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Developer(s) Microsoft
Full name Resilient File System
Introduced 1 August 2012; 5 years ago (2012-08-01)[1] with Windows Server 2012
Directory contents B+ tree[2]
Max. volume size 1 yobibyte (280 bytes)
Max. file size 16 exbibytes (264−1 bytes)
Attributes Yes
Transparent compression No
Data deduplication Yes, since v3.2 debuting in 2016 v1709[3]
Copy-on-write Yes
Supported operating systems

Resilient File System (ReFS),[4] codenamed "Protogon",[5] is a Microsoft proprietary file system introduced with Windows Server 2012 with the intent of becoming the "next generation" file system after NTFS.

ReFS was designed to overcome issues that had become significant over the years since NTFS was conceived, which are related to how data storage requirements had changed. The key design advantages of ReFS include automatic integrity checking and data scrubbing, removal of the need for running chkdsk, protection against data degradation, built-in handling of hard disk drive failure and redundancy, integration of the RAID functionality, a switch to copy/allocate on write for data and metadata updates, handling of very long paths and filenames, and storage virtualization and pooling, including almost arbitrarily sized logical volumes (unrelated to the physical sizes of the used drives).

These requirements arose from two major changes in storage systems and usage — the size of storage in use (large or massive arrays of multi-terabyte drives now being fairly common), and the need for continual reliability. As a result, the file system needs to be self-repairing (to prevent disk checking from being impractically slow or disruptive), along with abstraction or virtualization between physical disks and logical volumes.

ReFS was initially added to Windows Server 2012 only, with the aim of gradual migration to consumer systems in future versions; this was achieved as of Windows 8.1.[6] The initial versions removed some NTFS features, such as disk quotas, alternate data streams, and extended attributes. Some of these were re-implemented in later versions of ReFS.

In early versions (2012–2013), ReFS was similar or slightly faster than NTFS in most tests,[7] but far slower when full integrity checking was enabled, a result attributed to the relative newness of ReFS.[8][9] Pre-release concerns were also voiced by one blogger over Storage Spaces, the storage system designed to underpin ReFS, which reportedly could fail in a manner that prevented ReFS from recovering automatically.[10][11][12]

The cluster size of a ReFS volume is either 4 KiB or 64 KiB.[13]

Feature changes compared to NTFS

Major new features

Improved reliability for on-disk structures
ReFS uses B+ trees for all on-disk structures, including all metadata and file data.[2][14] Metadata and file data are organized into tables similar to a relational database. The file size, number of files in a folder, total volume size and number of folders in a volume are limited by 64-bit numbers; as a result, ReFS supports a maximum file size of 16 exbibytes (264−1 bytes), a maximum of 18.4 × 1018 directories and a maximum volume size of 1 yobibyte (280 bytes) (with 64 KiB clusters) which allows large scalability with no practical limits on file and directory size (hardware limits still apply). Free space is counted by a hierarchical allocator which includes three separate tables for large, medium, and small chunks.
Built-in resilience
ReFS employs an allocation-on-write update strategy for metadata,[2] which allocates new chunks for every update transaction and uses large IO batches. All ReFS metadata have 64-bit checksums which are stored independently. The file data can have an optional checksum in a separate "integrity stream", in which case the file update strategy also implements allocation-on-write for file data; this is controlled by a new "integrity" attribute applicable to both files and directories. If file data or metadata become corrupt, the file can be deleted without taking the whole volume offline for maintenance, and then be restored from the backup. As a result of built-in resiliency, administrators do not need to periodically run error-checking tools such as CHKDSK when using ReFS.
Compatibility with existing APIs and technologies
ReFS supports only a subset of NTFS features, and only Win32 APIs that are "widely adopted"; but does not require new system APIs and most file system filters continue to work with ReFS volumes.[2] ReFS supports many existing Windows and NTFS features such as BitLocker encryption, Access Control Lists, USN Journal, change notifications,[15] symbolic links, junction points, mount points, reparse points, volume snapshots, file IDs, and oplock. ReFS seamlessly integrates with Storage Spaces,[2] a storage virtualization layer that allows data mirroring and striping, as well as sharing storage pools between machines.[16] ReFS resiliency features enhance the mirroring feature provided by Storage Spaces and can detect whether any mirrored copies of files become corrupt using a data scrubbing process,[14] which periodically reads all mirror copies and verifies their checksums, then replaces bad copies with good ones.

