Thursday, March 30, 2023

Apple’s Big Gamble: the 6th Birthday of APFS

Howard Oakley (Hacker News):

The downside to this increased complexity is that free space is dynamic and much of it can be temporary and conditional. Apple still has a way to go before users can have confidence in any of the estimates of free space currently available in macOS. This is worst when it’s most critical, such as when trying to update macOS.

What I’ve never seen quantified is the incidence of minor file system errors, and their impact on long-term disk health. As with many other users of HFS+, I was used to running First Aid in Disk Utility and third-party repair tools to fix minor errors, even after the introduction of journalling. Since migrating to APFS, errors have been exceptional, and I have stopped routine maintenance. That isn’t to say that APFS never fails, but the cases that I hear of are extremely rare and unrecoverable.

From its first announcement, APFS has been criticised for its lack of integrity checks on data storage, and lack of redundancy. While file system metadata in APFS do use checksums, there’s no option to protect data using them, nor does APFS provide any scope for a third-party to add integrity checks or redundancy as an extension.


But by far the biggest limitation to APFS is its proprietary secrecy. Although some of its basics have been reversed for third-party products, much remains closely guarded by Apple. This continues to prevent the development of third-party repair and recovery utilities.

I see APFS as a mixed bag:


Update (2023-09-14): Christian Tietze:

Ah yes, the casual macOS morning hang where everything beachballs and no input is accepted anymore for 5 minutes.

David Bureš:

I still have this problem. Turns out it’s related to an external HDD that has beef with the system, because the system just refuses to connect it for 10 minutes. I don’t know why drives specifically are so messed up in macOS.

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Frankly I don't find that the benefits of APFS outweigh its downsides. I like there being snapshots, but I hate that I can't keep them around without it ruining my free disk space and cause errors. So I have a script that runs every ten minutes to automatically delete all local snapshots.

I hate hate hate the signed system volume and separate data partition that we got starting in Catalina. It is not seamless. All it did was introduce bugs. It didn't improve anything. We didn't need more security on the system volume. Why was SIP somehow not enough already?

Have third party tools like DiskWarrior to magically fix a drive is essential. There are no such tools for APFS.

If I had a choice I'd just keep using HFS+ in modern macOS.

The only place where APFS did seem to improve things was remote Time Machine backups. Before I would get the message telling me my backups were damaged and needed to be blown away every 1-3 months. I don't get that with remote APFS backups any longer.

Speaking of things to hate hate hate - calculating free space. I get its complex, but for a drive that's such an important piece of information! I can't tell you how my times different OS tools report difference space calculations, and trying to copy things will report an error even if there is clearly enough space.

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