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Difference Between FAT32 and NTFS

Last Updated : 12 Mar, 2024
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A file system provides a way of organizing a drive. Its primary operation is to specify the way the data is stored and the kinds of information attached to files including filenames, permissions, and other attributes. Windows supports three different file systems namely FAT32, exFAT, and NTFS. The transition of these file systems was as follows:

  • 8-bit FAT (Original 8-bit FAT)
  • FAT12 (8-bit File Allocation Table)
  • FAT16 (Initial 16-bit File Allocation Table(with 16-bit sector entries))
  • FAT16B (Final 16-bit File Allocation Table(with 32-bit sector entries))
  • FAT32 (File Allocation Table-32)
  • ExFAT (Extensible File Allocation Table)
  • NTFS (New Technology File System)

What is FAT32?

FAT32 stands for File Allocation Table. FAT32 is an extension of previous file systems in which the data is stored in chunks of 32 bits. FAT32 is an upgraded version of FAT16 designed to overcome the limitations of FAT16 and add support for larger media. FAT32 was used in older versions of operating systems like Windows 95 up until Windows XP. 

FAT32 is the original file system for the Windows operating system, having been developed in the 1970s. It was mainly made for floppy drives with capacities less than 500 K. Each of the three FAT file systems—FAT12, FAT16, and FAT32—has a different file size and disc layout. Initially, MS-DOS used the FAT file system, with a maximum hard drive size of 32 MB and sectors partitioned into 512 K. It frequently appears in removable discs and storage devices. A FAT32 drive’s maximum file size is limited to 4 GB, while the size of a FAT32 partition cannot exceed 8 TB. The lack of security offered by FAT32 is its primary drawback. File access protection is absent from FAT16, the prior version of the file system, and thus suffers from internal fragmentation.

Features of FAT32

  • Legacy Compatibility: FAT32 has been around because the early days of computing and is broadly supported throughout diverse operating system and devices. It is commonly used for USB flash drives, SD playing cards, and different removable media because of its huge compatibility.
  • Simple Structure: FAT32 has a tremendously easy document system structure, along with a File Allocation Table (FAT) that keeps track of report allocation at the disk. This simplicity makes it easy to implement and understand however additionally limits its abilities compared to extra cutting-edge document systems.
  • No Journaling: FAT32 does no longer help journaling, a function determined in extra superior record systems like NTFS. Journaling allows preserve the consistency of the record in case of sudden shutdowns or crashes by way of preserving track of changes earlier than they’re devoted to the disk.
  • Limited Support for Long Filenames: While FAT32 supports lengthy filenames (up to 255 characters), it uses a backward-compatible technique referred to as 8.3 report naming conference, which restricts filenames to eight characters followed by using a three-individual record extension.

Management of FAT32 File System Disk Space

The control data is stored independently of the file system in the linked allocation that the FAT32 file system uses. Every disc block in an array has an element in the file allocation table of that disc. A file is assigned a disc block, and the associated FAT element retains the next disc block address. Because of the linked allocation, the disc block and its FAT component together comprise a unit that shares the same data as the disc block. The address of the first disc block is contained in a file’s directory entry, while the address of the second disc block is contained in the FAT element for that disc block. The final disc block contains the unique code that denotes the file’s end.

Advantages of FAT32

  • FAT32 efficiently works under partitions of 200 MB.
  • FAT32 provides compatibility with different operating systems.
  • FAT32 is frequently used as a primary partition on multiboot systems.
  • Disc partitions of up to 2 TB can be made using FAT32.
  • Partitions formatted as FAT16 are limited to 2GB in size.
  • FAT32 uses much less disc space for large partitions because the minimum cluster size for partitions under 8GB is still a modest 4KB.
  • Because it is compatible with several operating systems, it is frequently used as the primary partition on multi-boot systems.

Disadvantages of FAT32

  • The partitions in FAT32 of size over 200 MB can degrade the performance.
  • FAT32 is insecure because of the lack of encryption.
  • FAT32 is susceptible to fragmentation.

What is NTFS?

NTFS stands for New Technology File System. First introduced in 1993, it is used in newer versions of operating systems such as Windows NT and 2000 and later versions of Windows. NTFS is a more robust, high-performance logging file system with multi-user access control, ACLs, and many other things that make it appropriate to work with an Operating System that has protection. NTFS includes characteristics such as data recovery, multi-streaming, fault tolerance, security, extended file size, and file systems, UNICODE names. exFAT is used where NTFS is not feasible, due to its data-structure overhead, but a greater file-size limit than the standard FAT32 file system is needed. 

