Understanding the NTFS File System

by Barry Dysert
(last updated February 15, 2016)


A file system is associated with disk drives, and is responsible for how the disk, and the files on it, are manipulated and utilized. The three most popular file systems used by Windows are NTFS (New Technology File System), FAT32 (File Allocation Table), and exFAT (extended File Allocation Table). NTFS is the most robust and powerful file system of the three. For one thing, you can create an NTFS volume as large as 2 TB, which can contain as many files as there is physical space to hold them. Other advantages of NTFS include:

  • built-in security
  • recoverability
  • file compression
  • quotas
  • encryption

These features provide reliability and security for enterprise-wide operation. They also allow you to deal with the physical limitations of disk resources by providing disk quotas and file compression.

Although NTFS is the preferred file system for hard disks—and is required for Windows system drives—FAT32 is the default for smaller removable media, such as USB drives, and exFAT is typically used for larger USB drives. You can, however, format a FAT32 or exFAT disk to NTFS (but not vice-versa) by using the Convert utility at the command line, in this manner:

C:\> Chkdsk h: /f
C:\> Convert h: /FS:NTFS

These commands change drive H: to the NTFS file system. Note that the Chkdsk utility is used first; it checks the drive and fixes any problems that may exist. The Convert utility then does the actual conversion. No data is actually lost in the conversion; it remains intact on the drive.

 This tip (5669) applies to Windows 7, 8, and 10.

Author Bio

Barry Dysert

Barry has been a computer professional for over 35 years, working in different positions such as technical team leader, project manager, and software developer. He is currently a software engineer with an emphasis on developing custom applications under Microsoft Windows. When not working with Windows or writing Tips, Barry is an amateur writer. His first non-fiction book is titled "A Chronological Commentary of Revelation." ...


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What is 9 - 6?

2016-02-18 09:32:55

Peter de Jong

This info about NTFS is outdated and incomplete.
Max NTFS disk size is 2^64
Max NTFS file size is 16*1024^6
Clustersize 4 kb

The limitation of 2 TB was a recommendation of MS a long time ago.
Nowadays in companies the use of NTFS filesizes of 16 to 24 TB is very common.

And not a wordt is spent about how quotas are to be used.
And how about the Change Journal, often used to speed up the backup of filesystems with millions of files.

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