Mac: APFS volume or partition - their advantages and disadvantages

To test current beta versions or two to install different macOS editions in parallel, you can create APFS volumes on the Mac hard drive instead of creating partitions. The advantage is that the partition takes up as much space as it needs, so you don't have to reserve a fixed storage quota for it in advance. But are there also disadvantages? Sure there are. That's why I have put together a comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of APFS volumes and hard drive partitions on the Apple Mac in this little guide. If you have any questions or suggestions, just leave a comment.

There are some advantages to the APFS volume, but there are also disadvantages. If you use a hard drive partition on the Apple Mac, you can z. B. Install Windows or Linux.

There are some advantages to the APFS volume, but there are also disadvantages. If you use a hard drive partition on the Apple Mac, you can z. B. Install Windows or Linux.

APFS volume from macOS (High) Sierra

While some versions of macOS 10.12 Sierra are compatible with APFS and corresponding ones as well Portcommands and volume functions can be used, the file system is particularly recommended for macOS 10.13 High Sierra and higher. Of course, the newer Mac operating systems can also be installed and used on an APFS volume; ie: macOS 10.14 Mojave and macOS 10.15 Catalina. In these versions, it is for the side-by-side installation of another Mac operating system or a Beta version only necessary to create a volume; a quick and easy measure. You can find instructions with the link from the introduction ;)

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Advantages and disadvantages of APFS volumes on the Mac

With the simple procedure via the hard disk service program, every user can easily ensure that, for example, apps that are no longer supported are running again, even though the latest operating system is installed. Because where 32-bit software is no longer supported under Catalina, it still runs under Mojave. However, it is not possible to install another operating system such as Linux or Microsoft Windows on an APFS volume because they require a FAT system (e.g. exFAT) or NTFS.


APFS volume benefits APFS volume disadvantages
Easy to set up Allows few individual settings
Fast creation Not suitable for macOS 10.12.6 Sierra or older
Dynamic access to storage space Not suitable for Windows, Linux or others
Also good to use for beginners Only from 10.13 High Sierra for Fusion Drives or HDD hard drives
Optimized for use with SSD memories and hard drives Can cause problems with Time Machine backups

Hard disk partition for more individual use

Partitioning a hard drive is ideal for experienced users if they want to use a different file system and a different or older operating system on the newly created partition. However, you have to know about the properties of the systems, the formatting and the required memory. How much storage space do the system, apps and files require? How much should you leave free for the other partitions? All of this flows into the preparatory work. 

Advantages and disadvantages of Mac hard drive partitions

Even if it is a little more complex, there are - if necessary and desired by the user - more options for using the specially allocated hard disk space. If not only Mojave is to be installed next to Catalina or perhaps High Sierra, but a completely different system, then the partition is preferable to the volume. In the following I have compiled an overview for you.

Hard drive partition advantages Hard drive partition disadvantages
Individual allocation of file system and formatting / partition table More background knowledge and planning required
Installation of older Mac OS as well as Windows, Linux or similar possible Fixed storage space on the hard disk
Partition can be changed again in the disk utility Resolving an APFS volume is currently only possible via the terminal
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  1. BlueFalcon says:

    You did not mention a "disadvantage", that if you have formatted an external SSD with APFS, macOS no longer offers the possibility to bring it back to a different format via the hard disk service program. To do this, you need to reach for the terminal.

  2. BlueFalcon says:

    As far as I understand, you can delete an APFS from its container, but the FDP does not offer the possibility to reformat the SSD once it has been formatted (deleted) with APFS. You can then only delete the APFS volume and create a new, completely empty one

    (I prefer not to test this on my hard-to-find SSD)

    • BlueFalcon says:

      I found a "solution" ...

      start from an external medium, if necessary install stick, not recovery partition ...
      Go to Disk Utility and set it to show on all devices.
      Deactivate APFS volume (system drive to be deleted).
      Remove the APFS volume from the container (there is also a button with a +/- symbol at the top left).
      You can then reformat the container in HFS +, if necessary repartition the drive in HFS + (otherwise errors will be displayed when checking with first aid).

      So it is probably a bit more complicated, but possible.

