Can I format Time Machine in APFS on High Sierra?

Q. Recently, I updated my Mac to APFS file system. Can I format the backup in my Time Machine in APFS as well on High Sierra, for future backup of APFS files?

A. You do not need to change your Time Machine settings after Mac OS High Sierra upgrade, as Time Machine does not support APFS. Leave your Time Machine backup drive as is, in HFS or HFS+ format.

hard driveSince the launch of new Apple File System (APFS) in 2017, Mac users have had many queries related to Time Machine backup file system support, especially after the upgrade to APFS on High Sierra. For now, Apple advises to leave all drives used by Time Machine in HFS or HFS+ format. Therefore, do not change your Time Machine settings after Mac OS High Sierra upgrade as Time Machine does not support APFS.

Read on to find out how to work with Time Machine Backup after APFS upgrade on High Sierra.

What is the new APFS format?

The new Apple upgrade introduces more advanced, faster, and secure APFS, replacing the old default file system HFS+ for all storage devices. APFS is a next-generation file system designed for solid-state drives (SSDs) and other all-flash storage devices. Once you install Mac OS High Sierra on the Mac volume of SSD, it automatically switches to faster APFS format. While traditional hard drives, fusion drives, and non-Mac volumes are not changed to APFS format, they can be converted manually through Disk Utility in Mac OS High Sierra.

How to upgrade external hard drive to APFS

  • Open Disk Utility (Command + Space to open Spotlight)
  • Type Disk Utility
  • Select the drive you want to change
  • Go to ‘Erase’ and select ‘Format as APFS’ from the dropdown menu
  • Click ‘Erase’ to apply your settings

Upgrade to APFS

APFS and Time Machine Backup

After the High Sierra upgrade, your internal SSD drive is converted to APFS while the Time Machine backup drive is on HFS+. As per Apple’s advice, you should not change any Time Machine settings to backup APFS-formatted drives. Your Time Machine continues to store former backups despite the change in internal drive file system.

The next obvious question is: can you backup your APFS drive files to Time Machine? If not, then how are you supposed to perform APFS backups?

Since the Time Machine backup is not possible, you only have one option. You have to create a new backup folder in Time Machine and manually copy the files into the folder. Then you need to remind yourself regularly to take a backup of your APFS files!

In future, when Apple comes up with Time Machine support for APFS destinations, you can format the Time Machine and change the file system settings.

Formatted Time Machine Data Recovery

Before formatting any of your Mac storage drive including Time Machine, do not forget to take a backup and save it in another external drive, as formatting results in complete loss of files and folders.

In case you encounter data loss, use a trusted data recovery solution, especially designed for Mac systems that is capable of Time Machine data recovery. A secure data recovery application, specifically tailored for Mac OS High Sierra, such as Stellar Phoenix Mac Data recovery – Professional, can recover lost data from any Mac hard drive. Both HFS or APFS file formats are supported.

The third-party application can help you recover accidentally formatted or deleted volumes and files from Time Machine backup and other external hard drives. Stellar Phoenix Mac Data Recovery – Professional works with different file systems and drive formats. It effectively scans your formatted Time Machine or other storage drives and locates recognizable file structures that can be completely restored. Whether your storage device uses APFS, HFS, HFS+, FAT, ex-FAT, or NTFS file systems, data recovery software for Mac efficiently retrieves all data.

How to find out file system of your storage drive?

  • Select the device/drive in the Finder
  • Click on Get Info and check the format shown

Make sure you do not overwrite the formatted drive, as rewritten hard drive data recovery is impossible even with professional Mac data recovery software.

The hard drive recovery through professional software is not just limited to lost partitions or Time Machine drives. You can also recover from missing BootCamp partitions, or files from an encrypted hard drives.


Unfortunately, for the time being, APFS formatted drive cannot be used as your Time Machine backup. Even if you attempt this, Time Machine automatically changes the drive back to HFS+ format. Just leave your Time Machine backup drive as it is, with HFS or HFS+ format, at least for now.

You can only wait for Apple to bring out APFS compatibility with Time Machine. Meanwhile, make sure you do regular backups to avoid any APFS data loss situations.

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