Removed features

Some NTFS features are not implemented in ReFS. These include object IDs, 8.3 filename, NTFS compression, Encrypting File System (EFS), transactional NTFS, hard links, extended attributes, and disk quotas.[5][2][17] In addition, Windows cannot be booted from a ReFS volume.[2] Dynamic disks with mirrored or striped volumes are replaced with mirrored or striped storage pools provided by Storage Spaces; however, automated error-correction is only supported on mirrored spaces. Data deduplication was missing in early versions of ReFS.[2], it was implemented in v3.2, debuting in Windows Server v1709.[3]

Support for alternate data streams was initially not implemented in ReFS. In Windows 8.1 64-bit and Server 2012 R2 the file system reacquired support for alternate data streams, with lengths of up to 128K, and automatic correction of corruption when integrity streams are used on parity spaces.[18] ReFS had initially been unsuitable for Microsoft SQL Server instance allocation due to the absence of alternate data streams.[19]

As of March 2015, a review of the state of ReFS on stated that:[20]

"You can’t (at least at this time) boot Windows from an ReFS volume and the first versions of ReFS don’t include file-level compression and encryption, disk quotas or hard links, all of which are advantages of NTFS over the FAT file systems. Note that ReFS does support sparse files, reparse points, case-sensitive file names and Unicode in file names and perhaps most important, it preserves and enforces access control lists (ACLs).

"It’s obvious that ReFS in its current iteration is not a replacement for NTFS ... because some applications that rely on specific NTFS features might not work with ReFS [... however...] Storage of most conventional data doesn’t require the specific NTFS features that aren’t supported by ReFS and so ReFS can handle that duty nicely. Its primary use case is on file servers that store extremely large amounts of data. It has data integrity and recovery mechanisms built into the file system, as well. That means those tools that are designed to detect and repair file corruption in other file systems aren’t necessary, so their incompatibility with ReFS isn’t really an issue. Additionally, although ReFS doesn’t support file level (Encrypting File System) encryption, BitLocker can be used to protect ReFS volumes so that’s not so much of an issue, either [...]

"ReFS has some distinct advantages over current reigning Windows file system NTFS, but it also has some drawbacks. It boasts self-healing powers, ability to repair files without down time, less risk that data will be lost when there’s a power failure (due to the way it writes metadata), and of course the ability to create huge volumes and files and even give those files names that are longer than 255 characters if you wish. But it’s not quite ready for prime time yet."

Version history and compatibility

ReFS has some different versions, with various degrees of compatibility between operating system versions. Aside for development versions of the filesystem, usually later operating system versions can mount filesystems created with earlier OS versions (backwards compatibility). Some features may not be compatible with the feature set of the OS. The version, cluster size and other features of the filesystem can be queried with the command fsutil fsinfo refsinfo volumename.

  • v1.1: The original version, formatted by Windows Server 2012.
  • 1.2: Default version if formatted by Windows 8.1, Windows 10 v1507 to v1607, Windows Server 2012 R2, and when specified ReFSv1 on Windows Server 2016. Can use alternate data streams under Windows Server 2012 R2.
  • 22.2: Default version formatted by Windows 10 Preview build 10049 or earlier. Could not be mounted in 10061 and later.
  • 2.0: Default version formatted by Windows Server 2016 TP2/TP3. Could not be mounted in 10130 and later.
  • 3.0: Default version formatted by Windows Server 2016 TP4/TP5.
  • 3.1: Default version formatted by Windows Server 2016 RTM.
  • 3.2: Default version formatted by Windows 10 v1703 and Windows Server Insider Preview build 16237. Can be formatted with Windows 10 Insider Preview 15002 or later (though only became the default somewhere between 15002 and 15019). Supports deduplication in the server version.

