FAT32 vs. NTFS File Systems
You might have come across these computer terms including FAT32, NTFS and much more. So what exactly is that? To make it simple both FAT32 and NTFS are file systems created for keeping track of files on the hard disk.
In this context, the file system is a set of rules used to decide how data is stored and fetched in a storage device.
What are FAT and NTFS? FAT is ‘File Allocation Table’ and the FAT32 is just an extension that data is stored in chunks of 32 bits. This is the oldest and the most experienced file system in the computing history.
This was initially released in August 1995, with Microsoft Windows 95 OS, where it allows the user to store files of size up to 4GB and can go up to a max of 16TB. This file system is good enough storage devices like flash drives, where it can’t be used to install heavy apps. All versions of Windows, Linux support the FAT32 file system.
On the other hand, NTFS stands for New Technology File System, which is new and a well-featured version of a file system. It offers huge file size limits and in turn, helps you to store a large chunk of files. The NTFS file system supports backward compatibility with the previous versions. Moreover, it keeps track of any modifications to the file system and is used to recover the file system.
When it comes to security, the FAT32 file system provides very little security, whereas the NTFS uses NTFS Permissions. In this, case the folder and files can be controlled individually.
|Introduced||1977||July 1993 (Windows NT 3.1)|
|Overall Performance||Both built-in security and recoverability are absent. File compression is not possible.||Recoverability, encryption and compression are designed into NTFS in a way that’s transparent to the user.|
|Max. volume size||2 TiB (with 512 byte sectors, which is the most common configuration) 8 TiB (with 2 KiB sectors and 32 KiB clusters) 16 TiB (with 4 KiB sectors and 64 KiB clusters)||264 clusters − 1 cluster (format);, 256 TB (256 × 10244 bytes) − 64 KB (64 × 1024 bytes) (implementation)|
|Max. file size||About 4GB. Technically, the file size limits are 2,147,483,647 bytes (2 GiB – 1) (without LFS) 4,294,967,295 bytes (4 GiB – 1) (with LFS) 274,877,906,943 bytes (256 GiB – 1) (only with FAT32+)||16 EiB – 1 KiB (format);, 16 TiB – 64 KiB (Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2 or earlier implementation), 256 TiB – 64 KiB (Windows 8, Windows Server 2012 implementation)|
|Max. number of files||268,173,300 for 32 KiB clusters||4,294,967,295 (2^32-1)|
|Attributes||Read-only, Hidden, System, Volume, Directory, Archive||Read-only, hidden, system, archive, not content indexed, off-line, temporary, compressed|
|Dates recorded||Modified date/time, creation date/time (DOS 7.0 and higher only), access date (only available with ACCDATE enabled),  deletion date/time (only with DELWATCH 2)||Creation, modification, POSIX change, access|
|Date range||1980-01-01 to 2099-12-31||1 January 1601 – 28 May 60056 (File times are 64-bit numbers counting 100-nanosecond intervals (ten million per second) since 1601, which is 58,000+ years)|
|Date resolution||2 seconds for last modified time, 10 ms for creation time, 1 day for access date, 2 seconds for deletion time||100 ns|
|File system permissions||Partial, only with DR-DOS, REAL/32 and 4690 OS||ACLs|
|Max. filename length||255 UCS-2 characters when using LFN||255 UTF-16 code units|
|Transparent compression||Not supported||Per-file, LZ77 (Windows NT 3.51 onward)|
|Transparent encryption||Not supported||Per-file,, DESX (Windows 2000 onward),, Triple DES (Windows XP onward),, AES (Windows XP Service Pack 1, Windows Server 2003 onward)|
|Size & Storage||The Maximum volume size is 32GB for all OS and 2TB for some OS. Max file size is 4GB.||16 EiB – 1 KiB (format);, 16 TiB – 64 KiB (Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2 or earlier implementation), 256 TiB – 64 KiB (Windows 8, Windows Server 2012 implementation)|
|Full name||32-bit File Allocation Table||New Technology File System|
|Supported operating systems||All Windows versions, macOS, Linux, PlayStation 3 and 4||Windows NT family (Windows NT 3.1 to Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows 8, Windows Server 2012), Mac OS X, GNU/Linux|
|Partition identifier||MBR/EBR: FAT32: 0x0B 0x0C (LBA), e.a. BDP: EBD0A0A2-B9E5-4433-87C0-68B6B72699C7||0x07 (MBR), EBD0A0A2-B9E5-4433-87C0-68B6B72699C7 (GPT)|
Features of NTFS vs FAT
FAT32 is a fluff-free and simple system that is documented and mainly keeps track of file locations. The simplicity of FAT32 has made it the file system of choice for portable storage mediums like in memory cards, mp3 players and flash players. NTFS file system is more complex and offers multiple enhancements that increase security as well as performance. NTFS file system allows automatic file compression prior to being written freeing up hard disk space and also has disk quotas which allows system administrator to allocate disk space to users.
FAT32 is a derivative of the (FAT) File Allocation Table which supports drives with more than 2GB storage. The largest possible file is 4GB minus 2 bytes. In comparison to its earlier versions, FAT32 uses small clusters and hence uses space more effectively. It can relocate the root folder and use the backup copy of the FAT instead of the default copy. NTFS is much more flexible than FAT32. NTFS does file-level encryption, sparse file support, disk usage quotas, distributed link tracing, file compression, hierarchical storage management etc.
Advantages and Disadvantages
FAT32 can be converted to NTFS but it is not so easy to convert NTFS back to FAT. NTFS has great security, file by file compression, quotas and file encryption. If there is more than one operating system on a single computer, it is better to format some volumes as FAT32.
Using multiple operating systems in same computer would make FAT32 a better choice if you want both OSs to read the drive. If there is only Windows OS, NTFS is perfectly fine. Thus in a Windows computer system NTFS is a better option.