So I just got my first Mac. After getting everything set up just the way I wanted it I decided to install Steam. When I opened Steam it said something about not supporting case-sensitive file systems...

I did some googling and found that Steam won't be the only application that gives me this trouble. Photoshop (when I eventually install it) doesn't support case-sensitive file systems either. I'm sure there are other applications as well.

There is at least a work around for Steam, but it involves disc images and symbolic links. Not very fun. It works, but it's not very fun (and Steam is supposed to be all about fun, no?). I am not aware of any work arounds for Photoshop.

So here's my question. Can I boot into the disk utility, format the drive to be case-insensitive, and then restore from time machine? Are there any technical limitations that would prevent me from doing this? I haven't named anything like Folder 1 and folder 1 yet, so I am not aware of any collisions that would show up.

  • The Operating System is case sensitive. So if you could magically turn that off somehow I would imagine at the very best you would have to deal with file name collisions. At worst it would just plain be broken.
    – EBGreen
    Jan 19, 2012 at 19:13
  • Are you sure you need to convert your entire filesystem? Maybe you can get away with creating a case-insensitive disk image (.dmg) and running it from there?
    – Lenny T
    Mar 25, 2013 at 11:57
  • @EBGreen different parts of the "Operating System" are case sensitive or case insensitive. The default filesystem is case insensitive, although you can specify a disc to be formatted case-sensitively for better unix compatibility. Unfortunately, many apps are broken - they assume you keep the defaults.
    – rjmunro
    Jul 28, 2014 at 11:05

5 Answers 5


It looks like you can restore from time machine to a case-insensitive file system from a case-sensitive one. See Apple Forums here.

I would highly recommend that you perform a total system backup using Carbon Copy Cloner.

Carbon Copy Cloner does support restoring to a case-insensitive system from a case-sensitive one - see this.

In fact, I would recommend CCC over TM, but you should use what you feel comfortable with. I would also boot to the CCC image and make sure all my stuff was there before I wiped my internal drive and did the restore. CCC makes a bootable back up (which is another reason it's awesome).

  • Just slightly before you posted this I went ahead and started the process knowing that in the worst case I would just have to restore to a case-sensitive file system. I formatted the drive to a case-insensitive file system and time machine is currently restoring and hasn't made a fuss yet. I'll post the end result when everything is said and done.
    – knpwrs
    Jan 19, 2012 at 20:35
  • 2
    The restore just finished and the restore process turned the partition back into a case-sensitive file system. So it appears time machine will not work.
    – knpwrs
    Jan 19, 2012 at 21:19
  • 2
    Then I highly recommend you use CCC.
    – skub
    Jan 19, 2012 at 21:34
  • Could you elaborate on some of the features of CCC that make it worth using over Time Machine for future reference?
    – knpwrs
    Jan 20, 2012 at 0:16
  • You can actually use both on the same drive. You can boot right to the CCC drive and either attempt to recover the Mac with in OS X, or you can clone all the data back to the Mac to rebuild everything. I use both Time Machine and CCC on the same drive. Here is a good post at Apple Forums; discussions.apple.com/thread/2749688?start=0&tstart=0
    – skub
    Jan 20, 2012 at 1:12

I haven't used it, but iPartition claims to be able to do nondestructive conversion between case-sensitive and case-insensitive HFS+.

  • 2
    Just bought and tried iPartition. Worked like a charm. OSX 10.8. Thanks!
    – favoretti
    Nov 20, 2012 at 18:00
  • 3
    Just a little update, that iPartition is now 100% FREE as it is no longer being maintained, but also that it does NOT support the new Apple file system common these days.
    – sean.boyer
    Sep 21, 2019 at 14:58

Supposing the program you're using is just insisting on having a case-insensitive FS while your data is on a case-sensitive FS, you can sometimes get away with just mirroring the directory structure over to the case-insensitive FS, and use symbolic links for the files. This way you avoid duplicating potentially large or numerous files.

The "lndir" command from the X11 distribution for OSX does just that (in Mountain Lion this is in Xquartz, which you can get from http://xquartz.macosforge.org/landing/).

For instance, consider you want to clone Foo.app (which resides in a case-sensitive FS) to a case-insensitive FS, which we assume here to be the root filesystem, you might do something like:

$ cd $FOO_APP_BASE_DIR                       # Foo.app's parent directory
$ lndir $PWD/Foo.app /Applications/Foo.app   # clone it into /Applications

You may now open /Applications/Foo.app and it won't complain about case-sensitivity.


Maybe there's no need to reformat your case sensitive fs to run apps that require a case sensitive fs;

You can create a case insensitive disk image in the disk utility (i use a sparse bundle), then drag the application in that disk image and run it.

That allowed me to run Photoshop. I usually use a sparse bundle; There was a reason I wanted a case sensitive host fs.


Solution Can't install Photoshop on case-sensitive hard drive?

  1. Purchase and install iPartition ($70, but worth it if it's your only solution)
  2. In iPartition, do a Create Boot Disk
  3. Insert your installer disk to make a boot disk from it
  4. Insert blank DVD-R to create boot disk through iPartition
  5. Restart computer, with boot disk inserted and holding "C" key on keyboard until progress spinner thing shows at start-up
  6. iPartition should automatically load. Choose "Make Case Insensitive" from one of the drop-down menus
  7. Let it complete this process...
  8. Quit iPartition and allow computer to restart, now from your "Case Insensitive" hard drive
  9. Install Photoshop as normal
  10. Drink beer. Celebrate.
  • This doesn't directly answer the question being asked, and it doesn't explain why one should use iPartition instead of the approach being asked about in the question. And, why iPartition in particular? [Reads later answers.] For example, superuser.com/a/380376/81175 actually provides an answer and explains why one should use iPartition.
    – Chris Page
    Jun 13, 2016 at 6:49

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