The following table[21] shows the compatibility status of various Windows and ReFS versions.

2012 8.1 & 2012 R2 10 v1507 – v1607 10 v1703 2016 TP2 2016 TP4, TP5 2016 RTM WS IP 16237
1.1 Default Yes1 Yes1 ? Yes1 ? Yes1 ?
1.2 Yes Default Default Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
2.0 No No No ? Default No ? ?
3.0 ? ? ? ? No Default Yes2 ?
3.1 No No No Yes3 ? No Default Yes3
3.2 No No No Default ? ? No Default


1: 'Volume "?:" was mounted in an older version of Windows. Some features may be lost.' was recorded to event log.
2: Upgrade to 3.1 when writable mount.
3: Upgrade to 3.2 when writable mount.

Stability and known issues

Issues identified or suggested for ReFS, when running on Storage Spaces (its intended design[12]), include:

  • Adding thin-provisioned ReFS on top of Storage Spaces (according to a 2012 pre-release article) can fail in a non-graceful manner, in which the volume without warning becomes inaccessible or unmanageable.[10] This can happen, for example, if the physical disks underlying a storage space became too full. Smallnetbuilder comments that, in such cases, recovery could be "prohibitive" as a "breakthrough in theory" is needed to identify storage space layouts and recover them, which is required before any ReFS recovery of file system contents can be started; therefore it recommends using backups as well.[10]
  • Even when Storage Spaces is not thinly provisioned, ReFS may still be unable to dependably correct all file errors in some situations, because Storage Spaces operates on blocks and not files, and therefore some files may potentially lack necessary blocks or recovery data if part of the storage space is not working correctly. As a result, disk and data addition and removal may be impaired, and redundancy conversion becomes difficult or impossible.[11]
  • Because ReFS was designed not to fail, if failure does occur, there are no tools provided to repair it. Third party tools are dependent on reverse engineering the system and (as of 2014) few of these exist.[12][22]
  • Windows Store cannot install apps on a ReFS volume.[23]

Server 2016 updates

At the Storage Developer Conference 2015, a Microsoft developer presented enhancements of ReFS expected to be released with Windows Server 2016 and included in Technical Preview 4, titled 'ReFS v2'.[24] It highlighted that ReFS now included capabilities for very high speed moving, reordering, and cloning of blocks between files[25] (which can be done for all blocks of a file). This is particularly needed for virtualization, and is stated to allow fast provisioning, diff merging, and tiering. Other enhancements cover the redo log (for synchronous disk writes), parallelization, efficient tracking of uninitialized sparse data and files, and efficient 4k I/O.[24] ReFS with File Integrity enabled also acts more like a log-structured file system, coalescing small random writes into large sequential ones for efficiency.[26][dubious ]

Performance and competitor comparisons

Other operating systems have competing file systems to ReFS, of which the best known are ZFS and Btrfs, in the sense that all three are designed to integrate data protection, snapshots, and silent high speed background healing of corruption and data errors.

In 2014, a review of ReFS and assessment of its readiness for production use concluded that ReFS had at least some advantages over two of its main file system competitors.

  • ZFS (used in Solaris, illumos, FreeBSD and others) was widely criticized for its comparatively extreme memory requirements of many gigabytes of RAM for online deduplication, which ruled it out from a large number of medium and smaller systems. However, turning off online deduplication on ZFS, as this feature is unsupported in ReFS, yields a more even comparison between the two file systems since ZFS then has a memory requirement of only a few hundred megabytes.
  • Offerings such as Drobo used proprietary methods which have no fallback if the company behind them fails.[27]

In 2012, Phoronix wrote an analysis[28] of ReFS vs Btrfs, a copy-on-write file system for Linux. Their features are similar, with both supporting checksums, RAID-like use of multiple disks, and error detection/correction. However, ReFS lacks deduplication, copy-on-write snapshots, and compression, all found in Btrfs and ZFS.

