Microsoft created NTFS, or the New Technology File System, in 1993 as a patented file system that employs hidden files to hold information and improves file read and write efficiency while introducing new access control and security capabilities. This article explains the working of NTFS and lists the top 10 NTFS functions that IT administrators should note.
What Is NTFS?
Microsoft created NTFS, or the New Technology File System, in 1993 as a patented file system that employs hidden files to hold information and improves file read and write efficiency while introducing new access control and security capabilities.
The NTFS (NT file system) is primarily utilized by Windows NT operating systems to efficiently store, organize, and find data on a hard disk. Another name for NTFS is the New Technology File System. NTFS was first introduced to the public in 1993 when Microsoft included it in an upgrade for Windows NT 3.1. Reading and writing capabilities provided by the NTFS file system are much better than those offered by the older FAT file system type.
One may transform the NTFS file system to different formats using various conversion instructions. For example, one can convert the NTFS file system to the File Allocation Table (FAT) 32 file system or vice versa. Compared to FAT and the High-Performance File System (HPFS), NTFS has a lot of benefits, particularly in performance, flexibility, and security.
An OS generates and maintains the file system of a PC drive or any other device’s storage. The data is effectively organized into files by the file system. It determines what other data can be linked to the files as well as how data files can be named, saved, updated, and retrieved. One kind of file system is NTFS. The OS and the disk type they are used with are typically utilized to distinguish between different file systems. This file system is multi-user, high-performance, and supports multiple operating systems.
Even though Microsoft was involved in the development of HPFS, several concepts used in NTFS were borrowed from it. OS/2 existed earlier than Windows NT. In the 1990s, IBM and Microsoft collaborated on a project called OS/2 to develop the next big thing in the graphical operating system market.
They were a success to some extent. Although OS/2 made some significant technical advances, it faced problems with marketing and support. Microsoft left the project and began working on Windows NT after a dispute between IBM and Microsoft. To create NTFS, they achieved this by incorporating many crucial ideas from HPFS, the default file system for OS/2.
This filesystem was created by Microsoft to satisfy the needs of business applications and was released in July 1993 alongside Windows NT 3.1. It has seen several iterations — version 1.0 of NTFS was released in the middle of 1993 with Windows NT 3.1; version 1.1 was released in 1994 for NT 3.5; version 1.2 was released for NT4 in 1996 (sometimes referred to as NTFS 4.0); version 3.0 was released for Windows 2000 in the year 2000 (sometimes called NTFS 5.0); and version 3.1 was released for Windows XP in 2001(sometimes called NTFS 5.1).
Benefits and challenges of NTFS
NTFS is a significant improvement on older file systems like FAT. This is because it offers the following:
- Greater file system compatibility: The NTFS format works well with numerous OS types, including Linux, macOS, and Windows 11/10/8.1/8/7/XP.
- Fault tolerance and reliability: NTFS keeps file system consistency, which means data can be quickly recovered and restored following system failures.
- Security: Using the NTFS file system, you can set access permissions for specific local files and folders. Put another way, people can make a confidential file inaccessible to particular users. Endpoint-level encryption is also supported.
- Compression: Large files are supported. It’s supported by NTFS, allowing one to bolster system performance by compressing folders and files.
- Larger data transfer: NTFS allows for the storage of large files. On an NTFS drive, you can also utilize it to transmit and store huge video files.
- Control: Disk quotas, which provide businesses greater control in terms of storage space, are one of the main characteristics of NTFS. Administrators can use disk quotas to restrict users’ access to a certain amount of storage capacity.
However, it does have a few limitations:
- OS compatibility: It can only be read on select OSes. This is its biggest drawback.
- Support for devices: Several removable devices, such as DVD players, digital cameras, and Android smartphones, don’t support NTFS. Other gadgets like smart TVs, printers, and media players also don’t support the format.
- Mac OS X interoperability: NTFS disks are only partially compatible with OS X devices; they can be read from but not written to. NTFS-formatted drives can be read by macOS computers, but they cannot write to NTFS without third-party software assistance.
