Best practice is to encrypt all datasets but not the pool. Encryption works by generating a master encrpytion key for the dataset (which the user does not access). Password or keyfiles are used to unlock the master encryption key. By isolating data to smaller datasets, exposure of the master key is constrained. See ArchLinux ZFS Native Encryption for detailed CLI usage with examples.

Do not encrypt root ZFS pool. Encrypting the pool will result in difficulty later on when migrating/managing the pool:

  • Datasets on the pool can still be encrypted regardless. Store data in datasets and not on the root pool. Do not mount the root pool.

  • Pool will mount on boot (encrypted datasets are not unless specifically automated).

  • All contents of the root pool need to be removed to change encryption. This is quite literally days-to-weeks even for modest 6-disk (100T) pools.

  • Metadata on datasets is unencrypted even with encryption. Encrypting the root drive offers no additional protection or data leakage from dataset metadata.

  • Master key scope is reduced. Using a password or keyfile to unlock ZFS only unlocks the master key, it does not change it. By creating separate datasets (and not encrypting the entire pool), a different underlying master key is used for each, limiting breach scope.

Create encrypted dataset on ZFS pool using 1 million pbkdf2 iterations.
zfs create -o encryption=aes-256-gcm -o keyformat=passphrase -o keylocation=prompt -o pbkdf2iters=1000000 -o mountpoint=/d/media {POOL}/media


Pools created before ZoL 0.8.0 (pool versions <= 28) must be upgraded before encryption is supported.

Upgrade ZFS pool to latest version.
zpool upgrade -v
zpool upgrade -a


Always confirm key works before loading data.

This means: unmount, unload encryption key, and remount before proceeding.

This checks you and confirms you are using the password intended for the dataset; preventing dataloss on a missing key/password.

Mount Encrypted Dataset

Mount encrypted dataset.
zfs mount -l {POOL}/{DATASET}
zfs mount -l -a

Once a key is loaded unmounting and remounting will not require re-entry of the password or file.

Use zfs unload-key {POOL}/{DATASET} after unmounting to remove the key from memory.

Use zfs load-key {POOL/DATASET} to prelod a dataset encryption key or zfs load-key -a to preload all keys in a pool; before mounting (preventing prompts).


Set mountpoint to immutable without the ZFS dataset mounted. This prevents writes when the dataset is not ready: chattr +i {MOUNTPOINT}

Change Encryption Keys/Method

Change password, keyfile, or swap between the two methods. This does not change the user-inaccessible master key (to do that you must create a new dataset).

Always use full path for key. Ideally store on removable USB key for booting where the mounted path will always be known. Otherwise store on encrypted boot drive. Use a password if key would be stored on an unencrypted disk.

Always unmount, unload-key, and re-mount to confirm the expected key/password works before loading data onto the dataset.

Use (or change) password for dataset.
zfs change-key -l -o keyformat=passphrase -o keylocation=prompt -o pbkdf2iters=1000000 {POOL}/{DATASET}
Use (or change) keyfile for encrpytion key.
dd if=/dev/urandom of=/root/zfs.key bs=1 count=32
zfs change-key -l -o keyformat=raw -o keylocation=file:///root/zfs.key {POOL}/{DATASET}


Do not overwrite or delete the old key until the new key is in place.


  1. ZFS Native Encryption

  2. ZFS Encryption at Rest