How to read HFS+ volumes on Windows

HFS Explorer I’ve been using an OS X Leopard (That’s 10.5) machine at work since the last few days for a project that I’m working on. I’ve been a Unix user for a long time so I’m pretty comfortable with the Unix side of OS X including the file system and the BSD underpinnings.

For those who haven’t used OS X, it uses a proprietary file system called HFS+ as the default file system. Because it is a proprietary file system and Apple hasn’t really released any specs for it yet, there aren’t too many utilities to read or write to HFS+ volumes (That’s what Apple calls their partitions) from operating systems other than Apple’s own.

Why would I want to do that ? Well, I normally wouldn’t … but yesterday I was in a hurry to get back home from work and needed to copy some files from the OS X machine so that I could work on them at home. What I forgot in a hurry was that the USB stick that I was using had been formatted as an HFS+ volume. I came home and plugged in the USB stick to my home PC and waited and waited for it to get recognized. Windows recognized the stick but refused to read it. That is when I realized my mistake.

I searched online for tools which would let me get my data off the flash drive and let me work on it from my Windows machine.

HFSExplorer is one such small utility designed to do  that.

You can choose to download either the Windows based Installer or the standalone zip file. I chose the zip file, downloaded and extracted the contents to a folder on my PC and plugged in the flash drive that I wanted to read the data from.

HFSExplorer

When you run hfsexplorer.exe for the first time, you’ll see an empty windows explorer styled two pane window. hfsexplorer displays only HFS/HFS+ volumes (and not your regular windows filesystem) and so you need to first point it to the volumes you want it to read.

Click on File->Load file sytem from device.

HFSExplorer

I’ve found that HFSExplorer is pretty good at auto detecting HFS volumes and so click on autodetect and when it detects your HFS volume,Click on Load.

That’s it. HFSExplorer will now display a list of all the files on the HFS volume that you selected. You can click on Extract to copy the files from the HFS volume to your local disk.

HFSExplorer

The only feature missing from HFSExplorer right now is the ability to write to HFS/HFS+ volumes. So, what you see above is basically a read-only view of the file system. If you need write access to your files, though, you’re out of luck here – Atleast if you use Windows.

If you use Linux, on the other hand, things are slightly better.

Most Linux distributions (I use Debian) come with a driver to read (and optionally write to) HFS+ volumes. The driver is called hfsplus and to use it you have to give the following command.

mount –t hfsplus <HFS volume device name> <mount point>

The volume name will be something of the form of /dev/sdb1, sdb2 or something else depending on the configuration of your machine. You can see the exact name on your system by using the fdisk –l command. That’ll show you a list of all the drives connected to your system.

The above mount command will give you only read access to the HFS+ volume. Write access is still experimental but (in my limited tests), I’ve found it to work pretty well. To enable write access, use the mount command with the force option.

mount –t hfsplus –o force <HFS volume device name> <mount point>

That is all there is to read (and write) Mac volumes on Windows and Linux.

5 thoughts on “How to read HFS+ volumes on Windows

  1. Hi
    Thanks the posting. I was wondering if you had any suggestions for when devices are not auto-detected? I am trying to access an external hardrive that has been formatted using HFS. I plug the hard drive to my computer using a USB cable and run HFS explorer but for some reason the program doesn’t realize that it is there.
    I don’t see the drive listed under My Computer. But oddly enough Vista does know that the hard drive is plugged in because when I go to eject the USB it does say “Mass storage device”. So it is puzzling that I can’t see it in MyComputer or in HFS explorer.

    Any thoughts? The hard drive manufacturer is FANTOM. Not sure if that makes a difference.
    Thanks
    Adrian

  2. @Adrian: I’ve never heard of this hard drive manufacturer but I used an HFS+ formatted USB flash drive and that was recognized properly. I don’t have access to an external USB drive to test this right now.

    Sorry, but I can’t help you with this

  3. I don’t suppose Shaminder will be back to read it but for those who come here looking for the answer: I had to remove (disable, not uninstall) Daeomon manager (utilty that allows you to mount iso files as virtual disks) because that apparently interferes with the autodetect feature. After that, autodetect worked. Oh and I also got that missing DLL error, the program boots a few seconds after that.

    There ya go, just contributed to the sum of human knowledge. There’s a first for everything.

  4. Thanks mate. You are a star. You saved the day for me after my Mac crashed and I had to use a Windows system to work with temporarily. I have my impotrtant files on a USB stick formated with HFS+. I Tried Macdrive, I tried Paragon HFS+. None worked. But HFXExplorer did the job perfectly. Great stuff!

  5. Hi Sharninder

    Saved me finally! Needed to backup HFS+ partition in windows! Thanks a lot!
    BTW my USB 3.0 device wasn’t detect either! So I just used the default option in the Specify device name box and it picked it up!

    Thanks again
    Tim

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