Apple Partition Types: How and When to Use Them

Understanding partition schemes for your Mac

What to Know

  • To begin, launch Disk Utilities, select the hard drive > Partition > + > Format > Name > Size > Apply > Partition.
  • When it's finished, choose Decide Later, Use as a Backup Disk, or Don't Use, and then click Done.

This article explains partition schemes and how to change them in macOS 10.13 High Sierra and later.

Understanding Partition Schemes

Partition types, or as Apple refers to them, partition schemes, define how the partition map is organized on a hard drive. Apple directly supports three different partition schemes: Apple File System (APFS), Mac OS Extended, and MS-DOS (FAT)\ExFAT. With three different partition maps available, which one should you use when you format or partition a hard drive?

Apple File System (APFS): The primary file system used by macOS 10.13 or later. It is the default file system for macOS. There are several types of APFS.

  • APFS: Uses the APFS format.
  • APFS (Encrypted): Uses the APFS format and encrypts the partition.
  • APFS (Case-sensitive): Uses APFS format and has case-sensitive folders and filenames.
  • APFS (Case-sensitive, Encrypted): Uses APFS format, has case-sensitive folders and filenames and encrypts the partition.

Mac OS Extended: This file system is used by macOS 10.12 or earlier. Within Disk Utility, it has 4 different modes as well.

  • Mac OS Extended (Journaled): Uses the Mac format Journaled HFS Plus to safeguard the integrity of the hierarchical file system (HFS).
  • Mac OS Extended (Journaled, Encrypted): Uses the Mac format, encrypts the partition, and requires a password.
  • Mac OS Extended (Case-sensitive, Journaled): Uses the Mac format and has case-sensitive folders.
  • Mac OS Extended (Case-sensitive, Journaled, Encrypted): Uses the Mac format, has case-sensitive folders, encrypts the partition, and requires a password.

MS-DOS (FAT) and ExFAT: These are file systems used with Microsoft Windows.

  • ExFAT: This is used for Windows volumes that are 32 GB or less in size.
  • MS-DOS (FAT): This is used for Windows volumes that are over 32 GB in size.

Selecting and Changing the Partition Scheme

Changing the partition scheme requires reformatting the drive. All data on the drive will be lost in the process. Be sure and have a recent backup available so you can restore your data if needed.

  1. Launch Disk Utilities, located at Go > Utilities.

    Selecting Utilities in macOS
  2. In the list of devices, select the hard drive or device whose partition scheme you wish to change. Be sure to select the device and not any of the underlying partitions that may be listed.

  3. Select Partition. Disk Utility will display the volume scheme currently in use.

    The Disk Utility interface in macOS
  4. Select the + (Plus sign) under the volume graphic.

    Partition information on a hard drive in Disk Utility
  5. Select Format to select one of the available schemes.

    Different formats available in Disk Utility.
  6. Enter a name for your new partition in the Name field.

    Changing the name of the partition in Disk Utility.
  7. Select a size for your new partition by either entering a number in Size or moving the resize control on the graphical image.

    Adjusting the size of the partition in Disk Utility
  8. Select Apply when you're satisfied with your settings.

  9. At the confirmation screen, select Partition.

    Confirming the creation of a partition
  10. Disk Utility will begin the partitioning process. If you want to see what it's doing, select Show Details.

    The disk is being partitioned.
  11. You will be asked if you want to use the partition for a Time Machine. Choose Decide Later, Use as a Backup Disk, or select Don't Use if you have another use.

    Prompt for using partition in Time Machine.
  12. Select Done to finish.

    Applying the partition changes
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