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How to use Resilient File System (ReFS) on Windows 10

Like on any other operating system, Windows features a file system to control how data is stored and retrieved from disk. Windows 10, similar to its predecessors, continues to use NTFS as the default file system, which is one of the most popular feature-rich file system in use today.

However, even though NTFS provided us with many performance, reliability, and advanced features you can't find on other file system, NTFS has been designed years ago. Today, we face new storage challenges that NTFS just can't handle, and to overcome the limitations Microsoft created from the ground up a new file system called "ReFS" (Resilient File System).

ReFS was first introduced with Windows 8, and it's now part of Windows 10. The new file system is also built on the foundation of NTFS, which means that it's compatible with the most critical features found in the old file system while introducing new storage technologies.

While ReFS will primarily benefit large corporations with large data centers, the new file system is also very useful for users who work with large amounts of data, such as photographers, video editors, and others.

With this in mind, in this Windows 10 guide, we'll walk you through the steps to try ReFS on your computer, and we also provide the information you need to know moving to the new file system.

How to give ReFS a try on Windows 10

Currently, there is one proper way you can use to try ReFS on Windows 10, and it involves to create a two-way mirror with two hard drives and use Storage Spaces to format the storage using ReFS.

Alternatively, if you're simply looking to test how everything works, and you don't have the required number of extra hard drives, you can use two virtual drives.

How to create virtual drives on Windows 10

On Windows 10, you can easily create a new VHDX using Disk Management.

  1. Use the Windows key + X keyboard shortcut to open the Power User menu and select Disk Management.
  2. Click the Action menu and select Create VHDX.

  1. Click the browse button to find a location to store the VHDX file.
  2. Choose a name for the new drive and click Save.
  3. Set how big you want to the virtual hard drive to be. For example, 10GB.
  4. Select the VHDX option.
  5. Select the Fixed size (Recommended) option.
  6. Click OK to complete the task.

Repeat the same steps to create a second virtual hard drive, and then you'll notice two new drives listed as Unknown and Not Initialized.

To complete setting up the two virtual drives, do the following:

  1. Right-click the Disk tile and click on Initialize Disk.

  1. You'll get a list of all the disks you can initialize, make sure both drives are selected, and click OK.

After you initialize the virtual hard drives, they should now appear as Online, and now you can move forward to create a storage using Microsoft's Resilient File System.

How to create a storage using ReFS on Windows 10

The tool that makes it all happen is Storage Spaces, which is Microsoft's storage virtualization technology that allows you to group multiple drives together to create a Storage Pool, which then you can use to create a new storage using the new file system.

Once you connected the required drives, you can proceed to use Storage Spaces to create a new storage using ReFS.

To create and format a storage using ReFS, do the following:

  1. Open Start.
  2. Do a search for Storage Spaces and click the result.
  3. Click the Create a new pool and storage space link.

  1. Select the two hard drives you intend to use with ReFS.
  2. Click Create pool.

  1. On the newly created storage space, enter a name for the new drive. You can use anything you want but make the name descriptive.
  2. Pick a drive letter.
  3. On File System, select REFS from the drop-down menu.
  4. This next step is very important. On "Resiliency," you must pick the Two-way mirror to correctly format the storage using ReFS.Although, you may be able to select Simple (no resiliency) or Parity, both of these options will fail the process. And the file system doesn't support Three-way mirror.

  1. On size, you can leave the default settings, or you can make it larger, and when you're running low on capacity, you can always add more storage.
  2. Click the Create storage space button to complete the task.

To verify you're in fact using ReFS, simply open This PC on File Explorer, right-click the newly created drive, and select Properties.

Resilient File System goals

Microsoft developed the new file system with these goals in mind:

  • Compatibility: Maintain support for key NTFS features to offer compatibility, as it's a widely adopted file system.
  • High availability: On the event of data corruption ReFS is capable of isolating the section with the problem while offering uninterrupted access to the rest of the volume.
  • Data verification and auto-correct: When less expected data will get corrupted, the file system features a mechanism verify and correct data on the fly.
  • Scalability: ReFS has been thought out to provide extreme storage scalability.
  • Resiliency: The new file system can provide full resiliency architecture when it's implemented using Storage Spaces on Windows.