See also


  1. ^ Snover, Jeffrey (1 August 2012). "Windows Server 2012 released to manufacturing!". Windows Server Blog. Microsoft Corporation. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Verma, Surendra (16 January 2012). Sinofsky, Steven, ed. "Building the next generation file system for Windows: ReFS". Building Windows 8. Microsoft. MSDN blogs. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Sarkar, Dona (13 July 2017). "Announcing Windows Server Insider Preview Build 16237". Windows Experience Blog. Microsoft. Retrieved 20 July 2017. 
  4. ^ Lucas, Martin (1 January 2013). "Windows Server 2012: Does ReFS replace NTFS? When should I use it?". Ask Premier Field Engineering (PFE) Platforms. Microsoft. TechNet blogs. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Foley, Mary Jo (16 January 2012). "Microsoft goes public with plans for its new Windows 8 file system". ZDNet. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  6. ^ "Resilient File System Overview". TechNet Library. Microsoft. November 1, 2013. 
  7. ^ "ReFS vs NTFS Benchmark - First Ever - Exclusive Technology News". 
  8. ^ "Relative Performance of Parity .vs. Mirror in Storage Spaces". Baris Eris's Blog. 
  9. ^ Jason Eckert (February 25, 2014). "Microsoft ReFS vs Oracle ZFS - Fight!". 
  10. ^ a b c Elena Pakhomova (August 8, 2012). "Data Recovery Tales: When Windows Storage Spaces Go Bad". 
  11. ^ a b "Windows 8 Storage Spaces: Bugs and Design Flaws". 
  12. ^ a b c "ReFS Recovery". 
  13. ^ Storage at Microsoft: Cluster size recommendations for ReFS and NTFS
  14. ^ a b Meyer, David (17 January 2012). "Microsoft takes wraps off new Windows file system". ZDNet. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  15. ^ "ReadDirectoryChangesW function". MSDN Library. Microsoft. 8 November 2012. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  16. ^ Nagar, Rajeev (5 January 2012). Sinofsky, Steven, ed. "Virtualizing storage for scale, resiliency, and efficiency". Building Windows 8. Microsoft. MSDN blogs. Retrieved 18 January 2013. 
  17. ^ Windows Server 2012: Does ReFS replace NTFS? When should I use it? - Martin Lucas, TechNet
  18. ^ "Resilient File System Overview". TechNet Library. Microsoft. 29 February 2012. Retrieved 25 December 2013. 
  19. ^ Cherry, Denny (21 August 2012). "SQL Server Pro magazine". Troubleshooting SQL Server Storage Problems. Penton Media. 
  20. ^ "ReFS: What you need to know about the Resilient File System (Part 1)". 
  21. ^ Windows ReFS
  22. ^ "Reverse Engineered ReFS parser". 
  23. ^ "What I learned after 30 minutes with ReFS". Ctrl blog. May 18, 2017. 
  24. ^ a b J. R. Tipton. "ReFS v2 - Cloning, projecting, and moving data" (PDF). 
  25. ^ "Block Cloning (Windows)". MSDN. Microsoft. Retrieved 2 December 2016. 
  26. ^ Anton Kolomyeytsev (April 12, 2016). "ReFS: Log-Structured". 
  27. ^ "Windows Storage Spaces and ReFS: Is it time to ditch RAID for good?". BetaNews. 
  28. ^ "Microsoft's ReFS File-System: Competitor To Btrfs? - Phoronix". 

External links

  • Analysis of detailed differences between NTFS and ReFS in Server 2012, and reasons for choosing one or the other
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