Pros And Cons of APFS The New Apple File System


Ever since the new file system surfaced in the world of Mac, it has been unclear whether it has been good or bad. While there are a lot of good things that can be said about it, there also happen to be several drawbacks. Some of which is rather annoying.

If you are not familiar with what I am referring to, APFS is a new file system that has been introduced by Apple. It has been around for about a year now. If you are a new Mac owner or a new MacBookPro owner, you will notice that when you go into Disk Utility, your file system is no longer HFS+ but APFS.

So what exactly does that mean? What is the change all about?

Well, considering the change, let’s take a look at the pros first.

1. Speed

It is fast. Managing files, copying, and transferring files is insanely fast. For some users with massive files, this could be a very important plus.

2. Security

It contains full single or multi-key encryption to keep all data safe. Again, for many users, this will be a huge benefit when dealing with file sharing and other transfers.

3. Less Corruption

File corruption or metadata corruption is not as common as in HFS+. Nothing can put a damper on a full day of work like discovering a corruption on a data file that may impact your work progress in a negative way.

4. Less Crashing

It has far better crash protection. Nothing brings a project to a screeching halt like a crash. It isn’t always easy to get back to that momentum once the system is back up and running.

Then there are the cons. These seem to be a bit more critical, at least from my perspective.

Cons of APFS

1.  Time Machine

If you plan on using Time Machine on your newly formatted APFS Mac, you might run into problems. That’s because Time Machine backup drives can only be formatted to HFS+ file system and still be read by APFS file system.

2.  Not Supported By Older OS

You would think that if you are creating a new file system that you would sort of want it to be backward compatible with older operating systems, right? Well, of course, you would. However, the APFS is not compatible with all OSX or older Sierra versions of MacOS.

3.  Flash and SSD Optimized

Yes, it works well with flash and SSD based machines. Fusion or hybrid, not so much, except for MacOS Mojave. And when it comes down to regular hard drives, you are not going to see any measurable speed differences at all.

4.  Data Recovery

Data recovery from APFS can be a lot more complicated than from its predecessor HFS+. That is especially true if you are looking to use the software yourself. In fact, the software may not even be able to recognize the file system at all. Professional help would be your next step to follow which translates to mean there will be a larger investment required to recover the data.

There also happen to be several other pros and cons that I haven’t covered in depth here such as… snapshots, integrity checksums or NVRAM utilization. But all of these items would only come into play if you are a more experienced user.

In Conclusion

If you have a brand new Mac or MacBookPro, congratulations. The chances are that the ‘new’ APFS file system was installed into your machine by default. That’s not entirely a bad thing because if you are a Mac user who has no need for or doesn’t intend to use Time Machine or plan to work with older operating systems, for whatever the reason, you’ll be fine. The new file system offers a fair deal of good reasons to have it onboard.

Now, if you would rather have access to Time Machine or you happen to have Macs with older operating systems you want to connect with your new one, the previous HFS+ file system would be a better fit for you.

Again, it really does depend on what you are using your computer for and what you expect it to do for you. My goal here was to share with you a few of the observations I have made in comparing the two file systems. As I indicated above, there are a number of good things about the change to the newer file system and there are a few drawbacks. The type of user you are will determine what impact these changes will have on your overall experience.

About the author: Yevgeniy Kapishon is a hardcore techno enthusiast, a senior data recovery engineer and a blogger at Aesonlabs® Data Recovery Systems, living in Toronto, Canada. In his free time, he likes to wander and explore the back alleys of his neighborhood or carve into his favorite sci-fi flicks.


18 Comments

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  1. Don’t you mean Successor? HFS+ came first; that makes it the Predecessor. APFS came after, that makes it the Successor.

  2. I think you’ve phrased your Time Machine statement slightly misleadingly. You can use Time Machine to back up an APFS-formatted drive, but you can’t use APFS as a backup destination.

  3. There’s an important distinction to be made about Time Machine. It certainly can be used with APFS machines, however, the external Time Machine drive cannot be formatted APFS for it to work. That is expected to change in the future.

  4. Isn’t that just a little misleading “No Time Machine
    If you plan on using Time Machine on your newly formatted APFS Mac, forget about it. It is not going to work. That’s because Time Machine is only supported by the HFS+ file system.”

    1. Time machine is absolutely supported on macs using APFS. Every time. It’s the Time Capsule or your storage that you’re storing time machine backups TO that doesn’t work.

      In other words, you can format an external SSD using APFS and then use it as a target for Time Machine.

