APFS vs. HFS+: Which Format to Use?

Those who use the Disk Utility for partitioning a drive inevitably have to choose between different file systems. The complexity of choice is exacerbated by the introduction of a new file system in 2017—Apple File System (APFS). The system that debuted in iOS 10.3 supplemented its predecessor Mac OS Extended (HFS+), which has been heavily criticized for many years by tech savants. Less sophisticated Mac owners are befuddled by new features of the file system, which make it more difficult to evaluate how it stacks up against its counterpart in terms of performance and usability.

The article has been written to assist Mac users in making an informed choice of a file system.

Which Format is Already in Use?

mac os extended
Source: support.apple.com

Prior to the discussion of respective benefits and drawbacks of APFS and HFS+, it is necessary to find out which format is used by a solid state drive (SSD) or other flash storage device of a Mac owner. To this end:

  1. Go to the Finder and select the storage device;
  2. Click on the File tab and select the Get Info option;
  3. In a window that opens, check the format.

Alternatively, use the System Information utility to discover which format is used by the storage device.

Pros and Cons of HFS+

HFS+ is a dated Mac file system, which was introduced in 1998. The major benefit of the system is that it is supported by all versions of Apple OS. Other pros of using HFS+ are fusion drive support and the ability to access encrypted volumes by all versions of Mac OS X and macOS. Taken into consideration the fact that the system was created two decades ago, it also has major cons, which were addressed in the new system. The drawbacks of HFS+ are the lack of snapshots, no support for dates after 2040, no checksums, and restricted native file support among others.

Pros and Cons of APFS

The introduction of flash-based devices has made it necessary to increase read and write speeds by creating a new system instead of retrofitting the existing one. Therefore, APFS has been developed to eradicate the shortcomings of its predecessor. The key advantages of the new file system are the full-disk encryption, the ability to make point-in-time snapshots, the use of checksums, higher read and write speeds, and the prevention of metadata corruption among others. The cons of APFS are the lack of compression and support of Fusion drives, no NVRAM support, and the inability to access encrypted volumes by OSs other than macOS High Sierra.

Which Format Is Better?

After comparing the two file formats, it is clear that the use of APFS is associated with more benefits than drawbacks. However, given that the earlier versions of Mac OS do not support APFS, their users should opt for the HFS+ format. Additionally, those members of the Apple family who still use mechanical hard drives should format them with HFS+ because the benefits of using the new file format for such devices are not entirely clear. Thus, the choice of the file format hinges on the type of storage device and Mac OS preferred by a user. It should be kept in mind, however, that if the Disk Utility is unable to recognize the type of storage device, it automatically defaults to HFS+.