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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)

The FAT family of file systems, including FAT12, FAT16 and FAT32, have been the file systems underlying Microsoft operating systems since the first IBM PCs in the early 1980s. Virtually everyone who has ever used a PC is familiar with at least the basics of this venerable file system. On the whole, it does an adequate job of managing the files on a typical PC, especially for machines that are not subjected to demanding use. For home PC users, and for the typical PC in a small business, FAT is generally "good enough". I use it myself every day, and have few complaints about it as a whole.

However, while FAT is acceptable for most uses, it is also a very old, limited and relatively simplistic file system. It has few of the security, capacity and reliability features that are needed by high-end users, and especially, servers and workstations in a corporate networking environment. Recognizing that FAT was not a worthy basis upon which to build its new Windows NT operating system, Microsoft created the New Technology File System, or NTFS. The goals behind NTFS were to provide a flexible, adaptable, high-security and high-reliability file system, to help position Windows NT as a "serious" operating system for business and corporate users.

In this section, I provide a fairly comprehensive description of the key characteristics of the NTFS file system. I begin with an overview and history of the NTFS file system, and a discussion of the different versions of NTFS. I then describe NTFS's architecture and major structures, and explain how directories and files are organized in NTFS. I then move on to discuss NTFS's security and permissions system, and then several reliability and management features associated with the file system. I then describe some of the "additional" features associated with certain versions of NTFS, and conclude with a discussion of various NTFS implementation issues.

I should point out that the structure of the subsections in this section roughly parallel the structure of the file systems section as a whole. You may want to read the pages discussing the FAT file system before you read about NTFS, because this will provide you with some useful background. However, it isn't strictly necessary.

Note: The NTFS file system is, in many ways, tied inextricably to the Windows NT and Windows 2000 operating systems. It is hard to "draw the line" between what exactly is a discussion of the file system specifically, and what is the operating system as a whole. However, to the degree possible, I have tried to do exactly that, as attempting to explain those operating systems in detail is a task beyond the scope of this site. :^)

Next: Overview and History of NTFS


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