You want to do a Time Machine backup.
So you’re looking at a few external drive options to put on your Mac.
And you’ve noticed that different manufacturers say different things.
You saw one maker say their drive is NTFS formatted.
Then that other drive you liked said it’s ExFAT formatted.
And yet another one said it’s for Mac.
But it’s more expensive and anyway what does that even mean?
Are you spinning around confused?
Settle back and discover the best format you need for your Mac’s Time Machine backup.
Best Format For Mac Time Machine Backup
You’ll also see HFS+ listed inside your MacBook Pro, MacBook Air or iMac’s operating system as Mac OS Extended (Journaled).
They are the same thing.
It’s the best format to use for your external hard drive. Because it’s the only format that your Mac’s Time Machine software will use for a backup.
Time Machine And Macs
First thing to know about your Mac’s Time Machine software is that it’s been around for a long time.
It’s a reliable way of backing up your Mac.
And the best part is it’s right there for you.
Part of your Mac’s OS.
There no separate software for you to buy to do a basic backup of your Mac.
And it backs up everything.
Your Mac’s operating system, all your applications, your photos, music, videos, spreadsheets.
Everything you have on your Mac.
Having a recent Time Machine backup of your Mac will dig you out of a hole if anything happens to your Mac.
If you have to get it repaired or reset back to its factory settings.
Or the worst of the worst your MacBook is stolen.
At least you’ve not lost all your files. You can get back to where you were by restoring your Mac’s Time Machine Backup.
Why Does Time Machine Need A Special Format
The format of a drive is also known as its file system.
What is a file system?
It’s how your files are laid out on the drive.
And it’s how your Mac understands how to write and read your files from your drive.
It’s how your Mac knows where to find your files.
Time Machine as part of your Mac’s operating system, needs to know how to write your backup to your drive.
And how to read your backup, back off your Mac’s drive.
So it’s pretty important.
Why is HFS+ The Best Format For Your Mac’s Time Machine Backup?
It’s not just the best format.
Right now it’s the only format Time Machine will write your backups to. And read your backups from.
And for you to have a working backup. Your drive needs to be HFS+ formatted.
HFS+ is also a journaled file system.
This means that HFS+ does what it can to bypass small errors on your external drive.
So when you have a drive that’s acting up. HFS+ does what it can to allow you to get to your files.
Extra, extra useful when it’s your backup files you want to get to.
And those ‘for Mac’ drives you see advertised are delivered HFS+ formatted right out of the box.
Ready for you to use right away on your Mac.
Does It Matter For Your Time Machine Backup If You’ve An External Hard Drive OR SSD?
It’s not the type of drive that matters. It’s the format on it that Time Machine cares about.
But when you look at the cost of a SSD versus a mechanical based hard drive you’ll see quite a difference.
And perhaps a real consideration when you have a lot to backup.
Tons of photos or movies. Or you may have several Macs to backup.
Most of the time the speed of your backups isn’t the most important thing.
There’s no issue in backing up your Macs internal SSD drive to an external hard drive.
The difference in speed of the two is not an issue for Time Machine. As long as it’s HFS+ formatted then you’re good.
And if you need the fastest backup and cost is not an issue. Then sure, get yourself an SSD Drive for your Macs Time Machine backup.
What If The Drive You Want To Use Isn’t Formatted As HFS+
You can reformat any drive.
And your Mac can reformat the drive for you.
If you’ve files already on there you want to keep. Then copy them off first.
Then you can reformat.
And if your drive is large enough. You can create a formatted section of the drive for your Time Machine Backups. And another section to store other specific files you want.
Is APFS A Good Drive Format To Use For A Time Machine Backup?
APFS (Apple File System) is a new file system format for Macs.
It’s been around since Mac OS High Sierra and was made especially for Solid State Drives (SSDs).
Time Machine currently won’t back up to an APFS formatted drive.
So if you want to use an APFS formatted external hard drive for Time Machine Backup. You’ll need to reformat it as HFS+ (Mac OS Extended (Journaled)).
What If My Macs External Drive For Time Machine Is NTFS Formatted?
NTFS is a file format for Windows PCs. Mac can read NTFS formatted drives but can’t write to them.
And it’s not a format that your Mac’s Time Machine software can use for a backup.
But don’t panic.
All external hard drives can be reformatted by your Mac.
Just make sure that any files on the external hard drive or SSD drive are copied off first.
Then your Mac can reformat the drive to HFS+ – Mac OS Extended (Journaled).
Don’t Need The Whole External Drive For Your Mac’s Time Machine Backup?
Then you can create a HFS+ partition or section on a large enough external drive. And use that for your Time Machine backups.
About Simon Irons
As an admin I spend my day helping folks with their Mac issues. From the guy at work, through to unofficial 911 support for family and friends. I swear they have me on speed dial.
For fun I like testing out and playing with new stuff. I think Apple make the best products on the planet.
In my spare time I like to fish and play around with boats.