The Macintosh Hierarchical File System (HFS)


This article covers:

  • Hierarchical File System Specifications
  • Determining Allocation Block Size
  • Allocation Block Size Table
  • HFS Volume Organization
  • Decreasing The File Size On Large Hard Drives
This article also explains why different HFS structures on different hard drives can cause small files to take up more space on a larger drive than they do on a smaller drive.

Hierarchical File System Specifications

The following sections cover specifications and associated terminology used to describe the Macintosh HFS structure. The following numbers apply to both System 6 and System 7.


A volume is either an entire disk, or a section of a disk, partitioned into separate parts. If you partition a single drive then each partition is considered a volume.

  • The maximum volume size is 2 gigabytes. Under System 7.5, the maximum is 4 gigabytes.
  • The maximum number of volumes is limited only by the amount of available system memory.
  • The maximum file size is 2 gigabytes.
  • The maximum number of files on a volume is 65,536.
  • The maximum number of files in a folder is 32,767.
  • The maximum size of the data fork in a file is 2 gigabytes.
  • The maximum size of the resource fork in a file is 16 megabytes.

Logical block

A logical block is a unit of drive space composed of up to 512 bytes. A logical block is numbered from 0 to n, n being the last block on the volume (not necessarily the last block on the hard disk). To figure out the number of logical blocks, divide the volume size by 512 bytes.

Allocation block

An allocation block is a unit of storage on a volume, composed of one or more logical blocks. The larger the volume, the more logical blocks comprise one allocation block. The maximum number of allocation blocks per volume is 65,536; most volumes have slightly less.

The size of your hard drive determines the minimum size of each file. In both the Macintosh and MS-DOS environment, you can have up to 65,536 blocks on a drive (because both operating systems address the allocation blocks with 16-bit addressing). Drives larger than 512 megabytes cannot use 8K blocks because there are not enough addresses. Thus, if a 2 gigabyte drive is one Macintosh partition, the smallest file size allowed is 32K. If you save a TeachText file with one character in it, it would take up 32K of disk space.

A non-empty file fork always occupies at least one allocation block, no matter how many bytes of data the file fork contains. If the data fork and resource fork of a file contain data, the file uses two allocation blocks. If all the files are only one allocation block long, then there can be as many files on the volume as there are allocation blocks for the volume. However, when a file is longer than one allocation block, the total number of possible files decreases. For example, on a volume with 65,535 allocations block, you can have:

65,536 files, each one allocation block long.
32,768 files, each two allocation blocks long.

2,048 files, each 32 allocation blocks long.
1,024 files, each 64 allocation blocks long.

All of the numbers above refer to the system's record structures. Other elements place tighter restrictions on the actual number of usable files in the root directory. The Standard File dialog uses the List Manager. The List Manager has a limit of 32K of data, which is somewhere between 800 and 900 files. Though more files can be handled in a directory, the List Manager will not display the first 32K.

A second element concerns the performance of the Finder when you have approximately 800 to 900 files per directory. Even simple operations, such as moving the icon of a file, tend to slow down considerably when this many files exist in a directory. This limitation changes depending on the speed of the individual Macintosh model.

Determining Allocation Block Size

To calculate the allocation block size:

  1. Take the size of the drive in megabytes and multiply it by 2000. (There are 2000 disk blocks in 1 megabyte of disk space).
  2. Divide that number by 65,536. (Because the Macintosh cannot have more than 65,536 allocation blocks).
  3. Round this number up and multiply it by 512.
The result is the number of bytes in the allocation block. For example, if you do the math with a 230 MB drive:

230 x 2000 / 65536 = 7.019
7.019 rounded up = 8
8 x 512 = 4096 bytes

So larger hard drives mean larger allocation blocks, and consequently, more wasted space for small files. If you have a large drive with a lot of small files, the hard drive space is being used less efficiently than if most of your files average 32K in size.

NOTE: Since drives come from different manufacturers, it is possible to get different values. For example, 500 megabyte drive might be slightly larger than 500 megabytes. This would result in different logical block sizes than those listed in the Allocation Block Size Table below. The difference is typically not more than 512 bytes. The difference is most noticeable on the larger drives. For example, a 500 megabyte drive has a logical block size of 8192 bytes. But the 500 MB drive in some Macintosh computers is actually 540 MB, which has a logical block size of 8704.

