How to Format APFS Drive to Mac OS Extended: A Step-by-Step Guide

Macs use APFS (Apple File System) which is the newest architecture implemented by Apple that offers the best suite of features, reliability, and security. While this is the newest version of Apple’s file system, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t any reasons to not use an older file system such as Mac OS Extended. In this article, we’re going to look at how to format a hard drive to Mac OS Extended.

APFS vs. Mac OS Extended

APFS is Apple’s newest file system, released in 2017, and is the default option that their new Macs ship with. However, there are some reasons that you might want to use Mac OS Extended. Let’s compare the two of them and see what pros and cons each one has to offer.

APFS File System
Reliable which means that it will lead to less data corruption and also offers greater security.External devices formatted with APFS can’t be read by versions of macOS before Sierra.
Designed for solid-state drives and flash memory which most Macs use today.Can’t be used if you have a Fusion hard drive in your Mac.
Fast in pretty much every way.
Improved metadata and file structure.
Mac OS Extended
Old (was released in 1998 and works with macOS 10.12 or earlier).Isn’t fast.
Optimized for mechanical hard drives.Not as secure as APFS.
Offers reverse compatibility which is useful if you work with older versions of macOS.It doesn’t offer the same amount of stability and new features.

Another consideration for the APFS file system is the creation of containers. When you format a drive to APFS, a container is created; it serves as a “virtual partition” for APFS volumes. Within the container, you can have multiple volumes with their own settings, encryption properties, and file system characteristics.

This is super useful if you want to install multiple volumes on a drive that work independently of each other. One of the biggest perks of APFS volumes is that you can allocate storage space on the go – unlike Mac OS Extended and other past file systems, you don’t have to strictly define the exact size of each volume during the formatting process.

The main reason that you would want to use Mac OS Extended over APFS would be if you’re using a newer Mac and want to also swap data from an external device on an older machine that can’t use APFS.

If you’re in this scenario or one similar, let’s look at what ways we can reformat a hard drive to Mac OS Extended.

Avoid Losing Your Data When Formatting

The formatting process wipes your data to prepare your drive for the new file system. The best way to avoid losing your files is by copying them or creating a backup beforehand.

That said, there’s a good chance you’re trying to format your drive due to errors or compatibility issues that prevent you from accessing your data in the first place.

In this case, we can use a tool like Disk Drill. Disk Drill is a data recovery solution that can retrieve files directly from the file system even in the case of corruption and other logical damage. It can even restore files from formatted drives (but we recommend the backup method to be sure).

There are a ton of data recovery software solutions out there but I’m going to use Disk Drill for a couple of reasons:

  • It offers support for Apple silicon Macs, and it runs on the newest version of macOS.
  • You can use the powerful Preview feature that lets you view the file first to ensure it’s the correct one before recovering it.
  • The app runs better and finds more recoverable data when compared to other data recovery tools that I’ve used.

We can download, scan our hard drive, and view our data all for free. This includes being able to use the powerful data recovery feature. A purchase is only required if you then choose to recover your data.

  1. Download and install Disk Drill onto your Mac.
  2. Launch Disk Drill and then under Data Recovery select Storage devices. You can scan any storage device that is connected to your Mac for lost files. In this example, I’m going to select my internal hard drive. Click on Search for lost data.disk drill storage device selection
  3. Wait for the scan process to complete.scan in progress
  4. Review what Disk Drill was able to recover. Don’t forget to use the Preview feature to view files before recovering them.preview feature in disk drill

That’s all that there is to it! Disk Drill is fast and easy to use and offers powerful data recovery features to help you get your files back if you lost them when you were formatting your hard drive.

How to Convert APFS to Mac OS Extended

Below I will walk you through two ways that we can format to Mac OS Extended. One of them will be a textual way using the Terminal and the other will be a graphical solution using Disk Utility.

Both methods are free, it just depends on which way you would like to go about doing it.

Please keep in mind that formatting your storage device will delete any data that is currently on it.

Method 1: How to Format a Hard Drive to Mac OS Extended by Using the Terminal

The Terminal comes installed as part of macOS and it’s a free tool that we can use to execute system commands such as converting from AFPS to HFS+.

  1. Open the Terminal app (Finder > Applications > Utilities).
    Terminal app in Finder
  2. Type the following command and hit Return, noting your drive’s identifier.
    diskutil list

    APFS drive identifier in Terminal

  3. Type the following command and hit Return:
    diskutil apfs deleteContainer /dev/diskX

    Replace X with the corresponding digit in your drive’s Identifier.
    DeleteContainer command for APFS drive in Terminal

  4. Your drive should now be free of APFS volumes and can be formatted to HFS+. Make sure you’ve correctly identified it using the command we used earlier:
    diskutil list

    Diskutil List command in the Terminal app

  5. Type the following command and hit Return:
    diskutil eraseDisk HFS+ NewVolumeName /dev/diskX

    Replace NewVolumeName with whatever you want to label your drive and replace X with the corresponding digit of your drive’s Identifier.
    EraseDisk command in the Terminal app for external drive

Wait for the formatting process to complete. Then, check in Disk Utility if your drive has been formatted properly and recognized as HFS+.

If you prefer a more graphical solution, let’s look at how we can use Disk Utility to change APFS to Mac OS Extended.

Method 2: How to Format APFS Hard Drive to Mac OS Extended by Using Disk Utility

Disk Utility comes installed on your Mac as part of macOS and it offers a graphical interface for formatting our hard drive to Mac OS Extended.

  1. Launch Disk Utility (Finder > Applications).
    Disk Utility app in Finder
  2. On the left sidebar, select your hard drive. Then, click Erase at the top of the screen.
    Erase button in the Disk Utility app
  3. Name your drive, select Mac OS Extended (Journaled) as its Format, and select GUID Partition Map as its Scheme. Then, click Erase.
    Erase dialogue in the Disk Utility app

Wait for the formatting process to be completed. Then, check Disk Utility if your drive has successfully been reformatted to HFS+.


APFS and Mac OS Journaled are both robust and useful file systems that are great for different types of workflows. If you decide to format your storage device to Mac OS Extended, using either the Terminal or Disk Utility are both great options that will help you get the job done.

If you need to recover some data after the hard drive has been formatted, Disk Drill is a powerful tool with some stand-out features such as the ability to preview your files before recovering them.


If you’re using macOS 11 Big Sur or later, use APFS for your Time Machine backup. If you’re using macOS Catalina or earlier, use Mac OS Extended for your Time Machine backup.
The most common reason why you can’t format your drive as APFS is that your drive’s partition table is formatted to MBR (Master Boot Record). Use Disk Utility to format it to GUID instead.
If you’re using a traditional hard drive with a spinning disk (not an SSD), don’t format it to APFS. HFS+ (Mac OS Extended) is much more optimized for mechanical hard drives, while APFS is optimized for SSDs.
Joel Lockard, a tech enthusiast with a lifelong love for gadgets, gained experience selling Apple devices and even earned certification as an Apple Sales Professional. When not flying as an Airline Pilot, Joel immerses himself in technology, particularly Apple-related gear… Full Bio
Alejandro Santos
Chief Writer
Alejandro is Macgasm’s Chief Writer and Apple ecosystem enthusiast. He pens the majority of troubleshooting guides and software reviews for this website, tapping into his love for technology and extensive background in technical writing. He started his career by helping… Full Bio