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Apple APFS

A lot of notes here are as of macOS 10.13, and don't apply specifically to any other devices that run APFS.

APFS got some big bumps in macOS 12, including big snapshot improvements.


$ diskutil apfs
2017-11-04 18:23:55-0700
Usage:  diskutil [quiet] ap[fs] <verb> <options>
        where <verb> is as follows:

     list                (Show status of all current APFS Containers)
     convert             (Nondestructively convert from HFS to APFS)
     create              (Create a new APFS Container with one APFS Volume)
     createContainer     (Create a new empty APFS Container)
     deleteContainer     (Delete an APFS Container and reformat disks to HFS)
     resizeContainer     (Resize an APFS Container and its disk space usage)
     addVolume           (Export a new APFS Volume from an APFS Container)
     deleteVolume        (Remove an APFS Volume from its APFS Container)
     eraseVolume         (Erase contents of, but keep, an APFS Volume)
     changeVolumeRole    (Change the Role metadata bits of an APFS Volume)
     unlockVolume        (Unlock an encrypted APFS Volume which is locked)
     lockVolume          (Lock an encrypted APFS Volume (diskutil unmount))
     listCryptoUsers     (List cryptographic users of encrypted APFS Volume)
     changePassphrase    (Change the passphrase of a cryptographic user)
     setPassphraseHint   (Set or clear passphrase hint of a cryptographic user)
     encryptVolume       (Start async encryption of an unencrypted APFS Volume)
     decryptVolume       (Start async decryption of an encrypted APFS Volume)
     updatePreboot       (Update the APFS Volume's related APFS Preboot Volume)

diskutil apfs <verb> with no options will provide help on that verb

File clones

APFS supports deduplicated file copies, which it calls clonefiles. Copying a file by option-dragging it in Finder creates a clonefile. To create a clonefile on the CLI use cp -c src dst. Creating clonefiless of any size file is instantaneous because no file data is actually being copied. This differs from hard links because if you modify the clone, only the new blocks will be written to disk, and the source of the cloned file will not be modified.


Snapshots appear to be tied pretty directly to Time Machine, and do not appear to be general purpose. There appear to be many limitations in how they can be used, and what information you can get about them.

There was previously a tool called apfs_snapshot but it was removed before macOS 10.13 was released.

Create a snapshot

You cannot choose a name for your snapshot, it is tied to the date the snapshot was taken in the form of YYYY-MM-DD-HHMMSS, or date "+%Y-%m-%d-%H%M%S"

$ sudo tmutil localsnapshot
NOTE: local snapshots are considered purgeable and may be removed at any time by deleted(8).
Created local snapshot with date: 2021-08-23-101843

Show snapshots

$ sudo tmutil listlocalsnapshots /

Mount a snapshot

The easiest way to mount snapshots is to open Time and browse backwards in time. This will mount your snapshots at /Volumes/$HOSTNAME/$SNAPSHOT_DATE/Data or a similar path.

If you just want to mount a single snapshot, fill in $snapshot_name using one of the lines from tmutil listlocalsnapshots /, then:

mkdir apfs_snap
mount_apfs -o nobrowse,ro -s "$snapshot_name" /System/Volumes/data "$PWD/apfs_snap"

Older version of macOS have a slightly different syntax

mkdir apfs_snap
sudo mount_apfs -s "$snapshot_name" / "${PWD}/apfs_snap"

Delete a snapshot

You can only delete snapshots based off of their date.

$ sudo tmutil deletelocalsnapshots 2017-11-04-183813
Deleted local snapshot '2017-11-04-183813'

Delete all snapshots

/usr/bin/tmutil listlocalsnapshots / |
grep -oE '2[0-9]{3}-[0-9]{2}-[0-9]{2}-[0-9]{6}'
while read -r snap ; do
  tmutil deletelocalsnapshots "${snap##*.}"

Thin out snapshots

On the given drive, reclaim the given space by thinning out snapshots. As of tmutil 4.0.0, you cannot use any data unit other than bytes. (EG: 1G or 1GB will not work)

$ sudo tmutil thinlocalsnapshots / 250000000
Thinned local snapshots:

See also