- High space overhead: It requires significant “space overhead” to function, which is the memory allocation on a drive devoted to the file system itself and, therefore, cannot be used to store information.
- File naming conventions: NTFS has various restrictions on file names. The length limit for file and directory names is 255 characters.
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How Does NTFS Work?
A hard disk drive (HDD) is divided into partitions when formatted or initialized. The physical space of a hard drive is mainly divided into partitions. The operating system maintains a record of every file it saves to each partition it uses. Each file is stored on the hard drive in one or more clusters on the disk, each having the same size. Cluster sizes, when utilizing NTFS, may run anywhere from 512 bytes to 64 kilobytes. Windows NT offers a suggested default cluster size for any given drive size. The default cluster size for NTFS is generally more prominent than for the hard disk.
Key NTFS functions
To understand how NTFS works, let us look at some of its key features and functionalities:
- Disk quotas: Disk quotas are supported by NTFS. Disk Quotas, which allow the administrator to control how much disk space a user is allowed to use, is the key feature of NTFS v3. Additionally, it monitors the amount of disk space each user utilizes. A user cannot add new data to a volume after exceeding the administrator-specified limit. It’s primarily used to regulate how much shared-space can be utilized by a user, typically on a computer network drive.
- Transactional NTFS: This enables software engineers to create apps that either entirely succeeds or fails. Programs that take advantage of this to avoid the danger of implementing some changes that do work as well as other changes that don’t, which is a recipe for significant issues.
- Access to data: If a system shuts down suddenly, the NTFS file system immediately starts a recovery procedure. It uses the transaction log and journal file to check for consistency. The Master File Table (MFT) holds a file’s clusters and other data rather than a general governing table, compared to FAT. Further, disk volumes can be used as regular folders thanks to NTFS’s use of mounted volumes.
- Compression: File compression offered by the NTFS file system is a relatively new feature. This capability enables users to compress huge files to make the best use of available disk space. There’s additional storage space open thanks to integrated file compression that reduces file sizes.
- Naming files in Unicode: NTFS provides a more logical file naming system and permits longer file names with a greater variety of characters because it enables file names based on Unicode. It has a naturally occurring file-naming pattern allowing lengthier file names and various characters. Sometimes translation is needed for naming standards that aren’t Unicode.
- Encryption: Encryption at the file level allows for the encryption of specific files and folders. Unlike an encrypting file system, full-disk encryption encrypts the entire drive, not just specific files. Data on both removable and nonremovable disks is secure, thanks to NTFS. Full-disk encryption, which encrypts a drive’s entire contents, is not the same feature as this one.
- Self-healing NTFS: The self-healing component of the NT file system allows users to instantly identify and fix file or volume problems without using a disk repair tool.
- System changes are written to a journal before being written in the system: The NTFS file system essentially has a journaling function. This means that it offers a way for system changes to be written to a log or journal before they are actually written. If a failure occurs because the new modifications haven’t yet been committed, this feature enables the file system to return to its earlier functional state.
- Volume Shadow Copy Service: It’s a feature of NTFS that Windows uses to create backups of your data. Online backup services and other relevant tools also use it to generate copies of files currently being used. Volume Shadow Copy Service is operated by online programs for backup services and other solutions to save currently used files.
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How is NTFS used?
NTFS refers to a file format primarily used with Microsoft Windows.NTFS drives cannot be written to by Mac OS by default; only reading may be done. Most Linux distributions do not support writing to NTFS; however, a handful do. Today, Windows versions like 7, 8, 10, Vista, XP, Windows 2000, and NT are the Microsoft operating systems with which NTFS is most frequently used.
Since Windows XP, NTFS has been the operating system file system of choice for Microsoft products. NTFS version 3.1 has been used by every version of Windows since Windows XP. NTFS is also a great option and a well-liked file system on external hard drives with large storage capacities because it supports large partitions and large files.
