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Convert External Hard Drive to APFS Without Losing Data

Updated on Saturday, July 13, 2024

iBoysoft author Amanda Wong

Written by

Amanda Wong
Professional tech editor

Approved by

Jessica Shee


Summary: This post guides you to convert external hard drive to APFS without losing data. An external hard drive formatted with HFS+, exFAT, FAT32, or NTFS can be converted to APFS on Mac.

convert external hard drive to APFS without losing data

APFS(Apple File System) is a proprietary file system developed and deployed by Apple Inc, used to store, organize, and retrieve data on the storage device. APFS was introduced with macOS High Sierra in 2017 and replaced Mac OS Extended as the default file system, featured strong encryption, space sharing, snapshots, fast directory sizing, and improved file system fundamentals.

Before you proceed to the detailed step of converting the file system of the external hard drive to APFS format, you need to make some essential preparations: 

  • Back up important files on the disk. Whenever you attempt to take operation on a drive with your important files kept, especially a startup disk, you should create a backup for it in the first place. Even if some operations such as converting HFS+ to APFS don't affect the store data of the drive, you should always be cautious to avoid data loss from a hard drive failure or misoperation.
  • Upgrade macOS to High Sierra or later. Using APFS requires that your Mac must run on macOS 10.13 and later versions, therefore, you need to upgrade macOS on your Mac to be compatible with APFS. And not all Mac models support macOS High Sierra and later versions, you need to identify which macOS can your Mac run.

If you are prepared well to convert the external hard drive to APFS, now you can follow our steps to dive into different ways, even without losing data on the external disk. Share this post with others with the same needs. 


Convert external hard drive to APFS directly in Disk Utility

In case the file system of your external hard drive is HFS+, also called Mac OS Extended(Journaled), Apple enables you to convert it to APFS directly in Disk Utility, the built-in macOS disk manager. This method can convert external hard drive to APFS without losing data. Here is how: 

  1. Connect the external hard drive to your Mac.
  2. Open the Disk Utility tool from Finder > Applications > Utilities.
  3. Tap the View button and choose Show All Devices.show all devices
  4. Find and highlight your external drive on the left sidebar, the drive information displayed on the right side tells it is an HFS+ volume/partition.
  5. Control-click the HFS+ external disk and choose the Convert to APFS option on the menu. 
    convert to apfs
  6. Tap on the Convert button to convert the external drive to APFS.
  7. When it completes, you can use the APFS external drive on Mac now.

If the above steps help to convert external hard drive to APFS without losing data, share it with more by clicking the button below.


Convert external hard drive to APFS by partitioning

Perhaps the file system of the external hard drive is exFAT or FAT32, a format compatible with both Windows and macOS, then there is no Convert to APFS option you can use to convert the external drive to APFS. But you can partition a hard drive on Mac. Here are steps to partition drive on Mac.

  1. Plug the external hard drive into your Mac's port.
  2. Use Spotlight Search to find Disk Utility and launch it.
  3. Click View and choose Show All Devices to display all drives on the left side.
  4. Select the external hard drive on the left panel, and make sure you choose the right one.
  5. Choose the Partition option on the toolbar of Disk Utility.
  6. Make sure the scheme listed for the device information is "GUID Partition Map".
  7. Name the drive and choose Mac OS Extended (Journaled) from the format drop-down menu.
  8. Click Apply to partition the external hard drive.partition external drive mac
  9. Now continue to convert HFS+ to APFS with the same steps in way 1.

Convert external hard drive to APFS via reformatting

For other incompatible file systems such as NTFS, you can only view the contents on the Mac, you don't have the write permission to move, copy, add, and delete files, and you can neither straightforwardly convert the NTFS external drive to APFS, nor partition the NTFS disk on Mac due to the incompatibility between NTFS and macOS. Therefore, the last resort is to convert NTFS to APFS by reformatting, just follow the steps below. 

  1. Connect the NTFS-formatted external hard drive to your Mac.
  2. Go to Finder > Applications > Utilities, find and launch the Disk Utility tool.
  3. Click the View button and select Show All Devices.
  4. Under the External area on the left, select the target external hard drive.
  5. Use the Erase button of Disk Utility to format the NTFS drive.
  6. Name the drive as you prefer, then choose the format as APFS.
  7. Choose Erase to start the reformatting process.
    convert ntfs to apfs

Reformatting the external hard drive to APFS deletes all files on the disk, you will get a blank APFS drive to use after formatting. If you need to switch between macOS and Windows using the same external hard drive, you can use professional NTFS for Mac software to get rid of read-only NTFS on Mac issues without losing data. 

iBoysoft NTFS for Mac automatically mounts the NTFS drive on Mac in read-write mode, it enables you to access the NTFS drive on without any limitations just as you use the drive on a Windows PC. You can view, copy, move, and edit NTFS files on Mac without formatting the drive.

Have you got an APFS external hard drive Now? If so, share this useful post with more people.


The bottom line

We provide 3 ways to convert external hard drive to APFS on Mac. If the file format of the external drive is Mac OS Extended (Journaled), you can directly convert the external hard drive to APFS without losing data in Disk Utility. For exFAT/FAT32-formatted drive, you can change the file system by partitioning. In case it is an NTFS drive you want to change to APFS, reformatting is the only way. After reading this post, you can choose the way best suits your case to convert external hard drive to APFS.

If unluckily, you lose data during the process and haven't created a backup in advance, you can try powerful data recovery software - iBoysoft Data Recovery, which can recover data from an external hard drive, just do it as soon as possible to avoid further data damage on the drive.  

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