      Also, Fusion drives are supported. I have a 3TB drive that’s partitioned into a 1TB Boot Camp and 2TB APFS. It’s working great other than Boot Camp for Windows doesn’t see it as a valid start up device (BC Control Panel for Windows doesn’t recognize APFS volumes.. period…)
      But, you can always hold down the option key to switch between Winblows and Mojave.

    2. CORRECTION: In other words, you can’t format an external SSD using APFS and then use it as a target for Time Machine.

    3. But you imply in the article that a Mac using APFS can’t backup via TimeMachine. Very misleading and unimportant for most people as is the concern for data recovery due to the fact that APFS is encrypted. HFS+ encrypted volumes were also difficult to recover.

    4. And is true, if a person purchases the Time Machine and formats it to the same files system used as OS.

      As far as the data recovery concerns with the encryption, I just can’t seem to find myself mentioning that anywhere in the article.

  5. Point 3 in Cons is incorrect. With macOS Mojave, Fusion drives are supported.

    “For starters, any Mac that wasn’t automatically switched to APFS last year will get switched when you upgrade to Mojave—even installing Mojave on an external HFS+ volume now converts it to APFS. This includes Macs with spinning hard drives (mostly older Macs, though some current iMacs and Mac Minis still ship with HDDs, weird as that is for top-shelf computers in 2018) and Fusion Drives. That’s good news for anyone with a Fusion Drive, since Apple implemented some APFS features specifically to benefit them.”

    See https://arstechnica.com/features/2018/09/macos-10-14-mojave-the-ars-technica-review/3/

  6. Uh, “Predecessor’ in the title suggests that APFS preceded, or came before HFS+. This is not only incorrect but entirely contradictory to the article. Also the comment regarding Time Machine were incomplete. A Time Machine volume can not be formatted as a APFS volume, but an APFS volume can be backed up via Time Machine to a HFS+ formatted volume.

    Fusion drives have been supported since the release of Mojave.

    Also, Tech Tool Pro 11 now supports APFS.

    Not well done.

  7. I can’t tell whether there is a fundamental misunderstanding of Time Machine here or just some problems with the English language. At worst, you’re repeating an early misunderstanding of how APFS and Time Machine work together (very well, in fact), and this has been corrected elsewhere numerous times. At best, you’re conflating the use of two different formats, depending on what the volume is used for, as a problem. It’s not.

    1. Re: “…if a person purchases the Time Machine and formats it to the same files system used as OS.”
    First of all, one doesn’t “purchase” Time Machine. It’s a feature of MacOS. It’s simply there, and you either use it or you don’t. Did you mean if one purchases an external drive with intent to use it as a Time Machine backup volume? If so, that’s completely different.

    While it is true that a Mac’s stock SSD (or even HD) can be formatted to APFS (or comes that way in the first place) and an external volume to be used with Time Machine must be formatted as HFS+ (for now, at least), it’s not a big deal. Time Machine will state upfront that an APFS volume needs to be reformatted to HFS+, so you reformat it, and you’re done. It’s very simple, and it simply works. The fact that you have two different volumes using two different formats is practically irrelevant.

    2. Re: “If you plan on using Time Machine on your newly formatted APFS Mac, forget about it.”
    As written, this statement implies something that is factually incorrect. The intent and reality are that you use Time Machine with a volume that is WITH your Mac, not literally ON (or in, or physically a part of) your Mac.

    All three of my Macs have their main drives formated as APFS, and all three of them successfully use Time Machine full-time. The Time Machine volumes are formatted as HFS+, and they work seamlessly with the Mac whose main SSDs are all formatted as APFS. This gives me speed where I need it (in the APFS-formatted SSD), and vast, inexpensive capacity where I want it (the HFS+-formatted HDs).

    Keep in mind that APFS is optimized for Flash Storage to begin with, not for physical spinning discs. Physical spinning discs have been found to perform worse under APFS than under HFS+ due to the fragmentation that can occur (which is not really a problem with Flash-based storage). Because the overhwelming majority of Time Machine backup volumes in use today are very large, inexpensive, slow physical spinning discs, it makes sense to use the format that is best suited for that technology.

    Time Machine volumes are recommended to be separate volumes anyway, and usually external devices . This is so that if your Mac is destroyed/stolen/lost, your Time Machine backup(s) should be safe because they’re on a completely separate device.

    But if you’re not even going to fix the incorrect use of the word “Predeccesor” in your headline, then all hope is lost anyway.

  8. “But to be specific, it has no support for Fusion drives whatsoeve”.

    Not true. Fusion support was added months ago in 10.4