How to Access External Hard Drive on Mac: A Comprehensive Guide

Welcoming Mac Users to Access External Hard Drives with Ease

There are times when utilizing an external hard drive on a Mac becomes necessary. It can happen for several purposes like backing up data, carrying over files when you are on the go, transferring files from one device to another, and so on. However, plugging in an external drive should be easy, but for some people, it can be confusing, particularly if they are new to the Mac operating system. Fear no more because this article will guide you on how to access an external hard drive on Mac with step-by-step instructions.


Step 1:

The very first step is to plug in your external hard drive to your Mac properly. Ensure that the USB cable is firmly attached to both the hard drive and the Mac.

Step 2:

Once the external hard drive is connected to the Mac, it should appear on the desktop. However, if it doesn’t, go to the Finder and look under the Devices section on the left side. The external hard drive should be there.

Step 3:

After you have checked that your Mac can detect the external hard drive, the next step is to double click on it. Double-click will take you directly to the hard drive, or you can just right-click and select ‘open’ from the options given.

Step 4:

You can now start using your external hard drive by opening files or adding new ones. Just drag and drop the files you want to transfer or backup. Alternatively, copy and paste the files to and from the drive.

Step 5:

When you are done with externally accessing your hard drive, ensure that you eject it correctly. Click on the eject button located next to the external hard drive icon on the desktop or just right-click and select Eject from the menu.

Step 6:

After you have ejected the external hard drive, ensure that you unplug it safely from the computer.

Step 7:

If you want to run Time Machine or any other backup program with your external hard drive, you do not need to do anything else. The Mac can automatically find the drive and start backing up files.

Step 8:

If the external hard drive has its file system, like Windows’ NTFS, you may face issues in writing to the drive due to some restrictions. To fix this, you can either install a third-party application that lets you write to NTFS drives or format the drive to Apple’s file system first, like HFS or APFS. After formatting, the drive should work correctly, even writing data to it.

Step 9:

If the external hard drive is not visible in Finder, there might be an issue with the drive itself or the Mac. First, check if the hard drive is connected correctly; if yes, then check if the disk is mounted. You can also verify the disk using the Disk Utility app, which is located in the Applications > Utilities folder. Select the external hard drive and click on First Aid to repair any problems found.

Step 10:

If the external hard drive is physically damaged, such as a broken USB connector, it needs to be replaced or taken to a data recovery specialist.

Step 11:

If the external hard drive is encrypted, you will need to input the password every time you connect it to the Mac. You can also decrypt it under the FileVault settings in the System Preferences application.

Step 12:

Lastly, if you have multiple external hard drives connected to your Mac, ensure to label them properly either by renaming or color-coding them. This will help you distinguish between the drives and identify quickly the one you need.


After reading the detailed steps on how to access an external hard drive on Mac, we must understand that every step has its unique significance and plays an essential role in ensuring the drive’s proper utilization. It’s easy to plug and unplug hard drives to your Mac, but not understanding the potential issues and precautions can lead to loss of data and harm to your device. By following the steps sequentially, you can access your external hard drive safely and effectively.

Tips and Tricks:

Tip 1:

Always use a high-speed USB cable to avoid system lagging issues or difficulty in transfer or backup of data.

Tip 2:

It’s a good practice to clean the connector ports of your Mac and the external hard drive once in a while to maintain insights, increase connectivity and prevent any damage caused by poor connections.

Tip 3:

Before you transfer data between external hard drives and your Mac, always make sure your computer and hard drives are running the latest updates and firmware to ensure compatibility.

Tip 4:

Always ensure that the hard drive is safely ejected before unplugging it physically because removing it abruptly can cause data loss and damage the drive.

Tip 5:

You can use various cloud storage options like Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, iCloud, etc., to access your files over the internet and eliminate the need for physical external hard drives.

Tip 6:

If you are using more than one external hard drive, all with the same capacity, color-coding them can make it easier to differentiate between the drives.

