Formatting A Drive as exFAT on Windows, macOS and Linux

Introduction

In my previous blog post, Sharing a Drive Between Windows, macOS and Linux, I described how to setup the three operating systems to read a drive that had been formatted as exFAT. The exFAT format is readable by all three, and making it easy to share files between different operating systems.

A natural question that follows is, “how do I format a drive as exFAT?”

In this article I’ll show how to format an external drive as exFAT. I’ll be using an 8gb thumb drive, but I’ve used this technique with both thumb drives as well as the larger external multi-terabyte hard drives.

Windows

Windows is the easiest of the three to format a drive for exFAT. First, insert the drive into a USB port. This will typically open the Windows File Explorer, but if not, open it.

Now right click on the drive letter for the USB drive, and click on Format. The format dialog will appear.

In the second drop down you can pick the file system. Use it to select exFAT. You can also enter a new volume label if you want. Simply click the Start button to kick off the format process.

You will of course get a warning that all the data on the drive will be lost, simply click on OK to proceed.

Once done Windows will let you know. Just click OK and your drive is ready to use.

Apple macOS

There’s a few more steps to formatting a drive to exFAT in macOS, but it’s still pretty simple. Start by opening Finder, then go to the Applications. In Applications, open the Utilities folder.

Inside the Utilities, launch the Disk Utility. If you’ve not done so, connect the USB drive you want to format as exFAT.

On the left side of the Disk Utility is a list of drives, click on the USB drive in the list.

Above the drive info area are a series of command buttons. Click on the Erase button. Note you need to click on the icon, not the Erase label.

In the dialog that appears, you can change the label if you wish. The important box is the Format one. You can use the blue arrow to bring up the list, and change it to exFAT.

Once exFAT is selected, you can click the Erase button on the lower right.

Once done, macOS will let you know. Just click Done, and the drive will be ready for you to use.

I’ve used this technique with macOS versions from High Sierra onward.

Linux

For this section, I’m using screen shots from my Kubuntu 20.10 computer. The techniques will work with most Ubuntu/Debian based installs. To make it more portable to other versions, we’ll do most of it using the command line.

Note, these instructions assume you’ve already followed the instructions in my previous blog post, and installed the exFAT utilities.

Start by opening up a terminal window, and entering the following command:

df

Your output will look something like this:

Filesystem     1K-blocks     Used Available Use% Mounted on
tmpfs             805596     1752    803844   1% /run
/dev/sda2      244568380 18388480 213686844   8% /
tmpfs            4027972      128   4027844   1% /dev/shm
tmpfs               5120        4      5116   1% /run/lock
tmpfs               4096        0      4096   0% /sys/fs/cgroup
/dev/sda1         523248     7984    515264   2% /boot/efi
tmpfs             805592      108    805484   1% /run/user/1000
/dev/sdb1        7815648       96   7815552   1% /media/arcanecode/4ECB-E340

For this exercise, I’ll be using the /dev/sdb1 drive which is my 8gb thumb drive.

Before we can proceed, we’ll have to unmount the drive. The command is simple.

sudo umount /dev/sdb1

Now that the drive has been unmounted, we can format it using the mkfs utility.

sudo mkfs.exfat /dev/sdb1

Once formatting is complete, we can check its status using the fsck command.

sudo fsck /dev/sdb1

Your output will vary depending on the drive you formatted, but it will resemble something like this:

fsck from util-linux 2.36
exfatfsck 1.3.0
Checking file system on /dev/sdb1.
File system version           1.0
Sector size                 512 bytes
Cluster size                 32 KB
Volume size                7633 MB
Used space                 3041 KB
Available space            7631 MB
Totally 1 directories and 3 files.
File system checking finished. No errors found.

A benefit of using fsck is that will also remount the drive for you, making it ready to use.

You can verify it again using your systems file explorer. Here I’m using Dolphin, the explorer built into Kubuntu.

Navigate to the drive, right click on it, and pick Properties.

In the properties window it will show you the file system. As you can see, it has been formatted to exFAT.

Conclusion

In this post we saw how to format a drive for exFAT on three operating systems. You can now format a drive using any of the OS’s, and be able to use it across all of them.