What Is Windows File System? [Help]

About Windows File System

file system structure

What is file system? Have you ever paid attention to it? This article aims to introduce Windows file system to you.

In computing, file system controls how data is stored and retrieved. In other words, it is the method and data structure that an operating system uses to keep track of files on a disk or partition.

It separates the data we put in computer into pieces and gives each piece a name, so the data is easily isolated and identified.

Without file system, information saved in a storage media would be one large body of data with no way to tell where the information begins and ends.

Types of Windows File System

Knowing what is file system, let’s learn about the types of Windows file system.

There are five types of Windows file system, such as FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, NTFS and exFAT. Most of us like to choose the latter three, and I would like to introduce them respectively for you.

Tip: You may hear ReFS (Resilient File System), a Microsoft proprietary file system introduced in Windows Server 2012, and you can click here to learn more about it.

FAT32 in Windows

In order to overcome the limited volume size of FAT16 (its supported maximum volume size is 2GB) Microsoft designed a new version of the file system FAT32, which then becomes the most frequently used version of the FAT (File Allocation Table) file system.

NTFS in Windows

NTFS is the newer drive format. Its full name is New Technology File System. Starting with Windows NT 3.1, it is the default file system of the Windows NT family.

Microsoft has released five versions of NTFS, namely v1.0, v1.1, v1.2, v3.0, and v3.1.

exFAT in Windows

exFAT (Extended File Allocation Table) was designed by Microsoft back in 2006 and was a part of the company's Windows CE 6.0 operating system.

This file system was created to be used on flash drives like USB memory sticks and SD cards, which gives a hint for its precursors: FAT32 and FAT16.

Comparisons among the Three Types of Windows File System

Everything comes in advantages and shortcomings. Comparisons among the three types of Windows File System will be showed in following content to help you make a choice about selecting one type of file system.


The three types can work in all versions of Windows.

For FAT32, it also works in game consoles and particularly anything with a USB port; for exFAT, it requires additional software on Linux; for NTFS, it is read only by default with Mac, and may be read only by default with some Linux distributions.

With respect to the ideal use, FAT32 is used on removable drives like USB and Storage Card; exFAT is used for USB flash drives and other external drivers, especially if you need files of more than 4 GB in size; NTFS can be used for servers.


The files belonging to FAT32 and NTFS can be encrypted, but the flies belong to the latter can be compressed.

The encryption and compression in Windows are very useful. If other users do not use your user name to login Windows system, they will fail to open the encrypted and compressed files that created with your user name.

In other word, after some files are encrypted, such files only can be opened when people use your account to login Windows system.

Note: Although the files have been encrypted and compressed, people still can open it when they use your user name to login Windows system. You can apply Hide Partition, a function in MiniTool Partition Wizard to protect your important data and privacy better.

Supported Volume Size

For FAT32, the partition size is no larger than 2TB, which means you cannot format a hard drive larger than 2TB as a single FAT32 partition. NTFS allows you use 64KB clusters to achieve a 256TB volume. In theory, you can achieve a 16EB volume of exFAT.

Supported File Size

For FAT32, it fails to support the single files whose size is over 4GB, while NTFS file system can support the size of single file more than 4GB, and for exFAT, the maximum size of single file, in theory, is 16EB.

In conclusion, compared with NTFS and exFAT, FAT32 comes in higher compatibility in old operating systems and removable storage devices, whereas its features limit in single file size and partition size.

Compared with FAT32 and exFAT, NTFS surpasses in security. And exFAT features larger volume volume size and single file size.

File System Conversion

Maybe you already have a hard drive featuring FAT32 or NTFS file system, and you want to make a conversion. In this situation, you can download MiniTool Partition Wizard to help you complete this conversion.

Note: If you want to convert FAT32 to NTFS, you can choose MiniTool Partition Wizard Free. To convert NTFS to FAT32, you should choose MiniTool Partition Wizard Pro or above editions.

Convert NTFS to FAT in the main interface of MiniTool Partition Wizard Pro

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