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Windows XP > Windows XP, Installing and Setup

Windows XP File System: NTFS

By: Arie Slob

One of the first choices you have to make when you install (or upgrade to) Windows XP is the file system. FAT(32) or NTFS.

This is really an easy choice. There's only one reason not to choose NTFS; if you need to have an operating system which can't read NTFS (Win9x, MS-DOS etc.) to be able to access the partition. This limitation only applies to the local machine. If you want to access an NTFS drive across a network, any OS can access the NTFS partition.

When installing Windows XP on a hard disk with a volume greater than 32GB, you must use NTFS. (Windows XP can read FAT32 formatted drives/volumes > 32GB, but cannot create/format them as FAT32).

People who work with large files (video/audio) will also need to use NTFS at a certain point: FAT32 supports a maximum (single) file size of 4GB, which is roughly 20 minutes of video. NTFS doesn't have this restriction.


NTFS stands for New Technology File System. Microsoft created NTFS to compensate for the features it felt FAT (File Allocation Table) was lacking. These features include increased fault tolerance and enhanced security.

Windows XP's NTFS has several enhancements over Windows 2000 NFTS (but is compatible with it). Overall Microsoft managed to improve NTFS performance by 5 to 8 percent, making NFTS performance similar to FAT. Also new in this version is the ability to do a quick-format during Windows XP setup. There are a number of other improvements, some of which I'll mention later in this article.

Fault Tolerance

NTFS repairs hard disk errors automatically without displaying an error message. When Windows XP writes a file to an NTFS partition, it keeps a copy of the file in memory. It then checks the file to make sure it matches the copy stored in memory. If the copies don't match, Windows marks that section of the hard disk as bad and won't use it again (Cluster Remapping). Windows then uses the copy of the file stored in memory to rewrite the file to an alternate location on the hard disk. If the error occurred during a read, NTFS returns a read error to the calling program, and the data is lost.


NTFS has many security options. You can grant various permissions to directories and to individual files. These permissions protect files and directories locally and remotely.

NTFS also includes the Encrypting File System (EFS). EFS uses public key security to encrypt files on an NTFS volume, preventing unauthorized users from accessing those files. Encryption ensures that only the authorized users and designated recovery agents of that file or folder can access it.

Users of EFS are issued a digital certificate with a public key and a private key pair. EFS uses the key set for the user who is logged on to the local computer where the private key is stored. Users work with encrypted files and folders just as they do with any other files and folders. Encryption is transparent to any authorized users; the system decrypts the file or folder when the user opens it. When the file is saved, encryption is reapplied. However, intruders who try to access the encrypted files or folders receive an "Access denied" message if they try to open, copy, move, or rename the encrypted file or folder.

Note I: EFS is not available in Windows XP Home Edition.
Note II: It is recommended that you encrypt at the folder level to ensure that new files are automatically encrypted and that temporary files created during the editing process remain encrypted.

NTFS Security

File Compression

Another advantage to NTFS is native support for file compression. The NTFS compression offers you the opportunity to compress individual files and folders of your choice. Because compression is implemented within NTFS, any Windows-based program can read and write compressed files; there is no need to manually "uncompress" the file(s) first.

Note: The compression algorithms in NTFS support cluster sizes of up to 4KB. When the cluster size is greater than 4KB on an NTFS volume, none of the NTFS compression features are available.

NTFS Advanced Attributes

Disk Quotas

Disk quotas allow administrators to manage the amount of disk space allotted to individual users, charging users only for the files they own. Windows XP enforces quotas on a per-user and per-volume basis.

Disk quotas are transparent to the user. When a user views the available disk space for the volume, the system reports only the user's available quota allowance. If the user exceeds this allowance, the system indicates that the disk is full.

Disk Quotas

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