A+: File Systems

Partitions hold file systems, which describe how data and drives are put together and work. Windows file systems determine:
• The rules for how large a logical drive (drive letter) can be, and whether the hard disk can be used as one big drive letter, several smaller drive letters, or must be multiple drive letters.
• How efficiently a system stores data; the less wasted space, the better.
• How secure a system is against tampering.
• Whether a drive can be accessed by more than one operating system.
Windows normally use two different file systems for hard disks, FAT32 and NTFS, plus the original FAT12 aka FAT for floppy disks and file systems for CD and DVD discs.


FAT32 was introduced in 1995, replacing the earlier FAT16, and is supported by Windows Vista, XP, and 2000, although NTFS is preferred. FAT32 has the following characteristics:
• The 32-bit file allocation table, which allows for 268,435,456 entries (232) per drive. Remember, an entry can be a folder or an allocation unit used by a file.
• The root directory can be located anywhere on the drive and can have an unlimited number of entries. Hooray!
• FAT32 uses an 8KB allocation unit size for drives as large as 16GB.
• The maximum logical partition size allowed is 2TB (more than 2 trillion bytes).
You can use FAT32 to format hard disks, flash memory, and removable media drives. However, FAT32 is recommended for hard disks only if the hard disk must also be accessed by dual-booting with an older version of Windows, for example Windows 95, 98, or Me, which do not support NTFS.
The New Technology File System (NTFS) is the native file system of Windows Vista, XP, and 2000. As implemented in Windows Vista and XP, NTFS has many differences from FAT32, including
Access Control— Different levels of access control by group or user can be configured for both folders and individual files.
Built-in compression— Individual files, folders, or an entire drive can be compressed without the use of third-party software.
A practical limit for partition sizes of 2TB— The same as with FAT32, although partitions theoretically can reach a maximum size of 16 exabytes (16 billion billion bytes).
Individual Recycle Bins— Unlike FAT32, NTFS includes a separate recycle bin for each user.
Support for the Encrypting File System (EFS)—EFS enables data to be stored in an encrypted form. No password, no access to files!
Support for mounting a drive— Drive mounting enables you to address a removable-media drive’s contents, for example, as if its contents are stored on your hard disk. The hard disk’s drive letter is used to access data on both the hard disk and the removable media drive.
Disk quota support— The administrator of a system can enforce rules about how much disk space each user is allowed to use for storage.
Hot-swapping— Removable-media drives that have been formatted with NTFS (such as Jaz, Orb, and others) can be connected or removed while the operating system is running..
Indexing— The Indexing service helps users locate information more quickly when the Search tool is used.


Windows Vista, XP, and 2000 can’t create a FAT32 partition larger than 32GB. However, if the partition already exists, they can use it.