If you work with Linux, you probably have a hard drive or two formatted with Ext4 or a related filesystem. Assuming you only work with Linux, that isn’t a problem. When you need to access data from that Ext4 filesystem on another operating system, you start to run into trouble.
Macs, for example, don’t support Ext4 filesystems. If you plug a drive in, it’s simply not recognized. Fortunately, there are a few ways around this.
The Temporary Option: Use a VM
If you only need to read a few files and don’t want to opt for a more permanent solution, there is a fairly easy solution. Just install a version of Ubuntu, or whatever your Linux distribution of choice is, in a virtual machine host like VirtualBox, then mount the drive as you would any other and read away.
Installing VirtualBox itself is fairly straightforward, and if you have an Ext4-formatted hard drive, you’re probably familiar with installing Linux. If not, read on for other options.
Add Ext4 Support to macOS
If you frequently use Ext4-formatted disks and/or need to copy files from them to your macOS drive, you need a better option. You’ll need to install some software, namely macFUSE (formerly known as osxfuse) and ext4fuse.
- Go to the macFUSE website and click the Downloads tab at the top of the page, then download the latest version for macOS. This will be named something like macfuse-4.2.3.dmg.
- When the installer is downloaded, double-click it to open it, then double-click the icon labeled “Install macFUSE” to start the installation.
- Near the end of the installation process, you’ll get a message saying that a system extension was blocked and will be prompted to allow it in settings. Click the lock icon in the bottom left, then click “Allow.”
Now you’re ready to install ext4fuse. The easiest way to do this is using Homebrew. Once Homebrew is installed (or if it is already installed) run the following:
brew install ext4fuse
A Word of Warning
While these tools can help you read from Ext4-formatted drives, they aren’t very stable. As long as you’re mounting the drives read-only, as we are in this tutorial, you aren’t risking much. If you try to use these tools to write to the Ext4 drives, you may lose data.
If you need to move files back and forth across a drive shared with Linux, this method isn’t recommended. Instead, use a different filesystem like ExFAT or try the commercial option listed below.
Mounting Ext4 Disks on macOS
Now that you have Ext4 support installed, you need to identify the drive you wish to mount. To do this, run the following command:
Take note of the ID for your partition, which will be something like “/dev/disk3s1.” Assuming that is the ID, you would run the following command to mount the drive:
sudo ext4fuse /dev/disk3s1 ~/tmp/MY_DISK_PARTITION -o allow_other
MY_DISK above can be any name of your choosing.
Navigate to the “/tmp/” directory in Finder, and you should see the contents of your partition listed. If your disk has multiple partitions, you can mount them using the same steps as above. Just make sure to use different directory names to mount them.
A Third Option that Will Cost You
If you really need read/write access and are willing to pay, Paragon Software may have an option for you. The company offers ExtFS for Mac software that it claims is safe and fast. The company even says its software can repair Ext4 and other filesystems.
We haven’t tested this software, so we can’t say whether or not it works as claimed. It does offer a free trial, but to be safe, you may want to back up your drives, just in case. If you want to buy the software, it’s available for $39.95.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can I write to EXT4 partitions with macFUSE / ext4fuse?
There is experimental support for writing to EXT4 filesystems with these tools, but this can easily lead to losing data. If you’re going to do this, we wouldn’t recommend doing so with any data that you can’t afford to lose.
2. Does macFUSE work with other filesystems?
Yes. Some of the other popular filesystems supported by macFUSE are NTFS-3G, OXFS, and SSHFS.
3. Will reading files with these tools damage my EXT4 filesystem?
As long as you’re mounting partitions read-only, as we suggest in this article, you have little to no chance of losing data. That said, if you plan to move files back and forth from Linux to macOS, you may want to choose a filesystem better supported by both operating systems, like exFAT.
4. Will these tools work with EXT2 or EXT3 filesystems?
Yes. In addition to EXT4, ext4fuse supports EXT2 and EXT3 filesystems.
5. Can I create EXT4 partitions with any of these tools?
Neither macFUSE/ext4fuse or ExtFS for Mac support creating partitions. If you absolutely need to do this on your Mac, we suggest using Linux in a virtual machine environment, if possible.
While Ext4 on macOS is far from impossible, it’s also frustrating since Apple doesn’t support the format. Given the company’s focus on its own technologies, we don’t expect to see this change in the near future. For the time being, it’s up to companies like Paragon Software and the open source community to keep it coming.
Granted, Ext4 isn’t fully supported on Windows right now either. Given that company’s increasing integration of Linux into Windows, that may eventually change. For now, we have a guide on how to mount and access Ext4 filesystems on Windows.
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