Something similar has been asked already but my criteria is a little different. I need to share a portable hard drive (USB/Firewire) between Mac OSX, Linux and Windows XP systems where the files being shared are sometimes >4GB. Is there a file system that is available out of the box on all these operating systems that support this and allows read/write access? If not, what's the next best solution in terms of installing additional software on these operating systems?


7 Answers 7


The option for the most coverage is the FAT32 file system. But you won't be able to create files larger than 4GB.

If you use NTFS (Windows format) then Mac systems will be able to read it but cannot write to it unless third party software is installed. MacFuse and NTFS-3G will let you have full access to NTFS volumes on a Mac system.


NTFS-3G Stable Read/Write Driver - Apparently, NTFS-3G also supports Linux, FreeBSD, Mac OS X, NetBSD, Solaris, Haiku, and other operating systems.


Robert C. Cartaino

  • NTFS-3G looks promising. I'm curious if there is a way to use it on Mac OSX and Linux without actually installing anything. Perhaps running them in user space? Might be a pipe dream. ;) May 4, 2009 at 18:34
  • FUSE (Filesystem in Userspace) is in userspace, but you will need to install something at least on OSX. Fuse on Linux is becoming included in the default install more frequently.
    – Zoredache
    May 4, 2009 at 19:15
  • NTFS-3G is great! Highly recommended; works like a charm. May 4, 2009 at 19:26
  • Never had any problems with NTFS-3G, I've been using it for quite a while.
    – Gert M
    May 4, 2009 at 19:34
  • @Zoredache Almost there. I'm thinking two partitions, a FAT32 holding the various file system drivers for each OS and the other an NTFS holding my files. I guess until Apple ships something like MacFUSE with OSX I'm going to have to live with installing it. May 4, 2009 at 20:26

use ext2 and put the drivers to access it from non linux systems on a device partition in fat 32 not only will you have >4g criteria sorted but more important you'll have file atributes


I'd stick with FAT32 and use a ZIP utility that splits its files into fixed-size (i.e. less than 4GB) chunks - messy and slow I admit but if you put the executables on the same disk for all the OSs you need and maybe even write and include a few small scripts to make it easier you'll have what you want.

  • you can use split(1) on linux Dec 7, 2009 at 19:39

UDF revision 2.01 is likely the way you want to go. See UDF OS compatibility table on Wikipedia.

The only downside to UDF 2.01 is that there is no native write support for Windows XP (at least without third party utilities). However, writing with Windows 7 and later are natively supported.

I recently found myself researching this very topic, and I wrote a script to automate the process of formatting in UDF. See format-udf on GitHub.


Your best best is going to be FAT32. There are several limitations to FAT32 but it is the most recognized and works on all the systems mentioned.


Out of the box, I'm pretty sure that Windows XP can only support FAT32 and NTFS. FAT32 can't handle files larger than 4GB, so there's your answer.

Most systems can read NTFS, but a few cannot write to NTFS. I'm not sure which ones they are.

If you can get by with only files smaller than 4GB, then go with FAT32, as it works the best on the most OS's.


I don't have experience here, but just to share my thoughts, Windows seems least likely to play nice with others, so you might want to try NTFS. On that front, you can typically read NTFS partitions with any Linux install. If you need write, you'd need to have ntfs-3g installed. For OSX, you can try ntfs-3g for Mac.

If you only need read access, ext2/3 might be better, as there are no-install utilities to read them: Mac, PC

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