OS X: How to write to a NTFS disk?

windowsNTFS support is available in Mac OS X for some versions already, but only reading from NTFS is currently (v10.6.4) possible.

Like it or not, there are moments when we need to share files with other non Apple computers (Windows, Linux). I dedicated a slim USB powered disk for this and I thought that formatting it as FAT32 is the best option in terms of portability. As long as you have only small files, FAT32 is fine, but if you need to transfer files larger than 2 GB (like .iso images, movies), FAT32 is no longer appropriate, and a solution based on NTFS needs to be considered.


Some (daring) users suggest tweaking the existing Mac OS X NTFS configuration and enable the write support, but due to questionable stability, I would not recommend this.

A short research showed there are two solutions available for Mac: one from Paragon and one from Tuxera.

Paragon

Paragon NTFS uses a kernel driver, and has the potential of being the most efficient solution. However, some reports claim several problems, and, being tightly connected to the kernel, driver bugs tend to be accompanied by kernel crashes. My personal experience with another Paragon program, the HFS+ driver for Windows, led to stability problems and the laptop refusing to shutdown, so I was reluctant to test the Paragon NTFS on my Mac.

Tuxera NTFS takes another approach, it is built on top of the Filesystem In User Space (FUSE) driver, so it runs in user space. It may be a little slower, but is certainly can do less harm to the system in case of driver crashes.

Tuxera

Tuxera provides two versions: NTFS-3G, an open source version, and Tuxera NTFS, an optimised version of the former.

I first tried the free version; during installation it asked either to enable write caching, and warned me of possible dangers, or not, and always write to the disk. I got scared by the warning, and did not enable caching. The result was a functional driver, but the write speed was so low, that I was forced to cancel my first large copy (a 6 GB file was estimated to take 3 hours to be copied to an external USB disk!).

Normally I would have given it a second try, with caching enabled, but instead I went directly to the commercial version.

Installation was straightforward, and performance is quite good (the same 6 GB file took 5 minutes to copy onto the same external USB disk).

I used the NTFS-3G driver to write several large files onto the external disk, and had no problems, neither while writing, nor when reading the disk on a Windows machine, so I guess the driver is OK.

For the curious ones, the driver installs in /System/Library/Filesystems/fusefs_txantfs.fs/.

For uninstalling the package you can use the …/Support/uninstall-package.sh.

It might be possible that in further Mac OS X versions NTFS support to be improved and write to be enabled, but as for now, Tuxera NTFS is probably the best option.

Windows virtual machine

However, an even better solution would be to avoid installing NTFS drivers at all, and use a virtual machine to to the actual writing. It is much safer and it guarantees no damages are possible to the mountable volume.

About Liviu Ionescu (ilg)
Hi! My name is Liviu Ionescu (ilg, ilegeul or eunete for colleagues and friends) and I’m a senior IT engineer. Or should I say a real programmer?

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