File Systems

File Systems

This is a brief overview of the most common file systems a normal user will see.


Universal File Systems


  • Most flash drives are formatted as the FAT32 filesystem by default.
  • Every operating system can read FAT32. Support for FAT32 is very universal.
  • The downside to this file system is the file size limit that many users will notice, this file system cannot hold a file larger than 4GB. You will receive “Out of space” errors if you try.


  • exFAT is useful when the size limits imposed by FAT32 are too limiting.
  • Most operating systems support exFAT but support is not as universal as FAT32.
  • For a drive shared between several operating systems, exFAT is a great choice.


Windows File Systems


  • Windows uses the NTFS file system by default.
  • Mac and Linux can read NTFS with the NTFS-3g package installed.
  • If you have trouble reading from an NTFS drive, then Windows probably locked it and did not shut down properly. By default, Windows hibernates when you click “Shutdown”. To disable this, click here and follow the steps for disabling “Fast Startup”.


Mac File Systems


  • MacOS uses the HFS+ filesystem by default.
  • Windows cannot read from HFS+ partitions.
  • Linux has native support for reading this file system but may need additional packages installed to write to the file system.
  • If you have issues sharing files between Mac and Windows while using an external drive, the issue is most likely this file system. Use NTFS or exFAT instead, for operating system inter-compatibility.


Linux File Systems


  • Modern Linux systems use EXT4 by default.
  • Windows and Mac cannot read EXT4 out of the box.
  • Windows can read and write to it using 3rd party software such as Ext2Fsd.
  • EXT2 and EXT3 are older versions which you should not use.


  • BTRFS is an advanced file system for modern Linux systems.
  • Windows and Mac cannot read BTRFS. If you wish to share files with them, then do not use BTRFS.
  • BTRFS has advanced features such as snapshots and software redundancy.
  • If you do not know what BTRFS is, then we recommend you do not use it.


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