Allocation Block Size Table

Here is a complete list of allocation block sizes for the various volume sizes, based on the formula described above:

Volume Size Allocation Block Size Minimum file size
------------ ------------------------ ------------------
0-32MB 1 logical block 0.5K
33-64MB 2 logical blocks 1.0K
65-96MB 3 logical blocks 1.5K
97-128MB 4 logical blocks 2.0K
129-160MB 5 logical blocks 2.5K
161-192MB 6 logical blocks 3.0K
193-224MB 7 logical blocks 3.5K
225-256MB 8 logical blocks 4.0K
257-288MB 9 logical blocks 4.5K
289-320MB 10 logical blocks 5.0K
321-352MB 11 logical blocks 5.5K
353-384MB 12 logical blocks 6.0K
385-416MB 13 logical blocks 6.5K
417-448MB 14 logical blocks 7.0K
449-480MB 15 logical blocks 7.5K
481-512MB 16 logical blocks 8.0K
513-544MB 17 logical blocks 8.5K
545-576MB 18 logical blocks 9.0K
577-608MB 19 logical blocks 9.5K
609-640MB 20 logical blocks 10.0K
641-672MB 21 logical blocks 10.5K
673-704MB 22 logical blocks 11.0K
705-736MB 23 logical blocks 11.5K
737-768MB 24 logical blocks 12.0K
769-800MB 25 logical blocks 12.5K
801-832MB 26 logical blocks 13.0K
833-864MB 27 logical blocks 13.5K
865-896MB 28 logical blocks 14.0K
897-928MB 29 logical blocks 14.5K
929-960MB 30 logical blocks 15.0K
961-992MB 31 logical blocks 15.5K
993-1024MB 32 logical blocks 16.0K
1025-1056MB 33 logical blocks 16.5K
1057-1088MB 34 logical blocks 17.0K
1089-1120MB 35 logical blocks 17.5K
1121-1152MB 36 logical blocks 18.0K
1153-1184MB 37 logical blocks 18.5K
1185-1216MB 38 logical blocks 19.0K
1217-1248MB 39 logical blocks 19.5K
1249-1280MB 40 logical blocks 20.0K
1281-1312MB 41 logical blocks 20.5K
1313-1344MB 42 logical blocks 21.0K
1345-1376MB 43 logical blocks 21.5K
1377-1408MB 44 logical blocks 22.0K
1409-1440MB 45 logical blocks 22.5K
1441-1472MB 46 logical blocks 23.0K
1473-1504MB 47 logical blocks 23.5K
1505-1536MB 48 logical blocks 24.0K
1537-1568MB 49 logical blocks 24.5K
1569-1600MB 50 logical blocks 25.0K
1601-1632MB 51 logical blocks 25.5K
1633-1664MB 52 logical blocks 26.0K
1665-1696MB 53 logical blocks 26.5K
1697-1728MB 54 logical blocks 27.0K
1729-1760MB 55 logical blocks 27.5K
1761-1792MB 56 logical blocks 28.0K
1793-1824MB 57 logical blocks 28.5K
1825-1856MB 58 logical blocks 29.0K
1857-1888MB 59 logical blocks 29.5K
1889-1920MB 60 logical blocks 30.0K
1921-1952MB 61 logical blocks 30.5K
1953-1984MB 62 logical blocks 31.0K
1985-2016MB 63 logical blocks 31.5K
2017-2048MB 64 logical blocks 32.0K
2049-2080MB 65 logical blocks 32.5K
2081-2112MB 66 logical blocks 33.0K
2113-2144MB 67 logical blocks 33.5K
2145-2176MB 68 logical blocks 34.0K
2177-2208MB 69 logical blocks 34.5K
2209-2240MB 70 logical blocks 35.0K
2241-2272MB 71 logical blocks 35.5K
2273-2304MB 72 logical blocks 36.0K
2305-2336MB 73 logical blocks 36.5K
2337-2368MB 74 logical blocks 37.0K
2369-2400MB 75 logical blocks 37.5K
2401-2432MB 76 logical blocks 38.0K
2433-2464MB 77 logical blocks 38.5K
2465-2496MB 78 logical blocks 39.0K
2497-2528MB 79 logical blocks 39.5K
2529-2560MB 80 logical blocks 40.0K
2561-2592MB 81 logical blocks 40.5K
2593-2624MB 82 logical blocks 41.0K
2625-2656MB 83 logical blocks 41.5K
2657-2688MB 84 logical blocks 42.0K
2689-2720MB 85 logical blocks 42.5K
2721-2752MB 86 logical blocks 43.0K
2753-2784MB 87 logical blocks 43.5K
2785-2816MB 88 logical blocks 44.0K
2817-2848MB 89 logical blocks 44.5K
2849-2880MB 90 logical blocks 45.0K
2881-2912MB 91 logical blocks 45.5K
2913-2944MB 92 logical blocks 46.0K
2945-2976MB 93 logical blocks 46.5K
2977-3008MB 94 logical blocks 47.0K
3009-3040MB 95 logical blocks 47.5K
3041-3072MB 96 logical blocks 48.0K
3073-3104MB 97 logical blocks 48.5K
3105-3136MB 98 logical blocks 49.0K
3137-3168MB 99 logical blocks 49.5K
3169-3200MB 100 logical blocks 50.0K
3201-3232MB 101 logical blocks 50.5K
3233-3264MB 102 logical blocks 51.0K
3265-3296MB 103 logical blocks 51.5K
3297-3328MB 104 logical blocks 52.0K
3329-3360MB 105 logical blocks 52.5K
3361-3392MB 106 logical blocks 53.0K
3393-3424MB 107 logical blocks 53.5K
3425-3456MB 108 logical blocks 54.0K
3457-3488MB 109 logical blocks 54.5K
3489-3520MB 110 logical blocks 55.0K
3521-3552MB 111 logical blocks 55.5K
3553-3584MB 112 logical blocks 56.0K
3585-3616MB 113 logical blocks 56.5K
3617-3648MB 114 logical blocks 57.0K
3649-3680MB 115 logical blocks 57.5K
3681-3712MB 116 logical blocks 58.0K
3713-3744MB 117 logical blocks 58.5K
3745-3776MB 118 logical blocks 59.0K
3777-3808MB 119 logical blocks 59.5K
3809-3840MB 120 logical blocks 60.0K
3841-3872MB 121 logical blocks 60.5K
3873-3904MB 122 logical blocks 61.0K
3905-3936MB 123 logical blocks 61.5K
3937-3968MB 124 logical blocks 62.0K
3969-4000MB 125 logical blocks 62.5K
4001-4032MB 126 logical blocks 63.0K
4033-4064MB 127 logical blocks 63.5K
4065-4096MB 128 logical blocks 64.0K

