exFAT: Advantages and Disadvantages of Extensible FAT

exFAT: Advantages and Disadvantages of Extensible FAT

Microsoft introduced the Extensible File Allocation Table or exFAT in 2006 as a file system optimized for flash memory devices such as USB flash drives and Secure Digital or SD cards. It was originally an exclusive proprietary technology. Microsoft eventually released its technical specification on 28 August 2019. It is now one of the most popular file systems for external or removable storage mediums due to its defining characteristics and features. It still has several drawbacks and limitations. This article lists and discusses the pros and cons or advantages and disadvantages of exFAT file system.

Pros of Extensible FAT: Advantages of exFAT File System

1. Specific Advantages Over the FAT32 File System

The third-generation File Allocation Table file system or FAT32 has notable advantages over the previous generations such as FAT16. It still has critical drawbacks centered on limited maximum file size and maximum volume size that make it unsuitable for storing and transferring files larger than 4GB. Extensible FAT or exFAT is a derivative of the File Allocation Table that features important improvements and newer capabilities.

An advantage of exFAT over FAT32 is its unlimited file size support because of its maximum theoretical file size support of 16 exabytes. It also stores file size references in 8 bytes instead of 4 bytes. These make it ideal for storing large files, recording high-definition videos, and formatting high-capacity flash memory devices. Take note that the SD Association has adapted it as a default file system for its high-capacity SDXC cards.

FAT32 has a maximum partition size limit of 8TB. Extensible FAT does not have this limitation. It can be used to format partitions regardless of size. This is useful for storing large amounts of data on external high-capacity storage devices such as flash drives, solid-state drives, and even hard disk drives. It is also designed to be more efficient than FAT32 in terms of both read and write operations. This is noticeable for large file sizes.

2. Operating Systems and Platform Compatibility

Another advantage of exFAT, especially when compared to NTFS, Extended FileSystem, and Apple File System or APFS, is that it is interoperable between different operating systems and platforms. Windows can read and write on storage mediums formatted based on this file format. The same is true for macOS, Linux distributions such as Ubuntu and Debian, Android, and the operating systems of other consumer electronic devices.

The AFPS is limited to Apple devices running the macOS or the iOS and iPadOS. Mac devices can read storage mediums formatted on NTFS but are unable to write new data. This makes NTFS not suitable for transferring files between different operating systems and platforms. Other devices such as digital cameras, digital media players, and television sets would not be able to read storage mediums formatted on the NTFS file system.

Extensible FAT is useful when working with different operating systems and large files. It is important to reiterate the fact that it also supports a range of storage mediums such as hard disk drives, solid-state drives, and other flash memory standards or formats such as MultiMediaCard Embedded MultiMediaCard or eMMC, and Universal Flash Storage. This makes an ideal file system for backing up or storing and transferring files.

3. Other Notable Features of exFAT File System

Extensible FAT has a file and cluster pre-allocation feature similar to NTFS for marking a portion of the storage space. It also uses a cluster bitmap to keep track of allocated clusters and free clusters. This reduces the number or frequency of required read and write operations. Furthermore, similar to other FAT file systems. It is also suitable for embedded storage solutions because of its simple and lean structure, and power efficiency.

Other specific features make it ideal for flash memory storage. Boundary alignment allows adjusting FAT offsets and cluster heap based on format-time to enable writing on as few flash blocks as possible. This helps in preserving flash memory integrity. An OEM Parameter field is used for recording the block size of a particular storage device. The absence of journaling maximizes storage space and the longevity of flash memory.

Another notable advantage of exFAT is that it uses a different allocation method than FAT32 to reduce file fragmentation. Note that fragmentation can occur when files are repeatedly written to and deleted. This can slow down the performance of specific storage devices such as hard disk drives or can hasten the wear and tear of each flash memory cell and lead to the faster degradation of the entire flash memory storage or a solid-state drive.

Cons of Extensible FAT: Disadvantages of exFAT File System

1. Absence of Journaling and Compression

One of the main disadvantages of exFAT, particularly when compared to NTFS and Extended FileSystem, is the absence of journaling. This is a specific system that tracks changes to the files stored on a medium and records them in a log or journal before these changes transpire. It works by allocating a special area or journal to record changes ahead of time and by tracking changes that have not transpired in the main part of the file system.

Take note that the entire File Allocation Table family of file systems does not have journaling capabilities. This makes them prone to errors due to sudden power outages or unexpected system crashes while the involved storage mediums are operational. Hence, because Extensible FAT is a version of the File Allocation Table, mediums or storage devices based on this file system are susceptible to data corruption or data losses due to interruption.

It is also important to note that none of the File Allocation Table file systems has built-in file compression features. This is another disadvantage of exFAT. Files stored on mediums based on this file system are larger than similar files stored on mediums formatted based on NTFS. Small files will also take up more storage space because clusters are larger than NTFS. This makes exFAT somewhat unideal for small-capacity storage mediums.

2. Some Compatibility Issues and Limitations

Extensible FAT is not as widely supported as FAT32 by different operating systems and devices or platforms. This comes from the fact that it is the newer file system between the two. Some older versions of Windows, macOS, and Linux may not be able to read and write exFAT without additional drivers and software applications. Older consumer electronic devices such as digital media players and television sets may not recognize this file system.

It also remains a proprietary file system owned and controlled by Microsoft. This means that other developers and software companies have limited control over its features, performance optimizations, and bug fixes. This can hamper its overall development and improvement compared to open-source file systems to which a wider community can contribute. It is also more difficult to implement in other operating systems and platforms.

The aforesaid also means that exFAT is not as transparent and auditable as other file systems. An open-source file system encourages public scrutiny of its source code. This promotes unbiased security audits and helps in assessing and addressing security vulnerabilities more effectively. In addition, because it is a proprietary file system, exFAT may not be compatible with applications and other use cases that depend and bank on open standards

3. Other Notable Drawbacks of This File System

NTFS remains the ideal file system for use in Windows since the introduction of Windows XP. Apple uses its proprietary APFS file system. Take note that exFAT is not as readily compatible as FAT32 when it comes to cross-platform use cases or when working across different operating system environments. For example, although it is compatible with Linux distributions, an additional software program is needed to make it readable and writable.

This file system also lacks advanced features built into NTFS. As an example, similar to other File Allocation Table file systems, it does not have a native feature for data or file protection and encryption. Native read-only and encryption capabilities are standard features in Windows. The specific file allocation table and the file allocations themselves are also not readily ideal for multi-user environments. This makes it prone to file fragmentation.

Another disadvantage of exFAT is that might not perform as well as some other file systems under certain conditions. It is more efficient than FAT32 but is not as efficient as NTFS and Extended FileSystem. A particular storage medium formatted on Extensible FAT is prone to experiencing performance slowdowns when dealing with large file sizes or when the file system has become heavily fragmented due to repeated write-erase cycles.

Pros and Cons Rundown: Advantages and Disadvantages of exFAT

The aforementioned advantages of exFAT or Extensible FAT make it a versatile and compatible file system that is well-suited for storing and transferring large files. It is a better alternative to FAT32 in most common use cases. However, because it still has disadvantages or drawbacks and limitations, its applications are not universal. The absence of journaling, compatibility issues, its proprietary nature, and lack of security features make it a less suitable choice for applications that require a more interoperable and secured file system and storage solution.