ZFS is a transactional file system, which means that the file system state is always consistent on disk. Traditional file systems overwrite data in place, which means that if the system loses power, for example, between the time a data block is allocated and when it is linked into a directory, the file system will be left in an inconsistent state. Historically, this problem was solved through the use of the fsck command. This command was responsible for reviewing and verifying the file system state, and attempting to repair any inconsistencies during the process. This problem of inconsistent file systems caused great pain to administrators, and the fsck command was never guaranteed to fix all possible problems. More recently, file systems have introduced the concept of journaling. The journaling process records actions in a separate journal, which can then be replayed safely if a system crash occurs. This process introduces unnecessary overhead because the data needs to be written twice, often resulting in a new set of problems, such as when the journal cannot be replayed properly.
With a transactional file system, data is managed using copy on write semantics. Data is never overwritten, and any sequence of operations is either entirely committed or entirely ignored. Thus, the file system can never be corrupted through accidental loss of power or a system crash. Although the most recently written pieces of data might be lost, the file system itself will always be consistent. In addition, synchronous data (written using the O_DSYNC flag) is always guaranteed to be written before returning, so it is never lost.