Features of NTFS

  • Advanced Features: NTFS is a feature-rich file system designed to meet the needs of modern computing environments. It supports features including record compression, encryption, disk quotas, symbolic links, and document system journaling, imparting greater flexibility and capability compared to FAT32.
  • Dynamic Disk Support: NTFS supports dynamic disks, which allows for superior disk management capabilities consisting of software RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks).
  • Sparse File Support: Sparse documents are used in programs along with digital machines and database systems to effectively allocate garage space for facts this is in general empty.
  • Transaction Support: NTFS helps transactions, permitting a couple of report machine operations to be grouped together as a single atomic transaction. This ensures statistics integrity and consistency, specially in situations where more than one operations want to be done together (e.G., database transactions).
  • Improved Security: NTFS presents sturdy security features, which includes file and folder permissions, get right of entry to access control lists (ACLs), and encryption.

Management of NTFS File System Disk Space

Various disc sector size have no dependency on the NTFS file system. The cluster idea, which is a collection of adjacent sectors, is used to allocate disc space a cluster may have up to 2n parts. A bitmap file is used to represent the allocated and unoccupied clusters in a volume, which is a logical partition on a disc. Unusable clusters are also tracked by a file called a bad cluster file. You can use a volume set to surpass the partition’s 32-volume maximum.
The NTFS volume contains the boot sector, the master file table (MFT), and additional user and system data. Similar to a FAT table, the master file table (MFT) contains all of the data regarding the files and directories on the drive. Because each volume contains a boot sector, it can all be booted.

Advantages of NTFS

  • NTFS is highly secure because it prevents unauthorized access to file contents by enforcing Encryption File System(EFS).
  • NTFS performs well even in the partitions of size over 400 MB.
  • NTFS is less susceptible to fragmentation.
  • NTFS offers faster processing and is more stable than FAT32. File attributes can also be classified as resident or non-resident. While the non-resident features are maintained outside of MFT, the resident characteristics are retained within MFT. When Windows starts, the MFT is loaded and all properties are retained if the file is less than 1KB.
  • Physical and logical disc issues may be automatically fixed by the NTFS file system. The sector is checked before every read and write operation. Any mistakes that arise while reading will be reported. If an issue arises during writing the data, it will choose the appropriate sector to write the data in. Additionally, it will highlight the damaged area so you don’t use it again.

Disadvantages of NTFS

  • NTFS is not extensively supported.
  • Performance in the NTFS file system degrades under partitions of 400 MB.
  • It takes a lot of extra space for the NTFS file system to function. “Space overhead” is the term for the data storage used by the file system itself; this data storage is not meant to hold other kinds of data. Therefore, if you format a drive that uses the NTFS file system, you will lose some storage capacity.
  • One of the main problems with the NTFS file system is that it is incompatible. Windows 2000 and later operating system versions are compatible with it. Windows versions prior to this one are not compatible.
  • File naming is subject to several limitations. The maximum character count for the directory and file names is 255. The system does not distinguish between lowercase and uppercase letters, even though file names may contain capital letters.
  • Because of the required space overhead, a floppy disc cannot be formatted using the NTFS file system. Floppy disc drives are widely used in older Windows-based computers.
  • Without the aid of third-party software, Mac computers are unable to write data on NTFS formatted storage.

Difference Between FAT32 and NTFS




Structure Simple Complex
Maximum number of characters supported in a file name 83 255
Maximum file size 4GB 16TB
Encryption Not encrypted Encrypted with Encrypting File System (EFS)
Security Network Type Only Both local and network type
Fault tolerance No provision for Fault Tolerance Automatic troubleshoot is present
Compatibility with Operating Systems Windows 95/98/2000/2003/XP Windows NT/2K/XP/Vista/7/8/10, macOS X, Linux
Compression Compression is not allowed Supports file compression
Accessing speed Low Relatively higher than other File Systems
User-level disk space Not present Present
Conversion Allowed Not allowed

Frequently Asked Question on FAT32 and NTFS – FAQs

Which file system should I use for my storage device?

NTFS because it provide advanced features like encryption, compression, journaling, and file permissions are available. Large file and partition sizes are supported by NTFS, which makes it appropriate for contemporary storage devices.

Can I convert a storage device from FAT32 to NTFS?

Yes you can convert storage device from FAT32 to NTFS.

Can I use NTFS on removable storage devices like USB flash drives?

Yes , You can right-click on your external storage device or USB drive. Choose Format from the selection that appears. Choose NTFS from the File system drop-down selection.

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