Apple File System and the Best Way to Connect to Remote File Shares

Apple File System


Recent changes in the file systems used by macOS have brought about some questions about how they might affect Macs being used with Windows networks and file servers. Luckily for the Mac / Windows mixed environment community, these changes have no impact on the users of Acronis Files Connect, who continue to have instant access to all available files shares and DFS resources and enjoy lighting fast search across remote folders.

Apple File System

For some time, the hard drives on Macs have used a file system called HFS+. When Apple introduced macOS 10.12 Sierra in 2016, they included an option to format your Mac’s hard drive with a new file system called Apple File System (APFS). In order to use this file system, you had to completely reformat your Mac and reinstall the OS, and it was not used on newly shipped Macs, so it really only served as a beta for those who were especially motivated to try it out.

With the release of macOS 10.13 High Sierra in 2017, Apple made APFS the default file system for all Macs running this new OS. Any Mac upgraded to 10.13 is automatically converted to use APFS, while keeping all existing data intact for a seamless upgrade.

While this change is invisible to most Mac users, it did have an impact on the Mac’s options for sharing local folders on the network. Macs have long allowed their users to select a local folder on their hard drive and offer it as a network share so that it can be accessed from other computers. In the past, it was also possible to choose between Windows File Sharing (using the SMB file sharing protocol) or an Apple File Sharing (using the AFP protocol). With the introduction of APFS, the Apple File Sharing method became unavailable. This limitation typically does not impact business or educational users, who connect to external file shares on servers and NAS, rather than share out their own personal file shares.

When this change was announced, many in the Mac community feared Apple was removing support for AFP completely. This is thankfully not the case. While not being able to share local folders with AFP, Macs running macOS 10.13 continue to include the expected ability to connect to external AFP file shares. This is especially important because AFP continues to be the most trouble-free way to give Mac users access to file servers and NAS and remains the only option for empowering your users with lightning fast, full-content file search.

This is why Acronis Files Connect is so popular. At its core, Acronis Files Connect is an AFP server that runs on Windows servers and enables Macs to connect to file shares and NAS via AFP and take advantage of all the benefits that this protocol presents (plus many other innovative features such as automated mounting of file shares, simultaneous Spotlight search of multiple shares, easy management of network printers, and much more).

The following Q&A may clarify Acronis Files Connect compatibility a little further:

Does Acronis Files Connect support macOS 10.13 High Sierra?

  • Yes. Acronis Files Connect 10.5.2 is certified to work with macOS 10.13 High Sierra. No changes were needed to support it.

Does Acronis Files Connect work with HFS+ and APFS disks?

  • Yes, it works fine with either format. Some background: In macOS 10.13 High Sierra, Apple added support for a new file system for Mac disks. In addition to the HFS+ system that it's used since 1998, it supports the new Apple File System, written APFS for short. 

What's the difference between APFS and AFP?

  • APFS stands for Apple File System. It's a file system that works on a local Mac disk.
  • AFP stands for Apple Filing Protocol. It's a network protocol.
  • They're very different but easy to confuse because of the similar names.

Is there an AFP limitation with APFS?

  • Yes, but it's irrelevant to Acronis Files Connect. It only limits Mac users who want to share a local folder on a disk formatted with APFS. For these users, the only option is to share over SMB, which has its limitations. AFP is no longer an option for sharing local folders located on the users personal Mac, as you had with HFS+ disks.

    There is, however, no impact on a Mac’s ability to connect to AFP file shares hosted on an Acronis Files Connect server, which is designed to let Mac users search and connect to Windows servers and NAS devices. Acronis Files Connect supports browsing and fast Network Spotlight search for both AFP and SMB files shares. IT admins can choose which protocol they want to use, on a per-server or per-share basis.