Home > Wiki Tips

Microsoft NTFS Overview & FAT32, exFAT VS NTFS

Updated on Thursday, May 23, 2024

iBoysoft author Vain Rowe

Written by

Vain Rowe
Professional tech editor

Approved by

Jessica Shee


NTFS File System Overview: Features & Drawbacks, Is It Useful?

Summary: What is NTFS? In this article, we will elaborate on Microsoft NTFS basics, including the OS compatibility of NTFS, the pros and cons of the NTFS file system, and the difference between FAT32, exFAT, and NTFS.


What is the NTFS file system?

NTFS, standing for New Technology File System, is a proprietary journaling file system developed by Microsoft that was released in 1993 with Windows NT 3.1. Simply put, it is a process that the Windows operating system uses for reading, storing, organizing, and retrieving files on a hard disk drive effectively.

Up to now, Microsoft has rolled out five versions of NTFS. The recent NTFS 3.0 has taken a qualitative leap when compared with the previous versions. It added multiple well-designed features, such as disk quotas, file system encryption, file system journaling, etc.

While NTFS 3.1, a following update of version 3.0, expanded the Master File Table entries with redundant MFT record numbers. It is also the NTFS version that we are using currently.

OS compatibility of the NTFS file system

Though NTFS is a widely used file system, not all operating systems are compatible with it.

Which operating system can use the NTFS file system?

Developed by Microsoft, NTFS has full read-write support on Windows, including:

  • Windows 10
  • Windows 8
  • Windows 7
  • Windows Vista
  • Windows XP
  • Windows 2000
  • Windows NT

Moreover, the open-source OS Linux and BSD (Blind spot detection) systems also have read-and-write functionality for NTFS drives.

Which operating system can't support the NTFS file system?

As the competitor of Microsft, Apple has read-only permissions on NTFS drives by default. All versions of Mac operating systems are limited to writing to an NTFS drive, even the latest macOS Big Sur.

If you want to write files to NTFS drive on Mac, you need NTFS for Mac.

Moreover, Android also doesn't support NTFS read or write capacity natively.

What are the pros & cons of the NTFS file system?

Every coin has two sides. Windows NTFS file system also has both advantages and disadvantages.

Features of the NTFS file system

High security

Microsoft NTFS allows you to set permissions on a file or folder, which is usually called file system encryption. Only the users or groups that you specified will have the right to access your drives. And you can even select the users' access types, for example, read-only or read-write.

Flexible allocation of capacity

To allow the administrator to have full authority over disk space usage, NTFS uses disk quotas to track and control the size of disk space. The administrator can decide how much disk space (mainly the shared space) a user can use.

Support File compression

NTFS allows adding unallocated space from the same or different disk to increase the size of an NTFS volume, offering more storage space for you. In other words, this feature maximizes the amount of data that can be stored.

Enable file system journaling

Being a journaling file system, NTFS offers a feature of writing system changes to a log or journal before the changes are written. This working mechanism supplies a chance for you to avoid data loss when an event of failure happens.

Enhanced reliability

Once a system corruption happens, NTFS can restore the consistency of the file system during a restart with the log or journal file and checkpoint information. It also can monitor, check, and correct transient corruption errors in the background while keeping the volume online. These enable your work with the volume more stable and durative.

Support large volumes

On Windows Server 2019 or newer, Windows 10, version 1709 or newer, NTFS can support volumes up to 8 petabytes. The volume sizes vary from the cluster size and the number of clusters, just as shown below.

For example, in a 4 KB cluster, the largest volume and file size is 16TB.

The cluster size to the largest volume and file size

Source: Microsoft.com

Maximum file name and path

The NTFS file system allows long file names. It stores an 8.3 alias on disk, offering high compatibility with file systems that set an 8.3 limit on file names and extensions.

In terms of supporting extended-length paths, there are Unicode versions enabled in numerous Windows AP. That allows an extended-length path of approximately 32,767 characters.

Apart from the features mentioned above, NTFS also has other features. You can get more details from Microsoft.

Drawbacks of the NTFS file system

Limited file name formats

The NTFS file system is not case-sensitive. That is to say, NTFS will recognize a file named NTFS.doc and ntfs.doc as the same file. And this file system also does not support certain specific characters in file naming, such as ?, <, >, *, etc.

Poor operating system compatibility

Designed and developed by Microsoft, NTFS has been the default file system for Windows over the years. But for Mac OS computers, NTFS can still only be mounted in reading mode. It's not friendly for cross-platform users.

High disk space overhead

Space overhead is the storage space on a drive that's exclusive to file systems and cannot be used for data storage. As Microsoft indicates, the NTFS file system will occupy more than 4MB of drive space on a 100 MB partition. That is a severe space loss, which limits your storage space use.

Differences between FAT32, exFAT, and NTFS file system

Like NTFS, FAT32, and exFAT are also file systems commonly used for Windows. But these file systems are different in storage, compatibility, security, etc. Let's dig out their differences and figure out what format for both Mac and PC.



FAT32 is developed on the base of its predecessor FAT16, rolling out on the heel of the introduction of Windows 95.

Different from NTFS in storage, FAT32 has limitations in file size and partition size. It only can store a file that is less than 4GB. And a FAT32 partition cannot be over 8TB. But NTFS features no specific file size and partition size limitations.

Regarding security, FAT32 lacks the permissions feature, like file and folder permissions, having less security when compared to NTFS.

However, FAT32 is simpler to use due to its uncomplex file allocation table. That is why FAT32 can be compatible with Mac OS whereas NTFS can't.


Introduced with older Windows XP and Windows Vista, exFAT is a replacement for FAT32.

exFAT vs. NTFS in the compatibility aspect, exFAT has higher OS compatibility. It supports Linux, macOS, and Mac OS X. But NTFS doesn't have write access to the Mac operating system.

When it comes to stability, exTAF is slightly inferior. It hasn't been designed with journaling functionality as NTFS does, which increases data loss risks.

However, the two file systems also have similarities. Both of them have no limits on file and partition size.

People Also Ask

Read More Questions