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HFS+, or Hierarchical File System Plus, is the file system designed by Apple to supersede (classic) HFS.

HFS+ was first introduced with Mac OS 8.1, one of the biggest differences was the lower allocation block size of 4 KiB (4096 bytes), which increased performance and lowered fragmentation (See: Technical Note TN1121). It also implemented Unicode (rather than Mac proprietary encoding formats) for naming files. HFSX is a variant of HSF+ that is case sensitive.

Mac OS X 10.6, dropped support for formatting or writing (classic) HFS and macOS 10.15 can no longer read (classic) HFS.


There are structurally many differences between HFS and HFS+, which are listed below (Also see: Technical Note TN1150).

Feature HFS HFS Plus Benefit/Comment
User visible name Mac OS Standard Mac OS Extended
Number of allocation blocks 16 bits worth 32 bits worth Radical decrease in disk space used on large `                 volumes, and a larger number of files per volume.`
Long file names 31 characters 255 characters Obvious user benefit; also improves `                 cross-platform compatibility`
File name encoding Mac OS encoding (such as MacRoman) Unicode Allows for international-friendly file names, `                 including mixed script names`
File/folder attributes Support for fixed size attributes (FileInfo and `                 ExtendedFileInfo)` Allows for future meta-data extensions Future systems may use metadata for a richer `                 Finder experience`
OS startup support System Folder ID Also supports a dedicated startup file May help non-Mac OS systems to boot from HFS `                 Plus volumes`
catalog node size 512 bytes 4 KiB (4096 bytes) Maintains efficiency in the face of the other `                 changes. (This larger catalog node size is due to` `                 the much longer file names [512 bytes as opposed to` `                 32 bytes], and larger catalog records (because of` `                 more/larger fields)).`
Maximum file size 231 bytes 263 bytes Obvious user benefit, especially for multimedia `                 content creators.`
Hard links Not supported File only
Symbolic links Not supported Directories and files

File system metadata file entries

An HFS volume contains multiple special file entries:

  1. Catalog file - Describes the folder and file hierarchy of the volume. It is organized as a "balanced tree" for fast and efficient searches
  2. Extents overflow file - Additional extents (contiguous allocation blocks allocated to forks) are stored in a b-tree in this file
  3. Allocation file - Specifies whether an allocation block is free (similar to \$Bitmap in NTFS). This is stored in a bitmap, specifying a free allocation block with a "clear bit" (introduced in HFS+)
  4. Attributes file - Contains attribute information regarding files or folders (introduced in HFS+)
  5. Startup file - Allows computers to boot that do have built in support for HFS+ file systems (introduced in HFS+)

The first 16 catalog node identifiers (CNIDs) are reserved for special file system metadata file entries. Note that these file entries are not full fledged files, like for example on other file systems like NTFS. These file entries do not appear to have a corresponding entry in the catalog file.


HFS+ also implements journaling, which allows fast recovery in the case of a crash or power outage. According to Apple, "The purpose of the journal is to ensure that when a group of related changes are being made, that either all of those changes are actually made, or none of them are made."

Date and time values

In HFS+ date and time values are stored in an unsigned 32-bit integer containing the number of seconds since January 1, 1904 at 00:00:00 (midnight) UTC (GMT). This is slightly different from HFS where the date and time value are stored using the local time. The maximum representable date is February 6, 2040 at 06:28:15 UTC (GMT). The date values do not account for leap seconds. They do include a leap day in every year that is evenly divisible by four. This is sufficient given that the range of representable dates does not contain 1900 or 2100, neither of which have leap days. Also see: Technical Note TN1150 - HFS Plus Volume Format

Converting HFS/HFS+ date and time values with Python:

import datetime

print datetime.datetime( 1904, 1, 1 ) + datetime.timedelta( seconds=0xCBDAF25B )


Observed on Mac OS 10.15.7

HFS+ allows for the '/' character in file names. On Mac OS, Finder this will be represented as a '/' but in Terminal it is replaced by ':' seeing the same character is used as path segment separator. A file name with a ':' created in Terminal will be shown as '/' in Finder. Finder does not allow the creation of a file containing ':' in the name. A symbolic link created in Terminal to a file with a ':' in name will not convert the ':' character in the link target data. The Linux HFS+ implementation appears to apply a similar conversion logic as Terminal.

HFS+ stores U+2400 as U+0

Also see