Monday, January 08, 2007

Access Mac HFS+ Volumes in Windows (Perfect for Boot Camp!)

Yes, I'm one of those Mac geeks who asked for an Apple laptop when the other guys at work all wanted Windows notebook PCs.

When convincing my boss that I needed a Mac, one of the things that made it an easier sell is the fact that Intel Macs can dual-boot Windows. I got to order a MacBook Pro, and I absolutely love it.

When I installed Boot Camp, I read the available documentation and decided to format the Windows partition as FAT32 instead of NTFS so that Mac OS X Tiger would be able to write to it without any unsupported hacks.

Having a FAT partition works great for transferring files from the Mac side. But what am I supposed to do if I want to access the Mac OS Extended (Journaled), aka HFS+, partition within Windows?

Unfortunately, Windows does not (and probably never will) natively support HFS+, so the partition doesn't show up at all when I boot into Windows XP.

I've heard about MacDrive, which is probably one of the prettiest and most well-integrated solutions, but $40 to $50 is way out of my price range (UPDATE: U.S. $50 or $70 as of May 2012), and its functionality is not critical enough to ask for my work to pay for it.

I searched around a bit, and I eventually found a solution that fits the bill rather well. Catacombae HFSExplorer by Erik Larsson is a freeware Java app designed to let you browse the contents of any HFS+ drives and partitions installed in your system.

In addition to viewing the contents of HFS+ partitions, you can even extract files to any Windows-writable disk. This is almost exactly what I was looking for. I extracted a couple of files from my Mac partition and it worked great.

The one thing it lacks is HFS+ write support. I e-mailed the developer and asked if he was considering write support, and he says that he's thinking about it, but would like to implementing some other features first. I got the impression that if more people contact him (erik82(a) to thank him for the software and request HFS Plus write support, he'd be a little bit more motivated to implement it.

The developer intends to open-source his code under the GPL after he cleans it up a bit. (UPDATE: The source code is available as of May 2012.)

Note: If you used Boot Camp Assistant to partition your volume, you will probably need to click on "Load file system from device" in the File menu and select "Harddisk0\Partition2". The developer told me that he may implement automatic Mac partition detection in a future version.

If you found this information useful, please consider making a donation of any amount. Even $2 or $3 would be awesome! Thanks!

UPDATE 24 May 2012: Please see the comment I posted below today for additional information about Windows 7, current versions of Mac OS X and Boot Camp, and alternative products that offer HFS+ and NTFS write support.

I also updated the links and separated the article into more paragraphs to improve readability.


Kyle said...

I couldn't find an email address so I'm leaving a comment. I was on your Lost Talkshoe discussion as Aerie. You mentioned you wanted to start a tech podcast. If you need some additional content I'd be interested in doing a hardware section for each show. I'm constantly categorizing all pc hardware for Elite/Gamer, Pro/High-end, Value/Mid-range, and Budget/Low-end categories. I also do a top pick in which I recommend a piece of hardware even though it may not be on the list or it could be on the list.

I've had my own podcasting network before, but could not find others to stick with it and it was too much work for myself to do. I had 5 shows and produced the content for all of them.

Let me know if you are still interested in doing a tech podcast and if I can help out in any way.


Josh Long said...

Kyle, you can e-mail me at <the JoshMeister at gmail dot you-know-what>

powtac said...

There is a new update of HFSExplorer and a new website:

Anonymous said...

thanks for the review

Pete Hobson said...

Great find, and good tips. My Macbook harddrive has just died, but im able to boot into my bootcamp partition and using this utility im slowly retrieving most of my mac data..

Nice one


Dread Pirate Robert said...

Most people I know use MacDrive to enable their windows machines to read/write HFS+ formatted drives.

It's not free, but it's cheap and handy.

Anonymous said...

Know that it lacks write support but it is really handy for reaching mac data while in windows. Though I have both mac and windows installed in my box, most of the time I work on mac and store my files there. Rarely I log in to windows and have to reach a file in mac. So instead of buying MacDrive for $50 you can donated $10 to HFS Explorer's coder. :))

Kawika said...

Thanks for the review, Josh. I am also a Latter-Day Saint and think it's cool you put that on your profile. I wish there was a freeware solution for getting read/write access to HFS+ volumes in Windows!

Josh Long said...

Kawika, thanks for the post. You know, it's funny you should mention free read/write HFS+ access on Windows when you did. According to the latest rumors published just five days ago, Apple may include HFS+ drivers for Windows in the next version of Mac OS X (v10.6, Snow Leopard) for free as part of the new version of Boot Camp.

Anonymous said...

will it work in Win 7?

Josh Long said...

Anonymous, you might notice that I wrote this article in January 2007—more than 5 years ago. At the time, Boot Camp did not have the built-in capability to read files from the Mac partition.

As I mentioned in my May 2009 comment above, Apple has included (read-only) HFS+ support in its Boot Camp drivers since Snow Leopard. This eliminates the need for HFSExplorer if your intention is to use it on a Mac with Boot Camp.

If you have Windows installed on you Mac, reboot into Mac OS X and use Boot Camp Assistant (in the /Applications/Utilities folder) to create a disk with the latest drivers for your hardware. This should include Apple's HFS+ driver.

If, however, you're trying to read files from a Mac hard drive on a PC (not a Mac), you can try using HFSExplorer for that. HFSExplorer hasn't been updated since December 2008, but the site mentions Windows Vista compatibility so there's a fairly good chance that HFSExplorer will work in Windows 7 too.

Alternatively, if you want the ability to write files to a Mac HFS+ partition (which HFSExplorer can't do), you can try purchasing a product such as Paragon HFS+ for Windows. I haven't used it myself so I have no idea how reliable it is, but as of the time I'm posting this comment it's only about $20. The company also sells a product for the same price called NTFS for Mac OS X that enables NTFS write support in Mac OS X, allowing you to write files to a Windows partition. Again, I haven't used it so I don't know how well it works.