Reverting an APFS Drive to HFS+ the Easy Way

Disk Utility Icon

Back in December of 2018 when APFS was brand-new in macOS 10.14 Mojave, The Rocket Yard featured an article showing the rather arduous method of reverting an APFS (Apple File System) drive to the older HFS+ format. One of the commenters on that original post pointed out a few months ago that it’s now possible to perform the APFS to HFS+ conversion without all of the steps, and that’s what this article will show you how to do.



The drive I’ll convert is a 2TB mobile USB-C hard disk. If we launch Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility, we see that the drive is currently set up with APFS:

Disk Utility, showing a 2TB mobile USB-C hard disk formatted with Apple File System (APFS)
Disk Utility, showing a 2TB mobile USB-C hard disk formatted with Apple File System (APFS)

Previously, there was no easy way to do the conversion other than to fire up Terminal and enter a bunch of arcane commands. If I were to try to erase this external volume, the only format that appears is APFS. What do we do?

The View button reveals two choices: Show Only Volumes and Show All Devices
The View button reveals two choices: Show Only Volumes and Show All Devices

Here’s the trick. See that “View” button in the upper left corner of the Disk Utility window (screenshot above)? Click it, and you have a choice of viewing only volumes (the default) or all devices. Select Show All Devices, and the left sidebar changes a bit:

The APFS containers in the volume are now visible
The APFS containers in the volume are now visible

We can now see the APFS container on the external drive volume. To reformat our drive as HFS+, we need to click on “Container disk3” (or whatever your APFS container is named) to select it, then click the Erase button in the Disk Utility toolbar. As you can see when you click the Format pop-up menu, there are many choices available other than APFS:

By selecting the APFS container -- not the volume -- we have the choice to format with HFS+
By selecting the APFS container — not the volume — we have the choice to format with HFS+

We’ll select Mac OS Extended (Journaled), which is the “old” HFS+ format, then click the Erase button. Looking at the container after the Erase is completed, we see that the drive is indeed using the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) HFS+ format.

Our drive is now formatted as HFS+ (Mac OS Extended (Journaled))
Our drive is now formatted as HFS+ (Mac OS Extended (Journaled))

Many thanks to commenter smayer97 for pointing out that the Disk Utility in macOS 10.15 Catalina provides the ability to easily reformat an APFS drive as HFS+.

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Steve Sande
the authorSteve Sande
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Steve is the publisher of Apple World Today, a website providing news, reviews and how-tos for the world of Apple, as well as an author on The Rocket Yard. He's an avid photographer, an FAA-licensed drone pilot, and a really bad guitarist.

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19 Comments

    • You’re welcome. :-)

      P.S. Again, as I have pointed out back in July 2019 (see link way below) this is not limited to Catalina. Mojave can do the same thing using the same steps.

  • Oh crap, my 2019 MBP is going to have APFS on the internal HD, isn’t it?

    So before I Migrate, how do I change the internal drive back to HFS+ ??? I’d guess:

    1) clone w/ SuperDuper running on another computer, with the 2019 computer in Target Disk Mode, to an external drive

    2) reformat 2019 computer while still in Target Disk Mode

    3) Copy from external clone back to 2019 internal drive

  • I’ve noticed that if I have an APFS formatted drive and split the drive to make a partition for Time Machine, Time Machine will make its partition Mac OS Extended (Journaled). Even if I explicitly reformat as APFS, it will change back to Mac OS Extended (Journaled).

    It seems happier that way, so I have stopped fighting it.

    • That is because Time Machine does not currently work with APFS formatted volumes, only HFS+.

      Eventually that will probably change but for the time being a Time Machine volume MUST be HFS+.

    • Because some apps are still not APFS savvy or compatible.

      Also as pointed out by @a, one shortfall is that APFS does NOT make true copies. It only saves the changes for new copies. So other than true backups, you cannot make true duplicates of the same file on the same drive.

      Another problem is that APFS is NOT friendly with mechanical drives because of the way APFS saves files changes…causing a huge amount of fragmentation. Not a problem for SSDs BUT DOES slow down mechanical drives. This has yet to be addressed by Apple (and it is unclear if they will ever address this, though it is REALLY simple in concept…just turn off copy-on-write on mechanical drives…time will tell).

    • Because it does not actually make copies of your files. Just pointers to the changed bits, to save disk space.

      So if some part of a track gets damaged, you may lost ALL the pseudo-copies.

      Totally defeats the purpose of saving multiple copies of your work.

  • The simpler way to get around formatting issues is to plug a mac drive into a windows system which won’t recognize it and will ask to format it. Format (non NTFS) move back to mac and reformat as desired.

    As a side note, when coworkers have problems with windows drives, and can’t access the data because of the restrictive stupidity of the OS, they bring it to me to connect to my mac -oh look the windows drive has all your data you couldn’t recover through windows- copy data to flash drive. Send them back to circle 101 of hell (windows).

  • I recently upgraded to Catalina but want to revert to a previous OS backed up in Time Machine. I tried the normal way via command-R and using the Utilities menu but got an error about APFS not being compatible with HFA and so couldn’t use my Time Machine backup.

    I tried your method above to convert the hard drive (correctly I believe) along with the Apple suggested comment on this page: https://discussions.apple.com/thread/251202759 but was given an error and that the drive could not be converted.

    Do you have any other suggestions? I have an 32 bit app that isn’t usable on Catalina.

  • Thanks for this most useful technique. What needs adding is detail about the effect of hitting the Erase button. Does hitting that button merely convert the file-system, or does it erase everything on that disk? If it erases all data then strong backup advice will save less experienced users much grief.

  • @Steve thanks for noticing my comments on the previous article.

    Just FYI, it has been possible to reformat APFS to HFS since at least Mojave, macOS 10.14.4 (cannot speak to earlier versions of Mojave; that is the first version I noticed after moving from Snow Leopard, Mac OS X 10.6.8 (I know… a big jump). So Catalina is not the first version to offer this ability.

    (my first time commenting to point this out on that article, was July 2019 before Catalina was even out, here:
    https://blog.macsales.com/46896-how-to-revert-a-drive-from-apfs-back-to-hfs/#comment-108900