Microsoft introduced its New Technology File System or NTFS in 1993 and made it the default file system in Windows beginning the release of Windows XP in 2001. Considering its advantages, the primary purpose for standardizing NTFS across different versions of the Windows operating system is to overcome the limitations of FAT32.
Pros of New Technology File System: Advantages of NTFS
Fundamentally Lacks File Size Limit
A bigger file size limit is a key advantage of New Technology File System, particularly when compared to FAT32. It has a maximum theoretical file size limit of 16 exabytes. Note that 1 EB corresponds to almost a million terabytes. There is fundamentally no constraint in the size of files that can be saved or stored in a storage medium based on this file system. FAT32 has a maximum file size of only 4GB.
Built-In Journaling Functionality
The New Technology File System is a journaling file system that tracks changes that have not transpired in the main part of the file system by recording them in a data structure and known as a journal. This functionality prevents data loss or corruption during a write operation due to interruption caused by a system crash or power failure. Changes are essentially recorded in a special area ahead of time. Note that FAT32, Extensible FAT or exFAT, and other File Allocation Table or FAT file systems do not have this built-in functionality.
Support for Permission and Encryption
Another notable advantage of NTFS is that it has built-in file permission and encryption features. Specifically, it allows software developers and users to set a particular folder or file as read-only to avoid making unnecessary or accidental changes that could corrupt or affect the integrity of a specific file or application. Folders in this file system are also encrypted with a specialized file-level NTFS subset called Encrypting File System or EFS.
Compression Using LZNT1 Algorithm
Files in the New Technology File System can have noticeably smaller file sizes when compared to similar ones stored in FAT32 or exFAT. The New Technology File System compresses files in 16 cluster chunks using LZNT1 algorithm. This algorithm supports cluster sizes of 4 KB and it works best with files that have repetitive contents, as well as those that are seldom modified or written, usually accessed sequentially, and are not themselves compressed. A built-in file compression functionality allows users to maximize their storage mediums.
Cons of New Technology File System: Disadvantages of NTFS
Not Compatible with Other Operating Systems
One of the major disadvantages of NTFS is that it is not compatible with macOS, older Linux distributions, and Android. Of course, it is important to note that it is the default in Windows and modern Linux distributions such as Debian and Ubuntu can read and write on storage mediums based on this file system. macOS and iOS, as well as iPadOS, can only read these mediums. FAT32 remains ideal for external storage devices. The same is true for devices formatted based on exFAT. Note that several consumer electronic devices such as television sets and digital media players would not be able to even read the contents of storage mediums formatted based on NTFS.
Limitations in Built-In Compression
This file system will not compress files with a cluster size greater than 4 KB. Furthermore, for large comprehensible files, they become highly fragmented because each chunk smaller than 64 KB becomes a fragment. Fragmented files can affect the performance of hard disk drives because these storage mediums have moving heads that go over the surface of the magnetic disk whenever they read and write data. Flash memory such as UFS and SD cards, as well as solid-state drives, do not have these head movement delays of HDDs.
Takeaway: The Pros and Cons of NTFS in a Nutshell
New Technology File System is a better file system when used exclusively for the Windows operating systems. However, based on the disadvantages mentioned above, especially considering its compatibility issues with other operating systems and platforms, it is more practical to use FAT32 for removable storage such as USB flash drives, and exFAT for storage with higher capacity, as well as the storage and transfer requirements of files above 4GB due to their cross-OS and cross-platform compatibility.