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Common File Systems in MacOS

The Mac operating system, or MacOS, has seen many different versions throughout the years. Since its original introduction in 2001, it’s been the default operating system of Apple computers and other devices – including the iPhone and the Apple Watch. While it’s not a perfect operating system by any means, and it does have its flaws, the majority of Mac users have touted MacOS for its intuitiveness, its power, and its efficiency. 

Ever since 2017, most of this hardware has utilized the APFS, or Apple File System, to handle the data management portion of MacOS. However, it’s not the only file system that is available to Apple users. Moreover, depending on the age of your device, it might not even be the file system that you’re currently using. 

APFS: Unveiled along with the release of MacOS High Sierra in 2017, APFS was created to address the shortcomings of Mac OS Extended – and it does so in a variety of ways. Not only does it include sophisticated crash protection, which was specifically designed to avoid metadata corruption for maximum resiliency, but it also supports a greater number of maximum files, full disk encryption, and more. While APFS is optimized for use in solid-state drives, it is compatible with traditional, mechanical hard drives. Many SSD users report increases to their hardware’s read and write speeds when using APFS, but some power users actually prefer Mac’s older file system, Mac OS Extended, for a multitude of reasons. 

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Mac OS Extended: Also known as HFS+, the Mac OS Extended file system was originally designed to replace HFS, or the Hierarchical File System, in 1998. It remained the default file system for Mac computers until the introduction of APFS in 2017. It is also used by many iPod MP3 players, too. Since it’s been around for over 20 years, there are many programs and utilities that allow for data backup and recovery. In fact, some users prefer the HFS+ file system over APFS when it comes to data backup and Mac disk recovery – primarily due to the fact that HFS+ is compatible with Apple Time Machine and APFS is not. 

ExFAT: The ExFAT (Extensible File Allocation Table) file system was first introduced by Microsoft in 2006, but it stands out from the other file systems by offering compatibility with both Microsoft Windows and MacOS. For users who frequently share files between Mac and Windows systems, or for those who want to maintain compatibility with any computer made since the turn of the 21st century, the ExFat file system is the preferred format. 

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As you can see, Mac users do have quite a bit of choice when it comes to their computer’s file system – especially on newer machines. Some even prefer to use a combination – such as APFS on their primary hard drive and HFS+ or ExFAT on any additional drives – in order to take advantage of both formats. While the lack of compatibility between APFS and Apple Time Machine is troubling to some users, shortcomings like this can easily be overcome with the use of third-party software. 

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