Tip 7:

If you are sharing your computer with other people, create separate accounts and log in to keep your data secure and prevent others from accessing your external hard drive.

Tip 8:

If you are frequently transferring large file sizes between your Mac and external hard drives, use an application that can help you handle transfer speeds more efficiently, like teracopy.

Tip 9:

You can format your external hard drive to exFAT if you are looking for a universal file system between Mac and Windows and prevent restrictions in transferring data across platforms.

Tip 10:

You can troubleshoot external hard drive issues by running the Disk Utility app, leading you to diagnose and fix potential problems in the drive.


Computers have made our lives easier and faster, but the need for external hard drives is still a crucial aspect, especially for those of us working in data-driven professions. Understanding how to access external hard drives on Mac is vital to prevent data loss and damage to the device. Having a checklist of precautions and tips can guide you through the process smoothly.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Accessing External Hard Drive on Mac


1. Extra Storage Space – By accessing external hard drives, you get additional storage space to keep your documents, files, photos, videos, and other data safe and secure.

2. Portability – External hard drives come in various sizes and shapes, making it easy for you to access and carry them almost anywhere.

3. Compatibility – External hard drives are usually compatible with different operating systems such as macOS, Windows, and Linux.

4. Security – External hard drives often come with pre-installed security software that helps protect your data from unauthorized access.

5. Backup – External hard drives can be used as a backup device that can copy and store data from your primary storage device, protecting your files and data from loss.

6. Cost-effective – Accessing external hard drives is cost-effective compared to other storage devices like solid-state drives and internal hard drives.

7. Large Capacity – External hard drives can provide you with terabytes of storage space, making them ideal for storing numerous large-sized files and data.

8. Easy Sharing – External hard drives allow you to share data and files with others by quickly transferring them from one device to another.

9. Rapid Data Transfer – Most external hard drives utilize USB 3.0 technology, providing fast data transfer speeds.

10. Easy Upgrades – Upgrading or adding an external hard drive is easier than upgrading an internal hard drive.


1. External Dependence – Accessing external hard drives means you are dependent on the device. If it fails or gets lost, you may lose important data.

2. Physical Damage – External hard drives are vulnerable to physical damage that can corrupt your data stored within.

3. Security Threat – If an external hard drive contains sensitive information, it can become a security threat if lost or stolen.

4. Complicated Backup – Backup your data to external hard drives can be complicated and time-consuming, especially for larger files.

5. Malware and Virus Infection – External hard drives can be infected by malware and viruses. They can transfer the virus to your computer.

6. Reduced Transfer Speed – External hard drives with slower read/write speeds can reduce transfer speeds, which can be frustrating when accessing large files.

7. Limited Lifetime – External hard drives have a limited lifetime, and they can fail after prolonged use.

8. File System Compatibility – External hard drives must be formatted in a specific file system format compatible with both Windows and macOS.

9. Mechanical Failure Risk – External hard drives have mechanical parts that can fail due to wear and tear.

10. Incompatibility – Some external hard drives may not work with older operating systems or with certain devices.

In conclusion, accessing external hard drives on macOS has both advantages and disadvantages. You should weigh the pros and cons before choosing one.


1. How do I access an external hard drive on a Mac?

To access an external hard drive on a Mac, follow these simple steps:

  1. Connect the external hard drive to your Mac using a USB or Thunderbolt cable.
  2. Go to the Finder menu and select Preferences.
  3. Click on the Sidebar tab.
  4. Check the box next to External disks.
  5. Now, you should be able to see the external hard drive under Devices in the Finder sidebar.
  6. Click on the external hard drive to access its contents.

2. Why isn’t my external hard drive showing up on my Mac?

There could be several reasons why your external hard drive is not showing up on your Mac. Some possible reasons include:

  • The drive is not properly connected to your Mac.
  • The drive is not formatted for Mac use.
  • The drive is not mounted in the Finder.
  • The drive is malfunctioning or damaged.

