If you’re using a Mac or MacBook running macOS High Sierra or later, chances are good that files are stored using the Apple File System (APFS). This file system replaces HFS Plus as Apple’s default file system and is also used on mobile devices running iOS 10.3 and later.
This fact may not concern you at the moment, but if you ever accidentally delete or lose a file you will need to perform APFS data recovery. We are going to show you how to recover individual files or complete partitions using data recovery software tools from disks using APFS.
Wanna skip the theory part and jump right to the recovery guide? Click here.
What is APFS and Where Is It Used?
The Apple File System (APFS) is currently the default filesystem for Apple computers and mobile devices. It replaced HFS+, also known as Mac OS extended, starting with macOS High Sierra and iOS 10.3. APFS provides improved speed, optimization, and data handling functionality over the HFS+ filesystem.
Some of the technical reasons for the improved performance of drives using APFS include:
- Files can be cloned to reduce the cost of copying;
- Free space can be shared between multiple volumes;
- Sparse files don’t allocate empty blocks.
Wow, working with APFS volumes makes it super simple to do a clean installation of macOS!
You can just create a new volume in disk utility, install to it, boot up in it, then delete your old volume.
— Andy Tran | #BLM ✌️🌈🎉 (@nivenhuh) March 26, 2021
These features of the filesystem make it more efficient in handling and storing data and increase the speed with which files are copied and accessed. Taken together, they furnish improved performance over disks using HFS+.
Choosing between filesystems
Depending on the version of iOS or macOS you are using, APFS might be the default filesystem. Since APFS is the default for modern Apple operating systems, it will automatically use this filesystem when formatting devices. You can force it to use the HFS+, and you may need to do so in certain situations.
Use APFS in these cases:
- Internal or external HDD and SSD drives on Macs running High Sierra or later versions of the OS.
- You don’t need to share the data on the device with older systems that do not support APFS.
Use HFS+ in these cases:
- Internal or external HDD and SSD drives on Macs running macOS 10.12.6 Sierra and older.
- You need to share the data in mixed environments that include Macs running macOS 10.12.6 Sierra and older versions of the OS.
Check out our guide for details on recovering data from your Mac’s hard drive. It presents valuable information that can help you get your lost data back from HFS+ or APFS formatted drives.
Can Deleted APFS Data be Recovered?
Yes, deleted APFS data can be recovered with data recovery software as we discuss on this support page on hard drive recovery. Unfortunately, there are circumstances where software solutions will not be able to recover deleted APFS files. Let’s looks at some different scenarios.
- External APFS storage devices – Data recovery software can recover lost and deleted files from external mechanical HDD drives formatted with APFS.
- Internal APFS storage devices – Internal HDD drives formatted with APFS can have their lost data recovered with recovery software. If the drive is an SSD, see the next section.
- SSDs with TRIM enabled/disabled – If TRIM is enabled, you will not be able to recover data from an SSD. When TRIM is disabled, data recovery software can recover data from an SSD in the same way it does with an HDD.
INFORMATION: What is TRIM? TRIM is an Advanced Technology Attachment (ATA) command that enables an operating system to inform a NAND flash solid-state drive which data blocks it can erase because they are no longer in use.
Undelete APFS Data via Data Recovery Software
Data recovery software offers users a reliable method of recovering lost and deleted files from APFS drives. In cases where the drive is an HDD or SSD drive with TRIM disabled, chances are good that you can successfully perform APFS data recovery.
IMPORTANT: We strongly suggest that you stop using the drive that has experienced data loss as soon as you realize you have lost some files. Due to the way macOS deletes data, continued use of the device risks overwriting potentially recoverable data. Once a file has been overwritten, it is impossible to recover the original data.
There are many commercial and freeware data recovery products from which to choose. They vary in characteristics such as price, functionality, recovery results, and usability. Over the years we have used many of these solutions and obtained differing degrees of success. We invite you to view our review of data recovery software tools for Mac.
We like Disk Drill for Mac as our recovery tool and will feature it in our demonstration of how to recover deleted APFS files. The great recovery results and the app’s intuitive and simple interface are two of the reasons we chose this solution to restore our lost data. A more detailed review of Disk Drill can be found on this page.