Resilient File System key features

Microsoft has built ReFS from the ground up, and it includes the following key set of features:

  • Resiliency to data corruption with a built-in mechanism with salvage that offers maximum volume availability.
  • Data and metadata integrity.
  • Large volume support up to 1 yobibyte (that's 1.2 trillion terabytes).
  • Maximum folder size of 18.4 × 10^18.
  • Maximum file size of 16 exabytes (16 million terabytes).
  • Improves data striping performance and redundancy for fault tolerance.
  • Disk scrubbing (error correction) for protection against latent disk errors.
  • Shared storage pools across computers to provide additional failure tolerance and load balancing.
  • Data stored on disks using ReFS can be easily accessed using the same mechanism employed by any operating system that can access files on NTFS volumes.

Important information about ReFS on Windows 10

ReFS in its current state is not meant to be a replacement of NTFS. Instead, ReFS ships with Windows 10 to provide an alternative solution for situations where NTFS can't handle certain storage scenarios.

It's important to note that you can't use the new file system on a boot drive (the drive where you have Windows installed); it's only suitable for drives you'll be using exclusively for storage.

You can't use ReFS on removable drives, such as USB flash drives, and there is not a mechanism to convert a drive formatted using ReFS to another file system. However, you can always backup your data to another drive, format the ReFS storage using another file system (e.g., exFAT, FAT32, NTFS), and then restore the data.

ReFS was built on the foundation of NTFS to offer compatibility. If you move to the new file system, you'll find a number of features inherit from NTFS, including access-control list for security, BitLocker encryption, USN journal, mount points, reparse points, junction points, volume snapshots, change notifications, symbolic links, file IDs, and oplocks.

On the other hand, you'll be losing several features moving to the Resilient File System, including object IDs, named streams, extended attributes, short names, file level encryption (EFS), compression, user data transactions, sparse, hard-links, and quotas.

Wrapping things up

We probably should have been using ReFS as the primary file system for Windows 10 for quite some time now, but it seems that Microsoft is still not ready to faze out NTFS, as there are still some features missing and the company has to ensure reliability of data on every scenario. However, until that day comes, you can at least try the new file system using our guide.

While the new file system emphasizes on "resiliency," you shouldn't take for granted that once you move to ReFS, your data will live forever. There are still many factors that can cause data loss, and it's always recommended to keep a full backup of all your data.

There is also a known registry tweak that allows you to try ReFS on a single drive without the need to use Storage Spaces, but after a number of tests, I noticed that it doesn't work on the Windows 10 Anniversary Update — it only works up to version 1511. In addition, even if it worked, you wouldn't be able to take advantage of data resiliency, which is one of the main features of the file system, as such I'm not including the tweak in this guide.

What do you think about Microsoft's new file system? Tell us in the comments below.

More Windows 10 resources

For more help articles, coverage, and answers on Windows 10, you can visit the following resources:

Mauro Huculak is technical writer for WindowsCentral.com. His primary focus is to write comprehensive how-tos to help users get the most out of Windows 10 and its many related technologies. He has an IT background with professional certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTIA, and he's a recognized member of the Microsoft MVP community.

