Should You Format Your Mac Hard Drive To Be Case Sensitive Or Not Case Sensitive?

Recently I had to fix an issue with my wife’s MacBook Pro by backing up her data, formatting her drive, and restoring her data. But that resulted in several people e-mailing me to ask a question. When I format the drive using Disk Utility, should one use case sensitive or not?

Now this is a good question as Apple doesn’t make this clear. Let me begin to answer this question by explaining the difference between the two as that is more than you think it is. Case sensitive formatting allows files of the same name but some difference in letter case to be in the same directory (or folder in macOS terms). Now that sounds like an advantage, but it isn’t. I say that because the standard drive formatting that comes on any computer from Apple is not case sensitive. And software companies design their software to the Apple standard. Which means that if you format a drive using case sensitive formatting, you run the risk of having your software not work. Examples of this off the top of my head are the Steam client and Adobe products which are known not to play nice with case sensitive formatting. There are likely others as well, which means the safe route in terms of formatting a Mac hard drive is to go with a non case sensitive format.

In closing, I’d like to point you towards this Apple support document that talks about how to format a drive. It hasn’t been updated for High Sierra for whatever reason, but it is very detailed and worth a read.


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