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1. Overview

A file system is a set of algorithms and data structures that determine how data is stored and retrieved on a storage device. The file system separates each piece of data and assigns a name to it, making it easy to identify and retrieve from the storage device. The piece of data is called a “file.”

In this tutorial, we’ll compare three different file systems: NTFS, FAT32, and exFAT. Each one of these file systems has its advantages and disadvantages. So we can pick one of them to format our storage medium based on our requirements.

2. NTFS

New Technology File System (NTFS) is a proprietary file system developed by Microsoft. It is a journaling file system, which means it keeps track of the operations on the stored data before committing the operations. Therefore, it reduces the likelihood of the data becoming corrupted due to unexpected shutdowns.

Other than journaling, NTFS has many other features. For example, it supports file permissions for increased security, file encryption, file compression, volume shadow copy for data backups, and hard links. It also has no limitations on the size of the partitions and the size of the files.

All these features make it a suitable file system for installing an operating system. Windows uses NTFS by default and can’t be installed on any other file system.

NTFS has one big disadvantage: it’s not compatible with many devices, especially the ones that are not made by Microsoft. Therefore, it’s not a good choice for external storage drives. We should only use NTFS for internal drives on a Windows machine.

3. FAT32

File Allocation Table 32 (FAT32) is one of the oldest file systems around. It was introduced in 1997 on Windows 95 to replace the older FAT 16 file system. Since it’s an old file system, it is compatible with many devices out there like DVD players, game consoles, and TVs.

It has a maximum file size of 4GB and a maximum partition size of 2TB (16TB with 64KB clusters). Also, it’s not as feature-rich as NTFS. So it’s not a good file system for internal storage drives. But it’s an excellent file system for external storage drives (like thumb drives) since it’s compatible with many devices and operating systems.

4. exFAT

Extensible File Allocation Table (exFAT) is another file system that is suitable for external storage drives. It was developed by Microsoft and introduced in 2006 with Windows Embedded CE 6.

It doesn’t have the file size and partition size limitations of FAT32. But it’s also not as feature-rich as NTFS. In addition, some devices, especially the older ones, don’t support exFAT and only support FAT32. Therefore, compared to FAT32 and NTFS, it’s somewhere in between.

We should use exFAT instead of FAT32 for external storage drives. But if we’re dealing with old devices that don’t support exFAT, we should just use FAT32 instead.

5. Comparison

Now let’s compare the three file systems together:

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6. Conclusion

To sum up, we compared three major file systems that are widely used nowadays. As we saw, each of them has its advantages and disadvantages. So, based on our requirements, we can pick one of them that matches our needs and format our storage drive.

Authors Bottom

If you have a few years of experience in Computer Science or research, and you’re interested in sharing that experience with the community, have a look at our Contribution Guidelines.

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