34 Comments
  • Nice informative article. I will try this today
  • This is the best article of today. Luckily I'm using TH2, but not interested to backup my 1tb Of data.
  • PSA: For SQL Server users out there drooling over this, please note that support for ReFS was only added in SQL Server 2014. Oh, and sparse files *are* supported on ReFS... https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/psssql/2015/07/17/sparse-files-supporte...
  • Yay! Jessica is back :)
  • Is it safe to use this on an SSD ?
  • Safe? Yes. Efficiency should also not be an issue. However, for your specific use case, you should run some benchmarks to compare real world performance of each to make sure that SSD is actually going to be faster than HDD and that ReFS doesn't end up being slower than NTFS (there are lots of mixed and extremely surprising results out there depending on the type of data, read/write patterns, and disk pool configuration). #YMMV
  • Hmm. Good to know. But I'm guessing this will decrease the life of an SSD? I may be wrong.
  • I honestly don't know for sure either way. But, based on the way files are organized on ReFS, I can't think of how it would negatively impact the lifespan of the SSD. Anyone else here care to take a stab at this one? I'm curious too.
  • Thanks for your replies Jessica !! Appreciate it. :)
  • Now on ReFS, as I have not read as much as I should of on it (as a systems admin).... Is this a raid format (creating 2 drives), or is this an option to format drives in ? Could one...Nuke their 10 OS drive, Reformat in ReFS and install/run Windows 10 off it ? Is formatting in ReFS an opion on WIndows 10 install ?
  • No, ReFS is simply a new file system format that uses a B-tree for storage. The biggest advantage is that disk tools like chkdsk are no longer needed. The multiple drive thing in the article was not actually related to ReFS, but rather to Storage Spaces, which is a very scalable storage solution that drastically lowers the entry point for SAN-like storage deployment on your network. It was originally only intended in the server environment, but after many home PC enthusiasts begged for it, it was added to the non-Server Windows environment too (I suspect that people with vast HD movie libraries and such would find this very handy). Oh, and no... your OS drive still needs to be NTFS. You can't even change the allocation unit on the OS disk (trust me, leave it at 4K, otherwise it won't work). ReFS really is all about performance, scalability, and reliability. Unfortunately, you lose a few useful features from NTFS as stated in the article, but for if you're not actually using any of those features, then ReFS makes for a great data drive format.
  • What is the smallest cluster size supported by ReFS?
  • A fixed file system object size in ReFS is 16 KB while a cluster, minimum disk space occupied by a file, is 64 KB (which, incidentally, is the size recommended for SQL Server data files due to a SQL extent being 8 pages of 8 KB = 64 KB). Incidentally, you can't actually customize the allocation unit on ReFS. P.S. These are really good questions... :-)
  • ReFS working pretty good on a hyper-v failover cluster I recently built. Finally time to say bye bye to the disk intensive merging process when working with hyper-v replicas and checkpoints!!!
  • For me biggest thing with ReFS will be support for file paths longer than 255 characters. Working in Visual Studio with projects saved on One Drive is really difficult with 255 character limit in NTFS.
    Wonder how long I have to wait for Windows installation support on ReFS.
  • Think I have read somewhere that you can tweak W10 into accepting longer pathes.
    ​You probably will not need to switch to another file system. Remains the question if OneDrive supports long pathes.  
  • This is not an NTFS limitation but an OS one.
  • Does anyone know if MS plans to change this in near future?
  • And strictly speaking a w32 Shell (explorer) limitation at that. Robocopy handles 255+ length paths just fine, so the operating system doesn't have a problem with it.
  • Microsoft is more than late on ReFS.
    ​Been there quite some time but never really quite made it into public daylight. ​I wonder where ReFS is acutally being used in systems that people do need to rely upon.
    ​Are there any organisations out there who use Windows servers utilizing ReFS for "real" IT ? Last time I looked, ReFS was not really recommend for mission critical scenarios. I was thinking about setting up a barebone SOHO NAS using W10 plus ReFS.
    ​But then, after some Google research I decided against it. ​Now, in my case, Ubuntu plus BTRFS does the job
    and it fulfills what ReFS was made for.
    ​And I also have a "real" server (albeit a humble one)
    in form of Ubuntu (vs. a desktop OS which is W10).   In 2017 I will have a look at NextCloud.
    ​Seems a bit more complex to set up and maintain,
    but let's see what kind of progress NextCloud makes in the next couple of month.
    ​Maybe they'll come up with an officialy maintained snap, that would make things easier. Is there any viable, cost-competitive solution for a SOHO server solution from Microsoft?
    ​I heard that Hyper-V and nano-servers could do the job
    ​but I admit to have no clue on how to get even started with all that.  .           
  • It just wasn't recommended for certain situations due to the lack of support in applications at the time (like SQL Server... but since 2014, it is fully supported). By the way, ReFS has been around for half a decade, so it's definitely not new, either. As far as cost goes, you always have to factor in the cost of the version of Windows Server needed for your situation. Of course, if you're just looking for a good, free hypervisor, Hyper-V Server is great. Of course, then you need to make sure that you have individual licenses for your guest OSes.
  • I heard about ReFS. before Windows 8 came out and that it would be the system it would use  and then as the launch of windows 8 got closer it became aapprent that it was not going to happen.  I use Windows 8.1, if it is in there now, I wonder if it would be worthwhile chaging my drive that stores video clips for editing to it. I may try it. make sure everything is backed up first, it should bne as the computer should have done it last night.  
  • Thanks for letting me in. I know that ReFS is around for quite some while
    ​but I could not find voices (in the internet) that would recommend it.
    ​Nothing conclusive.  ​I was thinking to have an all-Microsoft W10 environment for my SOHO scenario.
    ​Tablet/notebook/desktop of course is no problem.
    ​A smartphone is a bit of a challenge, but doable (Lumia 950).
    But when it comes to a server, I am petering out - too expensive. ​I guess Microsoft's strategy is to direct customers to (future) Azure services.
    ​The rest is handled via a domain membership using W10 Pro/Enterprise. So I am sort of "stuck" with my small & humble Ubuntu solution ​featuring  BTRFS "Raid 1". ​My Ubuntu server solution works quite well,
    is reliable and does what is expected to do
    ​and requires no to-pay-for licenses.

