
  5. Select Erase. Choose the NTFS format from the drop-down menu.
  6. Click Erase. The format of the flash drive will be changed.

You can also do that through the Terminal. Follow the explanation in the previous section, and for the final command, type in: 

diskutil erasedisk NTFS DISK_NAME DISK_IDENTIFIER

You can pick the NTFS formatting type when intending to use your drive on a Windows machine.

Formatting USB Drive to Fat32 on Mac

Before I tell you how to format your flash drive to Fat32, here’s some information: 

Fat32 is compatible with both Mac and Windows, as well as Linux. However, it only allows files that are 4GB max and doesn’t support long file names. Even more, it has no security features. 

Nevertheless, it’s very suitable for flash drives since all main operating systems support it.

To use this format, you need to follow the aforementioned steps:

  1. Connect your USB to the Mac device.
  2. Go to Disk Utility.
  3. Find your device on the list and select Erase.
  4. The format you need to pick from the drop-down menu is MS-DOS (FAT).
  5. Click Erase.

If you want to format your flash drive to Fat32 through the Terminal, you need to follow the steps I’ve explained above. The command this time would be:

diskutil erasedisk FAT32 DISK_NAME DISK_IDENTIFIER

Formatting Flash Drive to ExFAT on Mac

ExFAT is almost the same as Fat32, but it doesn’t have the latter’s limitations. It’s not always natively supported on Linux, but ExFAT support can be downloaded

The steps you need to follow are almost identical. The only difference is you need to pick ExFAT from the drop-down menu.

Similarly, going through the Terminal will be the same as above, with a small difference in the command:

diskutil erasedisk ExFAT DISK_NAME DISK_IDENTIFIER

How To Recover Data After Format

When you need to format or reformat a USB drive on Mac, remember this important detail:

All the flash drive’s data will be erased.

However, data recovery software can help you get back the deleted information.

There are many available apps, but I’ll give you an example with Disk Drill:

  1. First, download and install the software.
  2. When it launches, choose the device you’d like to recover information from. A scanning process will begin.
  3. Look at the files the software found. Select the ones you wish to recover.
  4. Click on the Recover button.

Other such tools should work similarly.

Backup Before Formatting a USB Drive

Before you format an external drive on Mac, it’s a good idea to create a backup. This way, you can avoid losing your files. 

Here are some ways to do so:

Backup to your internal drive

If there’s enough space on your Mac, you can simply transfer the files from your USB to the internal drive. It’s very simple:

  1. Insert the USB into your Mac.
  2. Open the folder with its content.
  3. Create a new folder on the internal drive,
  4. Copy the files from the flash drive’s folder and paste them in the new folder.

Backup to another USB device

Before formatting a thumb drive on Mac, you can use another flash drive to backup and store your information. Make sure that you have enough free ports on your machine or use a USB hub. Here’s how to transfer the data:

  1. Insert both USB drives into your Mac.
  2. Open both folders.
  3. Copy the files from the source to the second device.

Backup to the cloud

You can get as much storage space as you want with cloud services; however, you might have to pay. The process is similar for any cloud storage:

  1. Make an account.
  2. Connect the flash drive to your Mac.
  3. Transfer its content to the cloud. 

Wrap Up

It doesn’t matter if you’re formatting a flash drive or any external hard drive – this is the process.

Now that you know how to format a USB on Mac for different file systems, you can easily use your external storage on different operating systems. 

The information is a lot, but I hope you found it helpful.

FAQ.


Can I format USB to FAT32 on Mac?

Yes, you can. You can do it through both the Disk Utility feature and the Terminal on your Mac. You can also format a flash drive on Mac for the following format types:

  • APFS
  • HFS+
  • NTFS
  • Fat32
  • ExFAT
  • ext2

What is the best USB format for Mac?

If you want to use your USB on Mac devices only, then APFS is a good choice. However, if you’d like to use it on Windows devices as well – Fat32 or ExFAT are best.

How do I reformat a USB stick?

A USB is reformatted the same way it’s formatted. The easiest way is through Mac’s Disk Utility:

  • Open Disk Utility.
  • Find your USB on the list.
  • Click on Erase.
  • Pick the desired format.
  • Press the Erase button.

How do I format a USB for Mac and PC?

Here’s how to do it on both types of machines:

  • Open Disk Utility.
  • Find your USB on the list.
  • Click on Erase.
  • Pick the desired format - APFS for Mac, NTFS for PC, Fat32 or ExFAT for both. (You need an NTFS driver for formatting a thumb drive for PC.)
  • Press the Erase button.

For further info on how to format a USB on Mac, feel free to check out our full guide.

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Velina Nenova

Velina Nenova

Velina describes herself as passionate media savvy and a versatile individual with numerous different interests, most a result of her Media & Communications BA. She has also developed a keen interest in Digital Marketing and Advertising. Her never-ending desire to constantly learn new things and enrich herself and her ultimate dream to go around the globe before 45 are her driving forces.

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