    • sir appleot says:

      Ah ok! I wouldn't test that either. : D A partition therefore still offers certain advantages ... you know what you have! : D

  3. TT says:

    When it comes to the disadvantages of an APFS volume, it says somewhat succinctly: "Can cause problems with Time Machine backups" ...

    Is it possible to find out more about this under certain circumstances?

    So far I've always made 3–4 real hard drive partitions on all Macs, but just put a new iMac "out of the box" into operation and made a few initial setups without partitioning beforehand, because mine in and of itself has always been very good fitter and reliable "medium-sized" Apple dealer (ie none of the big players) has repeatedly assured that "you no longer need" (like the occasional defragmentation of FP, which was not uncommon in the past).

    But now I'm a little bit insecure again ...

    • sir appleot says:

      You can find out where the problematic areas are here in this post ...

      • TT says:

        If I understand the linked post correctly, the problem is apparently more that a Time Machine BackUp TO an APFS-formatted disk can currently cause problems and less because it is from an HFS + -formatted (external) disk to an internal (possibly .APFS formatted) drive to play BACK. Or am I misunderstanding something?

        If, however, currently (only) backing up a TM backup on an (external) APFS disk can be the problem, then formatting the internal disk with APFS - and thus also creating another (virtual) APFS volume there (e.g. for a MacOs other version) there is actually nothing to prevent a conventional partition, especially since from Mojave an APFS volume is required as a start volume anyway.

        But what will then no longer work from Mojave onwards is that a smaller partition of an external HFS + backup disk is equipped with a bootable clone of the startup volume and a larger partition is used for the TM backup, because the Mac then no longer even starts should start from the clone.

        So it is best to have a suitable (smaller) SSD under APFS with a bootable clone of the system that is regularly created and bootable via CCC or similar (although you can exclude “work data folder” and the like from the CCC start clone in order to keep it compact hold) and in addition a normal TM backup on another external HFS + disk, especially for all data that is not "start-relevant", right?

        Admittedly, it sounds a bit more complicated than it was possible and practical before Mojave, but it seems to me the most logical conclusion at the moment.
        Please correct me if I see something fundamentally wrong ...

        • sir appleot says:

          Hi Peter! I understood the article to mean that using Time Machine to back up TO APFS disks is a problem. And that is why a new version of Time Machine is expected that can also use an APFS volume as a target. But I haven't installed Catalina and can't try it out in practice ... maybe it will work. The article is from August 2019 and could be out of date since Catalina came out later.

          • TT says:

            That's exactly how I understood it. Accordingly, I said that it should not be a problem if you format the internal (!) Mac hard disk APFS: You save the TM backup FROM there ON the external disk, which in turn for the reasons mentioned apparently, at least for the time being, it should be better not (also) APFS but HFS + formatted.

            If the external disk is NOT APFS-formatted for the purpose of receiving the TM backup, that would obviously mean that you cannot set up a partition on it from which the Mac (from Mojave) can also start in the event of a problem (because he then needs an APFS startup volume ...).

            As I understand it, this means that at the moment you can no longer get by with ONE external "backup disk" (which is about 1 partition TM and 1 partition start volume), but needs 2 (one dedicated for TM and one for the start volume), if the internal disk doesn't do it anymore ...

            It seems to me whether it makes sense for an APFS-formatted disk (on which NO TM-BackUps should be created) to partition it or to create APFS volumes on it instead (as a kind of "quasi-folder") to be another question.

          • sir appleot says:

            Ah ok! But then you could partition your hard drive, right? Then you would have two volumes on which Time Machine can back up things. Partitioning might make more sense in that case ... but that's just a feeling. : D I may not have made friends with the APFS volumes yet. : D

  4. peter says:

    following question: I had an HFS + partition on the HDD / 1TB. This was with Festpl.Dienstprogr. deleted. How do I manage to add this empty partition to the existing partition I'm working with as normal storage space?
    Many thanks for the help. Peter

    • Jen Kleinholz says:

      Hi Peter! I think you activated the "normal" display where you only see "volumes". You would have to click on the first button in the top bar. There you can toggle between "Show volumes only" and "Show all devices". You select "Show all devices" and then click on the top level of the hard drive and then click on "Delete". Now all existing volumes on the disk are deleted and only one is created, which then has the full size again.

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