Recover Specific Files from APFS-Formatted Drive with Disk Drill
The following steps should be used with Disk Drill to recover data from an APFS formatted drive.
- Download and install Disk Drill. To avoid overwriting recoverable data, do not perform the download and installation on the drive that contains the lost data. This means if you are recovering files from your main disk, use an external drive to hold the recovery program.
- If you are recovering data from an external drive, connect it to your Mac.
- Launch Disk Drill and choose the affected drive from the app’s list of available storage devices.
- Click the Search for lost data button to start scanning the drive for recoverable files. You can choose different scanning options, but allowing the tool to use all of its methods will produce the best recovery results.
- Preview the found files as scanning proceeds. You can use filters to limit the displayed results to a specific file or type of file. Select the files you want to retrieve from the list of recoverable data.
- Click the Recover button after making your selections. You will be prompted to choose a safe location for storing the recovered data. Do not use the drive that experienced data loss or you risk overwriting the data you want to retrieve.
Disk Drill provides a straightforward and easy procedure for recovering data from an APFS drive. It’s a powerful recovery tool that allows users with any level of computer experience to successfully recover lost data from APFS drives and virtually any other type of disk-based storage device.
Recover a Complete APFS Volume/Partition Using TestDisk
TestDisk is a freeware data recovery solution that is specifically designed to recover and repair lost or damaged partitions. It’s a powerful tool that gets the job done, but it does have one major drawback. TestDisk employs a command-line interface that is not as easy to use as most commercial alternatives.
Use the following procedure to recover a deleted APFS partition using TestDisk. Please consult our guide to recovering deleted Mac partitions for complete details on how to install the software on your machine. You can also get more detailed information about using TestDisk on its homepage or in our TestDisk review.
- Launch TestDisk from the Terminal app.
- Create a log file if desired to hold technical information and messages about the recovery.
- Select the disk that contained the lost partition.
- Select the partition table type. Usually, the program defaults to the correct type.
- Analyze the current partition table status.
- Search for missing partitions with a Quick or Deep search.
- Perform the partition table recovery.
The command-line interface can be difficult to navigate for non-technical users. For more information about open source data recovery tools, check out our informative guide.
We like TestDisk and its related product, PhotoRec, for the best freeware APFS data recovery solutions. Disk Drill gets our vote for the best commercial tool for its simplicity, excellent recovery results, and reasonable price.
The procedure to recover data from an encrypted drive is the same as for an unencrypted drive once you have unlocked it. Be prepared to provide your unlock password and then follow the steps outlined above for recovering specific files with Disk Drill. Check out this guide for more information on recovering data from encrypted drives.
Data recovery software or a previously created backup can be used to recover a lost or deleted APFS volume or partition. You can use the freeware instructions listed above for TestDisk or use other data recovery solutions. Most reliable tools enable you to recover lost volumes and partitions.
The APFS filesystem is here and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Data recovery software can help recover deleted APFS files in a variety of data loss situations. If you need to retrieve specific data, Disk Drill offers stress-free recovery that gets your files back with just a few clicks. As we have shown, a freeware tool like TestDisk may be the best solution for a lost partition.
Whichever commercial or freeware solution you choose, remember to stop using the affected drive as soon as you discover data loss has occurred. This will avoid overwriting the data you want to restore for the best recovery results.
Robert Agar is the Content Writer & Managing Editor for Handy Recovery. Robert brings over 30 years of experience in data storage, security, compliance, backup, and recovery to the HandyRecovery team. Several years ago, he turned his attention from hands-on technical roles to develop a career as a freelance writer concentrating on technology and its impact on society. Areas of focus include the cloud, data recovery, artificial intelligence, and industrial automation.
Andrey Vasilyev is an Editorial Advisor for Handy Recovery. Andrey is a software engineer expert with extensive expertise in data recovery, computer forensics, and data litigation. Andrey brings over 12 years of experience in software development, database administration, and hardware repair to the team.