Difference between FAT32, exFAT, and NTFS File System

A file system provides a way of organizing a drive. It specifies how data is stored on the drive and what types of information can be attached to files—filenames, permissions, and other attributes.

  • Windows supports three different file systems which are NTFS,FAT32 and exFAT.
  • NTFS is the most modern file system. Windows uses NTFS for its system drive and, by default, for most non-removable drives.
  • FAT32 is an older file system that’s not as efficient as NTFS and doesn’t support as big a feature set, but does offer greater compatibility with other operating systems.
  • exFAT is a modern replacement for FAT32 and more devices and operating systems support it than NTFS but it’s not nearly as widespread as FAT32.

 NT File System (NTFS)

  • NTFS is the modern file system Windows likes to use by default. When you install Windows, it formats your system drive with the NTFS file system. NTFS has file size and partition size limits that are so theoretically huge you won’t run up against them.
  • NTFS first appeared in consumer versions of Windows with Windows XP, though it originally debuted with Windows NT.
  • NTFS is packed with modern features which are not available on FAT32 and exFAT. NTFS supports file permissions for security, a change journal that can help quickly recover errors if your computer crashes, shadow copies for backups, encryption, disk quota limits, hard links, and various other features.
  • Compatibility : Works with all versions of Windows, but read-only with Mac by default, and may be read-only by default with some Linux distributions.
  • Limitations : No realistic file-size or partition size limits.
  • Ideal Usage : Use it for your Windows system drive and other internal drives that will just be used with Windows.

 File Allocation Table 32 (FAT32)

  • FAT32 is the oldest of the three file systems available to Windows. It was introduced all the way back in Windows 95 to replace the older FAT16 file system used in MS-DOS and Windows 3.
  • Individual files on a FAT32 drive can’t be over 4 GB in size—that’s the maximum. A FAT32 partition must also be less than 8 TB, which admittedly is less of a limitation unless you’re using super-high-capacity drives.
  • Modern versions of Windows can no longer be installed to a drive formatted with FAT32; they must be installed to drives formatted with NTFS.
  • Compatibility : Works with all versions of Windows, Mac, Linux, game consoles, and practically anything with a USB port.
  • Limitations : 4 GB maximum file size, 8 TB maximum partition size.
  • Ideal Usage : Use it on removable drives where you need maximum compatibility with the widest range of devices,assuming you don’t have any files 4 GB or larger in size.

Extended File Allocation Table (exFAT)

  • The exFAT file system was introduced in 2006 and was added to older versions of Windows with updates to Windows XP and Windows Vista.
  • exFAT is optimized for flash drives—designed to be a lightweight file system like FAT32, but without the extra features and over head of NTFS and without the limitations of FAT32.
  •  exFAT has very large limits on file and partition sizes., allowing you to store files much larger than the 4 GB allowed by FAT32.
  • Compatibility : Works with all versions of Windows and modern versions of Mac OS X, but requires additional software on Linux. More devices support exFAT than support NTFS.
  • Limitations : No realistic file-size or partition-size limits.
  • Ideal Usage : Use it when you need bigger file size and partition limits than FAT32 offers and when you need more compatibility than NTFS offers.

This article is contributed by Shubrodeep Banerjee and Akash Sharan. If you like GeeksforGeeks and would like to contribute, you can also write an article using contribute.geeksforgeeks.org or mail your article to contribute@geeksforgeeks.org. See your article appearing on the GeeksforGeeks main page and help other Geeks.

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