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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Hard Disk Drives | Hard Disk Logical Structures and File Systems | New Technology File System (NTFS) | NTFS Architecture and Structures ]

NTFS Architecture Overview

Most of the weaknesses of the FAT file system result directly from the rather simplistic and outdated architecture it uses. No provisions were made in the internal structures of FAT partitions to allow for security and reliability features, making it very difficult to add such capabilities later on. In contrast, NTFS has a special architecture that not only allows for these advanced abilities, but also uses a simple conceptual scheme that makes it easier for more features to be added in the future with a minimum of changes. (In fact, this characteristic was employed when NTFS 5.0 came out with several new options.)

The elegance of the NTFS architecture can be seen in how information is stored in an NTFS partition. Virtually every structure in NTFS is a file, including the structures used to manage the partition and maintain statistics and control information about the partition itself. The control information is stored in a set of special files that are created when an NTFS partition is first created; these are called metadata files and include such items as lists of files on the partition, volume information, cluster allocations, and so forth. One exception to the "everything is a file" rule is the partition boot sector, which precedes the metadata files on an NTFS partition and controls the most basic of NTFS operations, such as loading the operating system.

The same simple conceptual model used for files and control structures is extended to the internal level of files as well. Every file in an NTFS partition is a collection of attributes; this even includes the data that the file contains, which is just considered one of many attributes. Other attributes include items such as the file's name and size. This arrangement really a database-like setup--the operating system view files as being objects with various characteristics, and manages them accordingly. This makes it easy to manage files and add attributes if needed in the future.

Internally, NTFS stores all files (including metadata files) using a cluster system--each file is broken into clusters, each of which contain a binary number of 512-byte sectors. On the surface, this is somewhat similar to how FAT stores data, but the implementation of clusters in NTFS is somewhat different. You can read more about clusters under NTFS here.

Next: NTFS Volume Boot Sector


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