NTFS vs Ext4 vs FAT32

This post first appeared on Geekboots.

NTFS vs Ext4 vs FAT32

A file system is basically a set of rules used to decide how data is stored and fetched in a storage device, be it a hard drive, flash drive, or something else. You used to store data in your offices in different files, the same method is deployed in computing.

A defined set of data called a ‘File’ is stored at a specified location in a storage device.

There are many types of files systems available for different storage options like the Disk File System, Flash File System, Tape File System, and so on. But here, we’ll be focused on the three Disk File Systems FAT32, NTFS, and Ext4.

FAT32, NTFS, Ext4 are three different files systems used to store data in a storage device. These file systems have their own set of pros and cons which you might want to know and will help you choose the correct file system for different needs.

When talking about the file system, realize that the operating system gets installed on a partition formatted with the NTFS file system. For removable flash drives and other forms of USB interface-based storage, we use FAT32. Additionally, the removable flash drives and memory cards can also be formatted with the ext4 file system.

FAT32, NTFS, and Ext4 are the three file systems we commonly use for Windows and storage media running on Android and various other devices.

Let’s see the differences to know these file systems better to use the right formats in the future.

So, let’s get started –


FAT32 A version of the File Allocation Table (FAT) available in Windows 95 OSR 2 and Windows 98. FAT32 increases the number of bits used to address clusters and also reduces the size of each cluster. The result is that it can support larger disks (up to 2 terabytes) and better storage efficiency. FAT32 is the older of the driven formats. FAT32 is the most common version of the FAT file system created back in 1977 by Microsoft. FAT had been the standard format for floppy disks and hard drives.


NTFS stands for New Technology File System. It’s the file system that the Windows NT operating system uses for storing and retrieving files on a hard disk. NTFS offers a number of improvements in terms of performance, extensibility, and security. Such as improved support for metadata and advanced data structures to improve performance, reliability, and disk space use. This file system is supported in other desktop and server operating systems as well. Linux and BSD have a free and open-source NTFS driver, called NTFS-3G, with both read and write functionality. macOS comes with read-only support for NTFS.


Ext4 stands for a Fourth extended file system. It is the evolution of the most used Linux filesystem, Ext3. In many ways, Ext4 is a deeper improvement over Ext3 than Ext3 was over Ext2. Ext4 modifies important data structures of the filesystem such as the ones destined to store the file data. The result is a filesystem with an improved design, better performance, reliability, and features. Ext4 supports file-based encryption. In a directory tree marked for encryption, file contents, filenames, and symbolic link targets are all encrypted. Encryption keys are stored in the kernel keyring.

FAT32 vs Ext4 vs NTFS

  • FAT32 is the older. NTFS is the newer drive format. Ext4 is the newest of these drive formats.
  • FAT32 originally designed in 1977. NTFS introduced in July 1993. And Ext4 stable version released on 21 October 2008.
  • FAT32 is read/write compatible with a majority of recent and recently obsolete operating systems, including DOS, most flavors of Windows (up to and including 8), Mac OS X, and many flavors of UNIX-descended operating systems, including Linux and FreeBSD.
  • NTFS is fully read/write compatible with Windows from Windows NT 3.1 and Windows XP up to and including Windows 8. Mac OS X 10.3 and beyond have NTFS read capabilities, but writing to an NTFS volume requires a third party software utility like Paragon NTFS for Mac.
  • Ext4 is one of the latest and greatest Linux file formats.
  • Ext4 modifies important data structures of the filesystem such as the ones destined to store the file data.
  • The ext4 format allows users to still read the filesystem from other distributions/operating systems without ext4 support.
  • Ext3/4 is by far the best filesystem format, but it’s not supported natively by Windows or Macs. A good option is to create a small FAT32 partition and copy or install an application such as Ext2Fsd and format the rest as ext4.
  • ext4 has very large limits on file and partition sizes., allowing you to store files much larger than the 4 GB allowed by FAT32.
  • Use Ext4 when you need a bigger file size and partition limits than FAT32 offers and when you need more compatibility than NTFS offers.
  • NTFS is ideal for internal drives, while Ext4 is generally ideal for flash drives.
  • Ext4 filesystems are complete journaling filesystems and do not need defragmentation utilities to be run on them like FAT32 and NTFS.
  • The ext4 filesystem can support volumes with sizes up to 1 exbibyte (EiB) and files with sizes up to 16 tebibytes (TiB).
  • The maximum possible size for a file on a FAT32 volume is 4 GiB.
  • The design of the FAT32 file system does not include direct built-in support for long filenames.
  • Ext4 is backward-compatible with ext3 and ext2, making it possible to mount ext3 and ext2 as ext4.
  • Ext4 uses a performance technique called allocate-on-flush.
  • Ext4 allows an unlimited number of subdirectories.
  • The ext4 file system does not honor the “secure deletion” file attribute, which is supposed to cause overwriting of files upon deletion.
  • Windows uses hard links to support short (8.3) filenames in NTFS.
  • NTFS is a journaling file system and uses the NTFS Log to record metadata changes to the volume. It is a feature that FAT does not provide and critical for NTFS to ensure that its complex internal data structures will remain consistent in case of system crashes or data moves performed by the defragmentation API, and allow easy rollback of uncommitted changes to these critical data structures when the volume is remounted.
  • When it comes to file checking, EXT4 is quicker because unallocated blocks of data are marked as such and are simply skipped during disk check operations.
  • The Encrypting File System (EFS) provides the core file encryption technology used to store encrypted files on NTFS volumes.
  • FAT is a simple file system that is supported for reading and writes on all major operating systems (which is why it’s a good choice for external drives), it has no security and it does not perform well with large files.  NTFS makes improvements on FAT with security and in many cases contiguous reads, but it still suffers some similar ailments. Ext is generally a good choice for working with most files, however, small files would benefit more from contiguous allocation.

What do you think; which file system is best according to you? Share your file format interest with us in the comment section. Thank you!