Daniel Eran Dilger
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Apple shuts down ZFS open source project

Daniel Eran Dilger

Apple’s efforts to support the development of ZFS, an advanced file system originally created by Sun, were officially terminated today in a notice posted by MacOS Forge.

.The tersely worded message only stated that “The ZFS project has been discontinued. The mailing list and repository will also be removed shortly.”

Mac OS Forge describes itself as “dedicated to supporting the developer community surrounding open source components specific to Mac OS X.” It publishes source code and an information repository about a variety of open projects Apple funds and maintains, including:

• Darwin Calendar Server (used in iCal Server)
• Darwin Streaming Server (used in QuickTime Streaming Server)
• libdispatch (used in Grand Central Dispatch)
• WebKit (Used in Safari)
• XQuartz (used in Apple’s X11 offering)
• and until recently, ZFS.

ZFS mania

Apple’s interest in porting ZFS was first signaled in early 2006 when it contacted Sun’s OpenSolaris project; By August 2007 an early, read-only port of ZFS was published on Mac OS Forge and command line support was added to Mac OS X Leopard.

Comments by Sun executives had tipped of wild speculation that ZFS would become the default file system of Mac OS X, and pundits pounced upon the idea that Apple’s own technology was terrible and that anything it could replace with from outside sources would solve lots of problems for end users. The reality was that Mac OS X and third party software has lots of dependancies upon HFS+, and that ZFS really offered the greatest potential for server users. Most home Mac users don’t even have multiple hard drives to pool with ZFS.

In February of this year, AppleInsider reported on Apple’s internal efforts to add new read/write ZFS features to Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server and support these in Disk Admin’s graphical user interface. The new feature was also being publicly promoted in the company’s marketing of Snow Leopard Server.

By June however, Apple had scrubbed all mention of ZFS from its website and the feature disappeared from developer builds.

Stick a fork in it

Behind Apple’s backtracking on ZFS is Oracle’s announcement in April 2009 to buy Sun. While this should have no impact on other Sun technologies Apple has borrowed from OpenSolaris, such as DTrace, or other open source packages maintained by Sun under the GPL, such as MySQL, Sun’s ownership and stewardship of ZFS is at risk because Oracle already has its own advanced, open source file system: BTRFS.

In addition to Oracle’s unlikely desire to fund the ongoing development of two overlapping new file systems, Sun’s ZFS had already come under fire for patent infringement from NetApp as part of a patent war instigated by Sun.

NetApp reported that ZFS not only infringes its WAFL storage patents, but that Sun intentionally designed ZFS to provide features unique to NetApp’s WAFL, which Sun itself described it its marketing as “the first commercial file system to use the copy-on-write tree of blocks approach to file system consistency.”

This leaves Apple with an unfinished, patent-encumbered file system and without an enterprise class partner to work with in developing the future of ZFS. Were Apple to develop ZFS on its own, the technology would likely be relegated to pariah status by the rest of the industry.

It remains to be seen whether Apple will begin working with Oracle to port the similar BTRFS to Mac OS X, or simply continue to add new features to HFS+ while monitoring the landscape for promising new file system options. In any case, ZFS appears to be very dead.

  • http://crankyoldnutcase.blogspot.com/ The Mad Hatter

    Curious – there’s stories out there that have Nett Apps attacking Sun, not Sun attacking Nett Apps, do you have documentation?

  • lmasanti

    Reading the comparison between the two systems, I think that the most important points could be (other than the fact that ZFS is production level and BTRFS is still below-beta):

    Primary sponsoring company: Sun™
    License: CDDL

    Primary sponsoring company: Oracle™, RedHat™, HP™, IBM™, Intel™, Novell™and Linux community
    License: GPL2

    I do not know in detail the difference betwee nhe licenses. but the list of companies seems intersting.

  • jkundert

    Mmm, while the average user wouldn’t be helped much by ZFS, I was one of the minority (with my 20 external HDs) who could have seen massive gains from this technology. I, for one, am very disappointed to hear this news…

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  • http://www.adviespraktijk.info Berend Schotanus

    Nice thing to report not only the successes but also the failures of Apple. What looks promising at first can be disappointing later on. It shows that even for a star class player like Apple innovation is very much a matter of trial and error.

  • Pingback: Apple abandona el proyecto de portar el sistema de archivos ZFS a Mac OS X | Appleismo()

  • luc_j_bourhis

    One may wonder why Oracle has not made any announcement about ZFS. It would make a lot of sense to change the licensing to a dual BSD-like / GPL, the latter so that Linux can use it in the kernel and the former so that the like of Apple can use it in their semi-proprietary systems. Were they to do that, it would be near instant death for BTRFS of course. But the choice between a system which has been deployed in production systems for years (ZFS) and one which has hardly reached the beta level (BTRFS) would be a no-brainer for Linux distros, I would hope!

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