WWDC's biggest disappointment

There were many positive developments unveiled at Apple's recent WWDC. But one major piece of 1980s technology at the center of the Mac and iOS stack needs replacement. Tech rarely gets better with age.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

Can you think of another technology from 1985 that is still central to your Mac? Me neither.

But HFS, the Mac/iOS file system, dates from 1985 - the early years of the Mac - and was lightly updated to become HFS+ in 1998, three years before Mac OS X debuted. HFS+ gave us 32 bit block addresses, longer file names and Unicode, but the underlying architecture remains 1985.

That's why the biggest disappointment of this year's WWDC is that no new file system was announced. Apple knows they have a problem: they announced ZFS on Mac Server back in 2007 before licensing issues and a lawsuit caused them to decommit.

Right. Seven years ago. And still nothing better.

What's the problem?
The problem is that with users commonly storing millions of files, the bit rot inherent in storage - remember, the Universe hates your data - goes uncorrected and undetected. Until you try to access the file and you can't.

At this point someone will comment that they've never seen the problem. Of course, how could you unless you try to open every file on your system? Or realize that when an app or file won't open it is because of bit rot.

That's why I find this recent post from Aymeric Barthe especially interesting. He compared 15,264 photos that he'd kept for years on both his Mac and online. He wrote a script to compare the two sets of files.

I ran the shasum commmand line tool to compute SHA1 hashes of every single file in the backup folder, except .DS_Store files. Then, I ran shasum in verify mode to check the files on my main volume against the hashes. Differences either indicate voluntary modifications (which did not apply in my case), or corruptions courtesy of HFS+ (which was my case).

He found that HFS+ had corrupted 28 files. The right answer for a file system is zero. Not a large number, you think? What if one of them was your favorite family photo or video?

The Storage Bits take
You can test HFS+ yourself. It simply isn't up to the standards of modern file systems such as the superior technology of Microsoft's NTFS.

That's why I'm disappointed that Apple hasn't replaced HFS+. Unix was designed so new file systems could be easily dropped in.

But on the Mac we'll be celebrating(?) HFS's 30th anniversary in a few short months. It's time for a change.

Comments welcome, of course. 

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