The sandboxed filesystem on iOS drives me nuts; enjoy an analogy involving a weird-ass butler.

• ~600 words • 2 minute read

Today's post is a short and emotionally shallow one. When you try to write every single day they can't all be beautiful gems.

Plenty of people have already written on this topic with greater scrutiny and insight, but the sandboxed filesystem in iOS drives me crazy. Maybe you don't know what that means or what I'm talking about? I actually encourage you to poke around in the developer documentation on Apple's website on this topic, specifically the section Every App is an Island (I like this header. Technically documentation is normally so dry and comes off as — and even is, in some circumstances — written by an automated script.).

The short definition is that each app on your iOS devices can only see its own files. If you make a text document in the Drafts app, for example, and you want to open it up in another word-processing or text editing application on your device to edit it, you'll have to find a clever way to export it. Maybe it's as simple as a copy-and-pasting? Maybe you can use the well-intentioned-but-poorly-thought-out "open-in" feature to open the document in that other app, so long as that developer has decided to explicitly support this?

Everything on iOS has been a slow trickle in. You couldn't even install other apps for over a year after the iPhone came out. GPS. Notifications. Background processes. Apple's generally erred on the side of extreme caution, wary of enabling features that would hinder either battery life (GPS & background processes namely) or accidentally enable users to wreak havoc on their phone.

I understand the philosophy. It's still frustrating. The sandboxed filesystem makes for jagged, weird workflows that make getting any kind of real work — for many or even most professions — on these devices very difficult. It's like... limiting the utensils or items in your household to a specific room. You could prepare all your food in the kitchen but you couldn't take it into the dining room to eat. Or maybe, better yet, you couldn't make popcorn and sit down and watch a movie because your kernels are in the kitchen cupboard and the television is on the table in the living room.

And your workaround is a weird-ass butler who stands at the doorway of each room asking you which other room you'd like to take that item to, which he seems to arbitrarily allow or disallow. When he grants you permissions to take the bowl of popcorn into the living room  you don't just take the bowl with you. You arrive in the living room and are given a molecularly-perfect copy of the popcorn to enjoy as you will, but should you return to the kitchen you'll find the popcorn you'd made earlier still sitting on the counter. If you find you've left your soda in the kitchen you can't just ask the butler to go in and fetch it for you; you have to go back to the kitchen, retrieve the soda and ask the butler again for permission to take it to the living room where you can enjoy your cloned refreshments.

The desire to obfuscate complexity has resulted in conceptually weird, arguably more-complicated workarounds to problems we solved a long time ago.

In time it will work itself out I imagine... but for now it's weird.