    It did cost me a bit of time to understand Ubuntu server,
    ​but the same would have been true for an Windows server as well. ​So I failed to have an all Windows environment,
    ​but in my case a Microsoft server would have been more of an "aesthetic" finesse/sophistication.

    ​Microsoft's server business modell is not compatible with my SOHO use scenario. . 
       
  • Here's the thing, for a simple (or even vaguely complex) NAS server, your Windows workstation is actually quite capable. About the only thing you can't do on your workstation requires a cluster solution. And now that containers are included, you could keep your NAS solution completely isolated from your main operating environment (although that will require significantly more work and experimentation to get working). Start with a simple file share. Then try storage spaces to make an array of disks and share that (format using ReFS or NTFS, as you see fit for your use case) and then set up a share on that. That should be more than adequate for SOHO use.
  • Raid 1 (mirror)
    Why complicate the explanation?
  • Nice, but is it also designed for SSD performance and reliability, to optimize OneDrive sync, to optimize access and manipulation of file properties (meta data) with OneDrive. I.e. if one updates meta data of for instance on image or audio files, then one doesn't want OneDrive to resync the whole file, as it currently does.
  • Nah....I am happy with NTFS (Actually I don't want to brick my PC)
  • should i bother with this? i game stream to youtube sometimes create a video but have lots of games that take up lots of data  
  • Don't think this has any really noticeable improvements over NTFS for 'normal' users. For instance, i have never heard if all the features that NTFS offers listed in the article and what of them I would loose when using ReFS. I guess I wouldn't even notice if my laptop would be in the old FAT32 still... And I doubt that game data can take so many millions of TB that it gets too bif for NTFS lol
  • Nice article... Got some knowledge. Thanks
  • "Faze out" is incorrect. You want "phase".
  • Heads up: If you want to use hard links, ReFS does not support this.
  • Thanks again Mauro.
  • Excellent article, however... I had a very hard time getting StorageSpaces to recognize my mounted VHDX drives. I discovered (through lots of trial-and-error) that the minimum drive size that StorageSpaces seems to recognize is 4 GB. I had originally chosen a much smaller size than that. Even worse than that was that StorageSpaces refused to create a pool from the two drives at the 4 GB size.  Evidently, when StorageSpaces takes over the drives the effective usable size of each disk drops to 3.87 GB; which is too small for it to use. It then generates the error "The request is not supported". So, it seems that the ​smallest usable drive size for StorageSpaces is 4.14 GB.
    Maybe you could update your post with that caveat.