HFS Volume Organization

The first two logical blocks (labeled 0 and 1) of a volume are the boot blocks. This is where the information for mounting the volume is stored.

The third logical block (labeled 2) is the Master Directory Block, or MDB for short. This block contains part of the data structure of a flat directory volume. It contains the volume information and the volume allocation block map. This block is where the information for the hard disk, such as number of files in the directory and the last time the drive was initialized, is stored.

Logical blocks 3 to x (see the following table) contain the volume bitmap. This block is a data structure containing a sequence of bits, one bit for each allocation block. The volume bitmap stores a reference to every piece of data that is in the allocation blocks and indicates whether the block is allocated or free for use. Volume bitmaps exist both on hierarchical directory volumes and in memory.

Volumes may have as few as 32,768 allocation blocks and as many as 65,536 allocation blocks. This table defines what logical block the volume bitmap ends on based on the number of allocation blocks:

Allocation Blocks Last Volume Bitmap Logical Block
> 61,440 18
> 57,344 17
> 53,248 16
> 49,152 15
> 45,056 14
> 40,960 13
> 36,864 12
> 32,768 11

Allocation blocks begin after the volume bitmap. The catalog, extents and data files are contained in the allocation blocks.

The catalog file is a list of all files and folders stored in a volume. The catalog file maintains the relationships between the files and directories on a hierarchical directory volume. It corresponds to the file directory on a flat directory volume. The catalog file is organized and accessed using a B-tree structure. The files are arranged in alphabetical order evenly balanced on the tree so that finding a Z does not take any longer than finding an A. This structure is the glue that keeps the catalog file together. The extents tree file contains the locations of all the files on a volume. (An extent is a series of contiguous allocation blocks). The extents tree file is where the information about the data files you have created is stored (such as where to find file, and how many extents a file is divided into). Any file you create may be broken up into multiple extents. The extents are linked together, behind the scenes, with information from the extents tree file to give the appearance of one data file.

The next, and largest, section of the volume contains all the actual data files and applications which are referenced using the above files.

The next to last block on the hard disk contains the alternate master directory. This alternate is a backup to the MDB kept on logical block 2. It is used when the file manager determines that the MDB is corrupt and needs to be rewritten with the correct information.

The very last block is empty. It is used to check for bad sections of the hard disk.

Decreasing The File Size On Large Hard Drives

To decrease the file size on a large hard drive, partition larger drives into smaller partitions or logical drives, each with a maximum of 65,536 blocks. However, Apple does not offer a tool for creating multiple Macintosh partitions for System 7.1. Future versions of the operating system and HD SC Setup will support smaller file sizes on larger hard drives.

The following third-party utilities offer a solution for creating multiple Macintosh partitions:

  • Hard Disk Toolkit (HDT) by FWB Software, Inc.
  • SilverLining by LaCie Ltd.
  • Micronet Utility by MicroNet Technology
  • MicroTech Utility by MicroTech International
  • Drive 7 by Casa Blanca Works, Inc.


For additional information, please click the article number below to view the article in the Microsoft Knowledge Base:
162468 Volume Creation Date Is Not Reported Correctly from WinNT Server

ID članka: 130437 – Zadnji pregled: 31. okt. 2006 – Revizija: 1

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