External drives sometimes need to be formatted and this is something fairly basic. Desktop operating systems can do this out of the box and macOS is no exception. If you want to format a drive on macOS, you can do so with the built-in Disk Utility.

When you format a drive, all data on it is erased. If you value the data on the drive you’re about to format, back it up first. Once the drive has been formatted, there is no guarantee that the data can be recovered.

Note: macOS does not support writing to NTFS drives and as such, the Disk Utility cannot format a drive to NTFS. If you need to format a drive so that it can be read on both a Mac and a PC, use the ExFAT format.

Format a drive

Connect the drive that you want to format to your Mac and then open Disk Utility. You can launch it from Spotlight, or from Launchpad. It’s up to you.

In Disk Utility your internal drive and the external ones are all listed in a column on the left. Since you’ve connected the drive that you want to format, it will be mounted automatically and it will show up in the column on the left.


Select the drive and then click the Erase button at the top. In the options window that appears, open the Format dropdown and select the format you want to use for the drive. You can also give the drive a name. If you don’t know what a ‘Scheme’ is, it is best to leave it alone.

If you want extra secure formatting, one where absolutely everything is erased and very securely so, click Security Options and opt for the ‘Most Secure’ erasure. Click the Erase button and formatting will begin.

Formatting can take a while depending on the size of the drive, and the level of security that you’ve selected. If you’ve gone for a more secure erasure, it will take much longer to format a drive on macOS.

When the format is complete, you will see the following message. Click Done and you’re free to do with the drive whatever you like.

Disk Utility may not support NTFS but it does support quite a few other formats. If you want to use them, make sure you know what they’re for and what limitations they come with. If you’re looking to format a drive to NTFS, you can do so via third-party apps.