3. How do I format an external hard drive for Mac use?

To format an external hard drive for Mac use, follow these steps:

  1. Connect the external hard drive to your Mac.
  2. Open Disk Utility.
  3. Select the external hard drive from the list of disks on the left-hand side of the window.
  4. Click on the Erase tab.
  5. Choose Mac OS Extended (Journaled) as the format type.
  6. Enter a name for the drive and click Erase.
  7. Wait for the formatting process to finish.

4. Can I use an external hard drive with both Mac and Windows computers?

Yes, you can use an external hard drive with both Mac and Windows computers by formatting it as exFAT. This format is compatible with both operating systems and allows you to share files seamlessly between Mac and Windows computers.

5. Can I connect multiple external hard drives to my Mac?

Yes, you can connect multiple external hard drives to your Mac by using a USB or Thunderbolt hub. However, keep in mind that connecting too many devices to your Mac can slow down its performance.

6. Can I disconnect my external hard drive from my Mac without ejecting it first?

No, you should always eject your external hard drive before disconnecting it from your Mac. Failing to do so can cause data loss or damage to the drive.

7. What happens if my external hard drive gets corrupted?

If your external hard drive gets corrupted, you may not be able to access its contents or may receive error messages when trying to access it. In some cases, you may be able to repair the drive using Disk Utility or other disk repair software. However, if the drive is severely damaged, you may need to replace it.

8. How do I clone my Mac’s internal hard drive onto an external hard drive?

To clone your Mac’s internal hard drive onto an external hard drive, you can use a disk cloning utility like Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper!. These programs allow you to create a bootable backup of your internal hard drive that you can use to restore your Mac in case of a system failure.

9. How much storage space do I need on my external hard drive?

The amount of storage space you need on your external hard drive will depend on your usage and needs. If you plan to store large files like videos and photos, you may need a larger drive with several terabytes of storage. However, if you only plan to use the drive for occasional backups or document storage, a smaller drive with a few hundred gigabytes of storage may be sufficient.

10. Can I use my external hard drive to run applications?

It is generally not recommended to run applications directly from an external hard drive, as it can slow down the application and reduce performance. However, you can use an external hard drive to store application data and files.

11. How do I back up my Mac to an external hard drive?

To back up your Mac to an external hard drive, you can use the built-in Time Machine feature. Follow these steps:

  1. Connect the external hard drive to your Mac.
  2. Go to System Preferences and select Time Machine.
  3. Turn on Time Machine and select the external hard drive as the backup disk.
  4. Time Machine will automatically back up your Mac every hour.

12. Is it safe to store important files on an external hard drive?

Yes, it is safe to store important files on an external hard drive as long as you take proper precautions such as backing up the drive regularly and storing it in a safe location. However, keep in mind that external hard drives can fail or become corrupted, so it’s important to have multiple backup options.

13. How do I safely remove an external hard drive from my Mac?

To safely remove an external hard drive from your Mac, follow these steps:

  1. Ensure that all applications and files on the drive are closed.
  2. Locate the drive icon on the desktop or in the Finder sidebar.
  3. Drag the drive icon to the Trash.
  4. Wait for the drive icon to disappear from the desktop or Finder sidebar.
  5. Disconnect the drive from your Mac.


In conclusion, accessing external hard drives on a Mac can seem daunting at first, but it is actually a simple process. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can easily connect and use your external hard drive on your Mac. Whether you need the extra storage space for work, personal use, or just for backup, your Mac makes it easy to access and utilize external hard drives.


Thank you for taking the time to read this article on how to access external hard drives on a Mac. We hope that you found the information helpful and that you can now confidently connect and utilize your external hard drives on your Mac. Should you have any further questions or concerns, do not hesitate to reach out to Apple support for assistance. Until next time, happy computing!