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Apple quietly launches next-gen encrypted file system

It's not ready for primetime, but it may prove revolutionary

It didn't get any airtime at the big opening day of the annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), but excitement is building around Apple's next-generation file system.

Early specs show the system will bring your hard drive into the modern era, most notably by supporting native encryption. It will also time-stamp files by nanoseconds (rather than seconds), making it better for modern databases, and take snapshots of the file system, massively reducing the time needed to make backups.

Other interesting features include crash protection, space sharing – which will enable much more flexible partitioning – optimization for solid-state hard drives, and a better system for cleaning up deleted files.

In short, the new Apple File System (APFS) can be expected to bring significant advances in speed and efficiency, and the updating of Apple's file sharing technology, which hasn't changed in nearly 20 years (others, of course, have developed more modern systems that are now 10 years old).

APFS' preliminary information has been released to developers, and sessions on it will take place this week at WWDC. It is scheduled to ship sometime in 2017, meaning that the company may be able to boast big performance improvements in its products toward the end of that year. It is designed to work with all of Apple's operating systems – iOS, watchOS, tvOS and macOS.

There is still a lot of work to be done, however. It is not currently possible to start your computer directly with the file system, and it doesn't work with Apple's current encryption and archiving systems – presumably because it is intended to replace them.

The file system is also case-sensitive and that apparently cannot be disabled, which will lead to all sorts of knock-on compatibility issues. Yep, you will have to buy more Apple gear: a new watch to go with your new phone to sync with your new laptop. Apple is always looking after that bottom line.

Regardless, developers are excited about the possibilities. Find out more at Apple's AFPS developer page. ®

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