NTFS is not frequently used on USB memory sticks and SD cards with small storage capacities. Due to their greater compatibility with media devices, FAT32 or exFAT are preferred in this situation. Removable storage units and Microsoft Windows use NTFS to name, classify, and store files.
The location of these file folders spanning many hard drives is also possible, but they will only appear as one volume, known as a spanned volume. NT file system supports both encryption and decryption of data, files, and folders. It can also format SSDs, micro-SD cards, HDDs, and USBs. Self-recovering disks are one example of a large and extensive storage solution supported by NTFS.
Because NTFS meets the needs of drives and supports large partition and file sizes, it’s also good for external drives. According to Microsoft, NTFS on Windows 10 and Windows Server 2019 can support files and volumes up to 8 petabytes in size. The maximum theoretical size of a single file that NTFS can support is 16 exbibytes minus 1 kilobyte (KB).
How does NTFS security work?
The bare minimum of permissions necessary for users to carry out the essential tasks is assigned. Drives and folders can have their sharing permissions set in any Windows network. On that network, each user can share entire disks or specific folders with the network.
Drives formatted with the NTFS (NT File System) protocol can access NTFS permissions. The advantage of NTFS permissions is that they apply towards both network and local users, irrespective of where the user is connected, and are based on the rights provided per user at Windows login.
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To manage security and read/write access on the NTFS file system, the following permissions are used:
It enables the user or group to inspect the file’s properties, ownership information, and permissions settings while reading it. It determines whether a user or group can read the information in a folder. If an executable file is inside the folder, it cannot be run by the user or group, as opposed to “Read and Execute”.
It determines whether a person or group is permitted to create files, and folders, write data and write attributes for a folder. All data in the folder can be read if you have “write” permission. The Write Attributes capability solely allows modifications to a file or folder’s attributes. It does not permit the creation or deletion of files or folders.
3. Read and execute
It enables users to browse and execute executable files, including scripts and allows for the viewing, listing, and execution of files (inherited only by folders). It specifies whether a user or group can read the data in a folder and run the programs the folder contains. Additionally, the user can carry out all tasks permitted by the Read permission.
Here, users can view and modify files. It also enables the person or group to change and delete a file and carry out all tasks made possible by the Read, Write, and Read and Execute permissions. Because users or groups cannot change permissions or claim ownership of the specified folder, it is more limited than complete control.
5. Full control
This NTFS function states if a user or group owns every permission a folder can grant. Users can add, modify, move, remove, and change the related properties of files and folders. Users may also modify the rights parameters for all folders and subdirectories.
6. File-level permissions
One can assign NTFS permissions to the user or group to limit a user’s or group’s access to a particular file. Note that permissions for NTFS files are given precedence over those for NTFS folders.
7. Folder-level permissions
The NTFS folder permissions control the access allowed to a folder, its files, and its subfolders. A user or group may be given access to these privileges. One can manage a user or group’s access level by assigning NTFS rights to them for a particular folder. Inheritance determines how these permissions are transmitted to subfolders and the files they include.
8. Attribute permissions
The NTFS file system establishes attributes. Programs create extended attributes, and these definitions can differ from program to program. The Write Extended Attributes permission only permits changes to a file or folder’s extended attributes; it does not permit the creation or deletion of files or folders.
9. Change permissions
It refers to changes in the permissions of a file or folder, like Full Control, Read, and Write, which allow or forbid the modification. A user or Windows 2008 administrator may adjust the rights on a file or folder by utilizing Change Permissions access permission. They cannot remove any files or subfolders, though. In this manner, neither the user nor the Windows 2008 administrator can erase any data, only manage who has access to it.
This permits or prohibits using various threads to synchronize with a thread that may signal the handle to a file or folder and wait on it. Programs with many processors and threads are the only ones that can use this privilege.
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Despite being around for nearly three decades, NTFS remains the defacto system for file storage and management in PC environments. Knowing how NFTS works is crucial to maximizing file and folder activity in your endpoint environment. It is also vital to ensure that PC data remains protected from cyber threats through the correct NTFS configurations.