I would like to have an external drive 2TB (USB 3 capable) in the best possible format to be able to write and read in the 3 operating systems.

What is the best to do for external hhd in 2019.


What is the best to do for external hhd in 2019.

fat, ext2 and ext3 are basically obsolete and ext4 is not accepted by Microsoft. You will have 2 options:

where exFAT has the best compatibility across all different systems (it is supported on MAC, Windows, Linux, Playstation and lots more) but will require installing the exfat driver on Linux.

  • Thank you. But what is the deal with exfat not being journaled? Is that a problem? – George G. Jun 9 '19 at 8:29
  • Not really. You don't want journaling on external disks: ntfs is a resource hog and flawed. No journaling means less writes so good for external flash drives. howtogeek.com/235596/… might be a good read though is windows only ;) – Rinzwind Jun 9 '19 at 8:47

Consider splitting the drive into two partitions. A large NTFS partition for data that is more stable, as well as read/write on Windows and Linux. A small exFAT partition to copy files from Mac OS.

Your file system options are:

  • FAT32. Read/write on all three systems. Not journaled. File size < 4G.

  • NTFS. Poor write support on Mac.

  • exFAT. Read/write on all three systems. Not journaled.

While you can fix minor problems on all three file systems with fsck, you will have to use MS Windows to fix anything major.

If you add phones to the mix, you'll have to use FAT32 or exFAT. As long as you don't hit the file size limit of FAT32, they're pretty much the same. However, I would not use a drive formatted with FAT32 or exFAT for anything that isn't transient or unimportant. I recently had problems with both file systems on camera SD cards that required reformatting to fix. I don't even want to think about having the same issues with a 2TB hard drive.

NTFS is the most reliable of the three file systems because it is journaled. However, Mac OS has poor NTFS write support. You'd probably have to purchase the Paragon NTFS driver. See How-To Geek: How to Write to NTFS Drives on a Mac.



I would go with NTFS. The problem with ExFat (even though others suggested it, is the 4GB file size limit... Which in my opinion, is a dealbreaker). ExFAT has no file system-level encryption or compression support, and, like FAT32 before it, there is no journaling built into the exFAT file system. It also has very limited permission and ACL support for those who need to isolate different users from certain files. Only problem with NTFS is that it does not allow the following characters, which can be a problem on Linux and OSX, but obviously not on Windows:

The following reserved characters are forbidden on NTFS files/names:

< (less than)
> (greater than)
: (colon)
" (double quote)
/ (forward slash)
\ (backslash)
| (vertical bar or pipe)
? (question mark)
* (asterisk)

However, the good news is that:

OSX accepts NTFS natively.

Linux accepts NTFS natively.

Windows accepts NTFS natively.


You have to ask yourself, do I need to use those characters, or do I need individual file sizes to be higher than 4GB each. There is no filesystem that will be ideal for all operating systems, as they were all built differently.

  • exFAT does not have a 4GB limit. Some of those characters are also reserved on other operating systems. There is no "need" to use them in filenames. Doing so can cause problems; eg, mishandling a file with * in its name can result in data loss. – xiota Nov 12 '20 at 18:19

The best one is FAT probably. FAT format is compatible with all operating systems.

  • 1
    Note that FAT has no journal so chkdsk can take forever, especially on a large drive. And it cannot store files over 4GB. It is ok for small partitions like the ESP - efi system partition and small devices like small SD cards for cameras and other devices. – oldfred Jun 3 '19 at 14:28
  • 1
    exFAT is not journaled either. – xiota Jun 3 '19 at 15:28

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