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How to Share Files Between Mac OS X and Windows With Boot Camp

share-files-with-boot-camp-windows-on-mac

Boot Camp can be annoying. Both Windows and Mac OS X can see each other’s files, but they can’t write to the other operating system’s partition.

Thankfully, there are ways around these file-system limitations. Third-party applications can enable write support for these partitions, while you can also share files in other ways.

Access Mac HFS+ Partitions From Windows

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Apple’s Boot Camp driver package automatically installs an HFS+ driver for Windows, which allows Windows to see your Mac partition. This partition shows up as “Macintosh HD” under Computer on your Windows system. There’s a big limitation here, though — the driver is read-only. You can’t copy files to your Mac partition, edit files on it, or delete files from within Windows.

To get around this limitation, you’ll need a third-party tool like Paragon HFS+ for Windows or Mediafour’s MacDrive. Both of these are paid applications, but they install a proper read/write file system driver in Windows. You’ll be able to write to your Mac partition from Windows Explorer or any other application you use. These applications do have free trials, so you can test them before paying.

HFSExplorer is a free tool for accessing Mac partitions from within Windows, but it’s read-only so it won’t help you here.

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Write to Windows NTFS Partitions From OS X

Your Windows partition appears under Devices as BOOTCAMP on Mac OS X. Unfortunately, Mac OS X can only read this partition out of the box, not write to it.

There are quite a few solutions for writing to NTFS file systems on a Mac, many of which are paid applications. Try the free and open-source NTFS-FREE if you don’t want to spend any money on this feature. After you install it, you’ll be able to access your Windows partition — and any external drives formatted with NTFS — in full read/write mode from Mac OS X.

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Create a Shared FAT32 Partition

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Windows doesn’t normally like HFS+, and Mac OS X doesn’t want to write to NTFS. There is a neutral type of file system that both operating systems support — FAT32. FAT32 is normally used on USB sticks and other removable drives because it’s so widely supported.

You could use the Disk Utility to shrink one of your current partitions and create a new partition. Format that new partition with that FAT file system and you’ll be able to read and write to it from both Windows and Mac OS X without any third-party software. Modern versions of Windows can’t be installed on a FAT32 partition, so this partition will need to be separate from both your Mac and Windows system partitions.

This may be inconvenient because it splits your limited storage into yet another partition, but it’s an option.

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Use External Drives or Cloud Storage

If this is all too annoying, you may want to forget about your Mac’s internal drive. Instead, you can share files between your operating systems via an external drive. Just plug that drive into your Mac, copy files to it, and use it as a neutral, shared storage location. Most removable drives — whether they’re USB sticks or larger external drives in enclosures — will be formatted with the FAT32 file system. If you have problems because they come with NTFS or HFS+, just reformat them as FAT32.

You could also skip the local storage and use cloud storage instead. For example, if you have some documents you need to work on in both operating systems, dump them in Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or another cloud storage service. Install the appropriate sync utility on each operating system and these documents will be kept in sync between your two operating systems via the Internet.

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Apple may choose not to provide HFS+ write support in Windows or NTFS write support in Mac for stability reasons. They don’t want to be blamed when someone’s file system is corrupted because of a bug. These solutions should all be safe and stable, but it’s always a good idea to have backups of your important files just in case something goes wrong.

Image Credit: Jonathan Lin on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 05/17/14