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  • What is a File System

Every storage medium requires a file system to operate. This includes traditional hard disk drives (HDDs), solid-state drives (SSDs), USB thumb drives, SD cards, and more. Without it, any data contained therein would be left in a completely unorganized state that is unreadable by any device.

As such, these file systems often need to be the same as the operating system of the device. For example, a hard drive installed into a computer would typically require the same file system - generally either Windows, Mac, or Linux - in order to read and write data. Likewise, an SD card inserted into an Android phone would need to have the same, Android-based operating system. While there are exceptions to this rule, it's a good point to keep in mind.

But what exactly is a file system, and how does it affect my computing:

Looking at Modern File Systems
There have been numerous file systems used throughout the age of computing. From the earliest mainframe computers to modern desktops and laptops, the file system has always been a critical means of storing and organizing data.

As mentioned earlier, file systems are generally dependent on the device's operating system. Some of the most common file systems today include:

  • NTFS: An abbreviation of New Technology File System, this system has been in place on Microsoft computers ever since Windows Vista. It's one of the most reliable file systems available today, although NTFS-formatted drives should be defragmented once every couple months, and it can accommodate drives as partitions up to approximately 16 million terabytes.
  • FAT: Short for (File Allocation Table), FAT16 and later, FAT32, were common in earlier versions of Windows. They are rarely used today, primarily due to the fact that the most recent iteration, FAT32, only support disks up to 32 GB on Windows and individual partitions up to 2 TB.
  • exFAT: Standing for Extended File Allocation Table, the exFAT system effectively replaced FAT32. However, it's useful because it's one of the most versatile file systems available. Not only does it support Microsoft Windows, but it supports Mac OS 10.6+, various smart televisions, and other media devices.
  • HFS Plus (HFS+): The Hierarchical File System was specifically developed by the team at Apple for use with Mac OS X. While Windows can read files from the HFS+ architecture, it cannot write data to any drive or medium that's been formatted in HFS+. There are, however, Linux drivers available.
  • EXT: Developed for Linux and known simply as the Extended File System, this architecture is currently in its fourth (EXT 4) iteration. Microsoft Windows and Mac OS are unable to natively read or write to the EXT file system, but there are third-party workarounds available.

Apart from compatibility issues, each file system has its own advantages and disadvantages. Some cases, such as the limitations of the original FAT16 system, have led to permanent solutions and replacements. Others drawbacks might require short-term workarounds until the next great file system is developed.

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