So I’ve been running Mac OS X Lion (10.7) for a week now, and it’s mostly been fine – most programs run okay and others have had minor updates to improve compatibility. However, there’s some flakiness with MacFUSE and in particular the NTFS-3G package which allows read-write access to hard drives formatted with the NTFS file system.
(If you’re short of time, scroll down to the ‘So what are the options’ section.)
Firstly, a bit of MacFUSE history…
MacFUSE was a project to allow file system packages designed for the Linux FUSE project, which in turn allowed file systems to be loaded in ‘user space’ rather than requiring extensions to the operating system kernel, to be run on Mac OS X. This meant that FUSE did all of the kernel work, thus much simplifying the development of file systems. MacFUSE wasn’t a port of FUSE – it’s a separate project that happens to be compatible with existing FUSE file system packages. It was also developed by a Google employee in his 20% time, i.e. the time that Google allows engineers to set aside for their own projects.
Now, the latest official release of MacFUSE was version 2.0.3,2 which is 32-bit and designed for Leopard, i.e. Mac OS X 10.5. We’re now on Lion, and there hasn’t been a subsequent official release even for Snow Leopard, nevermind Lion. Version 2.0.3,2 ran okay on Snow Leopard provided you used the default 32-bit kernel, but in Lion, the kernel task is 64-bit.
Thankfully, some other developers have picked up the baton – in particular Tuxera, who offer a commercial solution for running NTFS on a Mac. You can download Tuxera’s MacFUSE 2.2 here, which seems to work fine on Lion, even with a 64-bit kernel. Alternatively, there’s a fork called OSXFUSE, which is in beta at time of writing, although if you want to use OSXFUSE you will need to remove MacFUSE first.
Lion, like other versions of Mac OS X that have come before it, supports read-only access to NTFS disks when a product like MacFUSE isn’t installed. This means that you can read files from an NTFS-formatted disk, but you can’t modify or delete existing files or copy new ones to it. It’s a shame that Apple still hasn’t unveiled official read/write support for NTFS after all these years.
Currently, the only free software I’m aware of for enabling read/write access to NTFS drives is NTFS-3G. The most recent binary release is from October 2010, and whilst this does work on Lion, even with MacFUSE 2.2 you will encounter errors when mounting the disk – namely that it’s taken more than 15 seconds to do so. However, once it is mounted, it seems to work okay, although admittedly I’ve only been working with a seldom-used external drive and not a drive where I expect strong read/write performance.
If you fancy compiling code from source, or have MacPorts, you can get a newer version released in April 2011 which may or may not work better – I haven’t tried it yet.
So what are the options?
There are basically four options you can choose, if you use NTFS drives on your Mac:
- Don’t upgrade to Lion just yet. If everything works fine now, you may wish to stay with Snow Leopard until there’s a new binary release of NTFS-3G. Lion is still very new and there aren’t many third-party applications taking advantage of its new features as yet.
- Use NTFS-3G and MacFUSE 2.2 as before. In my experience it works, but you do get an error each time your disk is mounted (which could be on every boot up for some) and it is slow at mounting the disk. If you’re reliant on an NTFS drive you may not want to try this just in case things aren’t working properly and you lose data.
- Buy Tuxera NTFS for Mac. If you are reliant on an NTFS drive on your Mac, you may want the piece of mind of a commercial, supported product, in which case you can buy Tuxera NTFS for Mac which states that it is Lion-compatible.
- Use exFAT instead of NTFS. If you need the drive to be usable on both Windows and Mac, don’t need file system level encryption or compression and are willing to copy all of your data off it, reformat it, and copy the data back, then maybe you’d be better with the exFAT file system. It’s the successor to FAT32, and supports disk and file sizes of over 500 terabytes. It’s also quite well-supported – Mac OS X received support for it in the 10.6.5 update to Snow Leopard, Windows XP supports it with the KB955704 update and Service Pack 2, Windows Vista with Service Pack 1 and Windows 7 supports it out of the box. You will have issues with Linux machines, however, in which case FAT32 is also an option.
I personally have gone for the fourth option for my external drive; the Disk Utility in Lion lets you format drives as exFAT and I don’t need any of the advanced features of NTFS. But another of these options may be best for you.