File Systems

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

Universal File Systems


  • FAT32 is the defacto standard for removable media, it is the most common file system found on USBs and other small external media.
  • This filesystem can be read by any operating system, but exFAT is a better solution for a shared device.
  • 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 can be substituted for FAT32 to avoid the size limits imposed by FAT32.
  • This file system can be read by any operating system and is the best solution for a drive that will be shared between several operating systems.

Windows File Systems


  • NTFS is the file system used by Windows.
  • NTFS can be read by both Mac and Linux (install the NTFS-3g package).

Mac File Systems


  • HFS+ is the default filesystem used by Mac devices.
  • HFS+ cannot be read by Windows
  • 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 between Mac and Windows while using an external drive or USB that was formatted on a Mac, the issue is most likely this file system. Use NTFS or exFAT instead, for inter-operating system compatibility.

Linux File Systems


  • The EXT series is the default file system used by Linux systems, with EXT4 being the latest.
  • These file systems cannot be read natively by Mac or Windows.

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