Mac File System: The Difference Between APFS, Mac OS Extended (HFS+), and ExFAT

This article explains the basics of each mac file system and their key differences.

Every time you decide to partition your hard drive, your Mac computer will ask you to choose the file system. File systems are the methods by which your computer stores and retrieves data on its storage media. With the advancement of technology, more file systems were created, each with its advantages and disadvantages. You can learn what is a file system in the video below:

Video Tutorial- What is a File System

The latest Mac file system is APFS which works best with the internal SSDs that Apple uses. There are also different file systems for macOS, such as HFS+ and exFAT, which have their own upsides. Let’s have a quick look at each file system.

Part 1. Overview of Each Mac File System

Apple File System (APFS): The Apple File System was created by Apple with macOS High Sierra and was optimized to work with their SSDs. It has features that enable better disk space management and can also work with hybrid or mechanical drives too.

macOS Extended (HFS+): This file system was released in 1998 and was the oldest native Mac file system for a long time before APFS was introduced. It is also referred to as HFS Extended or HFS Plus. In contrast with APFS, High Sierra uses HFS+ for hybrid and mechanical drives.

exFAT: The primary difference between exFAT and other Mac file systems is that APFS and HFS+ are only compatible with macOS, but exFAT also works with Windows. As a cross-platform file system, users can use it to move files between their Mac and Windows computers easily.

You may also interested in: Windows File System Explained

Part 2. How to Choose the Right Mac File System for Optimal Results

So, you have three different file systems that you can use for partitioning your hard drives. The following are some tips on how you can choose the best file system for different types of storage media.

1. APFS: Best for Solid State and Flash Drives

APFS is the file system that is most appropriate for flash drives and SSDs. In fact, the macOS High Sierra uses it as the default file system for these two drives. This new file system by Apple has considerable advantages over other file systems particularly Mac OS Extended. For starters, it is much faster at copying and pasting folders than the older file systems and doesn’t take much time in determining the space occupied by a folder on the drive. Moreover, Apple has made extensive reliability improvements for this file system which ensures lesser instances of file corruption than in previous file systems.

While there are countless advantages of APFS, it does have its downsides as well. For instance, you need to have the latest Mac OS, macOS High Sierra, in order to write to this file system. Macs running on older versions of Mac OS won’t be able to utilize this file system. So, if you want the drive to be used on Macs which don’t have macOS High Sierra then you should not format them using APFS. Also, keep in mind that APFS isn’t compatible with Windows so drives formatted with this file system can’t be read by Windows PCs.

2. Mac OS Extended: Best for Mechanical Drives or Drives Used with Older macOS Versions

Before the release of APFS, Mac OS Extended was the file system used by all Macs as their default file system. Even macOS High Sierra utilizes this file system as default for mechanical and hybrid drives. The reason for this is that APFS is not optimized for those drives and doesn’t offer the same benefits as it does for flash and solid-state drives. Even when formatting external drives, it is a better option to go for Mac OS Extended than APFS. Another advantage that this file system has over APFS is its compatibility with Time Machine. Thus, Mac OS Extended is the most suitable file system to be used for formatting backup drives.

So, if you have a drive that is to be used with Macs running on earlier versions of Mac OS than macOS High Sierra, then you should only format it using Mac OS Extended. Moreover, all mechanical drives should be formatted using Mac OS Extended too.

Related Topic: HFS/HFS+ Data Recovery Guide for Mac

3. ExFAT: Best for External Drives Shared with Windows Computers

If you make use of both Windows PCs and Macs and have an external drive which is to be plugged to both, then you can neither use Mac OS Extended or APFS. In such circumstances, you need a cross-platform solution that can be read and written to by both Windows and Mac OS. ExFAT is the best option available to you in this regard. This file system was developed by Microsoft in the year 2006. It allows you to format external drives that need to be used by both Macs and Windows PCs. This file system doesn’t have partition and file size limitations like FAT32, which is the older file system that offers cross-platform compatibility.

While ExFAT is definitely the best cross-platform file system, it does have its faults. For instance, it is vulnerable to file corruption and doesn’t support features like metadata offered by APFS and Mac OS Extended.

File systems are important for making full use of a storage device and determine how data is to be retrieved and saved on them. When you are partitioning or formatting drives, you need to choose a file system of your choice. Usually, there are three options available which include APFS, Mac OS Extended, and ExFAT. Each of these file systems has its own strengths and weaknesses and are different from each other. You need to decide which one is more suitable for your needs and then use it to format your drive.

Read More: Exfat VS Fat32

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