How to Reformat an APFS drive as HFS+ with Disk Utility

How to Reformat an APFS Drive as HFS+ with Disk Utility

Mac OS X System AdministrationWith MacOS X High Sierra 10.13 Apple moved from MacOS Extended (Journaled) also known as HFS+ to a new disk format Apple File System known as APFS that allows higher performance on state of the art solid state drives (SSD). From MacOS X High Sierra and newer all internal system SSD’s are automatically formatted as APFS volumes without the option to format them as the older HFS+. Normally this is fine because APFS allows better performance of an SSD. However there are a few instances where this can cause problems. So there are some cases where you may want to reformat an APFS drive as HFS+.

Apple Service Often Erases and Upgrades MacOS X

I recently ran into just such an issue. I had MacOS X Sierra running on a MacBook Pro because some older software that I still use wasn’t compatible with newer systems. The battery was failing and I needed to bring it in for repairs. I knew that sometimes during repairs they wipe the contents of the internal drive. So I backed up the entire SSD onto an external Time Machine RAID drive before bringing the system in for repairs. I wrote on the repair order and asked the Apple genius to try to just replace the battery (which requires the entire top case on this model) without upgrading the system on the drive because I still use older software. They said they would include that on the repair order but couldn’t guarantee anything.

When I received the repaired MacBook Pro in only a few days, they had indeed wiped the SSD and installed MacOS X Catalina. I thought, OK, no problem, I have an entire Time Machine backup so I’ll just wipe it and reinstall from Time Machine. I had used Time Machine before and it’s extremely simple and robust.

Restoring MacOS X from a Time Machine Backup

I booted into recovery mode with command-R and attempted a Time Machine system restore. Unfortunately I was greeted with a challenge in the following error message:

“The system can’t be restored onto this disk because HFS systems can’t be restored to space sharing APFS volumes. Reinstall macOS on this disk and then use Migration Assistant to transfer data from your backup assistant.”

MacOS X Catalina forces the internal drive to be formatted as APFS and Time Machine is not able to restore an HFS+ system backup onto an APFS formatted drive. It also gives no option to simply reformat the drive to HFS+ before restoring the system.

No Easy Option to Simply Reformat an APFS Drive as HFS+

So I then went into Disk Utility and figured I’d just reformat the drive as HFS+ manually first. Unfortunately Disk Utility doesn’t give you the option to do that on a drive that’s already formatted as APFS. Since this recovery mode was running on Catalina I figured maybe the Catalina Disk Utility doesn’t give an HFS+ option for the internal drive. So I next tried Internet recovery mode by booting with option-command-R held down. I was hoping this would allow me to format and install the original version of the MacOS that came with this MacBook Pro. Unfortunately that also booted into the current version of MacOS Catalina.

I had an external hard drive with various partitions of previous MacOS systems. The version of Sierra I had was before this MacBook Pro was released and wouldn’t boot it. So I booted into MacOS X High Sierra with the external drive instead and was finally able to use Disk Utility to reformat the drive with HFS+.

How to Reformat an APFS Drive as HFS+ with Disk Utility

The trick to get Disk Utility to reformat an APFS drive as HFS+ is that you first have to remove all the APFS partitions from the drive. Once all APFS partitions/volumes are gone, then it should allow you to reformat the drive as HFS+. I used the following steps in Disk Utility.


  1. First I deleted the APFS volume: Macintosh HD – Data
  2. Next I deleted the container APFS volume: Macintosh HD
  3. Then the internal SSD drive disappeared from the list in Disk Utility
  4. I quit Disk Utility and then went back into it.
  5. The internal SSD then showed up as: Container disk1
  6. I then selected Container disk1 and erased.
  7. This then allowed me to select: MacOS Extended (Journaled) [Which is HFS+]

Once the internal SSD was reformatted as HFS+ I was then able to restore from Time Machine without any further problems.

In my research I did come across a number of posts that showed how to do this in terminal. But these steps in Disk Utility are easier and probably safer for most people who are not familiar using Terminal or Unix/Linux commands.

I hope this post helps someone who finds themselves in a similar situation!

If you enjoyed or found this post useful please support our efforts by supporting our sponsors, commenting and/or sharing. As an Amazon Affiliate we may earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you, from any purchases made after clicking links on this site.

Thank you for your support!

DreamLight Can Design an Award-winning Web Site for You

New WordPress Website SampleDreamLight can develop an award-winning WordPress website for you. We can work closely with your marketing team to update your existing Web site that may be outdated or to design a brand new custom WordPress website. In addition to leveraging SEO as discussed above, we design all our custom WordPress websites to be fully responsive. As a result the overall design layout automatically re-flows on-the-fly to take advantage of modern mobile devices. As multimedia experts we can also create a wide range of integrated branded marketing content for your website to help it really stand out, including: 2D/3D digital design, illustration, animation, interactive multimedia or even web application development.

Contact us for more information about designing a custom WordPress website or to explore your specific needs.

Request a Free Quote!

Winning Websites + Great Graphics

6 Responses

  1. Roger H
    | Reply

    Hi Michael, many thanks for this post, it allowed me to revert to High Sierra. I installed OSX on an external HDD disk, booted from that, then deleted the MacBook APFS volumes and container. Final part was to restore the Time Machine backup. It works perfectly. All the best. Roger

    • Hi Roger, I’m glad it helped! It took me a while to figure it all out and work through the process, so I figured others would probably find it useful to have a road map if they ran into the same issue.

  2. Trevor M
    | Reply

    I just tried doing this but on a computer with an HDD not a SSD. Having trouble reformatting the Container disk1 to HFS+ – it’s giving me the error that I cannot change it to a HFS+. Do you have any input on how to do this on an HDD rather than SSD? I followed the instructions to a T. Thankfully I have a backup in case I just royally screwed myself over.

    • Sorry, I never tried it on an HDD, only on an SSD. So I’m not sure if the process would be different. At what step does it not work and what are the results?

  3. Andrew H
    | Reply

    Wow! This post saved my life! I cannot believe how difficult Apple made it to go back to previous OS! I bought a new(er) mac and migrated everything from my old mac into the “Big Sur” system installed on the new Mac and it is horrible! slow, buggy, apps crashing all the time – tried to restore to my old system from time machine and got the SAME APFS notification that you did – did a search – found your post – followed your direction and my new mac is now being restored to an OS that actually works. Thanks man – you’re the best!

    • Thanks Andrew! I’m glad it helped! I had difficulty doing it myself so once I got it done I figured others would have the same problem, so I made the post.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.