When you get a new USB drive and are about to format it before its first use, you may be wondering which of the available file systems is the best. Here are some of the most important considerations before choosing a filesystem for a USB drive. Here are some related contents on mac Os, how to take a screenshot on a Mac device, you can not open this application because it is in the bin, how to enable or disable automatic software updates on Mac, how to check if homebrew is installed on Mac OS, and how to stop apps from launching automatically upon startup on Mac. A file system is different from an operating system in the sense, a file system runs on top of an operating system and depends on it for many operations. Each of the major operating systems (e.g. Windows, macOS, Linux) can work with various file systems (natively or through third-party tools).
File System? A file system is a piece of software that controls how data on a media is stored and retrieved. A file system manages operations such as copying, moving, and deleting files on a drive.
How Do You Plan to Use Your USB Drive?
Basically, the most important considerations regarding your choice of a file system for your USB drive are which operating systems you plan to use it with and how large the files you will most likely transfer are. If you will be using your USB media on Windows OS, then you can decide on FAT32, exFAT, or NTFS.
– FAT32 and NTFS run with Linux too, but exFAT requires additional tools. If you will be using the drive on Linux devices only, you can add its native EXT 2, 3, or 4 to the mix.
– As for macOS, it can natively run FAT 32, works with exFAT, too, but you will need additional tools for NTFS, and its native file system is HFS+ (and the latest APFS) not EXT.
As you see, FAT 32 to some extent NTFS, are present on all major OS'. They are not interchangeable and have their differences.
FAT32 vs. exFAT vs. NTFS vs. HFS vs. EXT 2, 3, and 4
There are really many file systems out there, and if you are curious, you can try a few of them before you land on the familiar ones. However, your choices for a USB file system basically boil down to these:
- NTFS: This the default file system for Windows partitions. NTFS supports journaling, large file sizes, file compression, long file names, access control, etc. If you are functioning in a Windows-only environment, it’s safe to go with NTFS. Linux can also handle NTFS, and MacOS reads it but needs third party tools to write, so even if you are not in a Windows only environment, it’s still a good choice.
- FAT32: FAT32 or File Allocation Table 32 is the file system that typically comes preinstalled on a USB drive. It was the Windows standard before NTFS. FAT32 is slower than NTFS, less secure, and has a 4GB limit per file, but it is widely recognized by all major operating systems. If you will be using the USB drive in a highly heterogeneous environment, and portability is your main concern, FAT32 is your option.
- exFAT: exFAT or extended File Allocation Table, is the newer version of FAT32. It’s lightweight but doesn’t have journaling. It’s compatible with Microsoft and MacOS but needs additional tools with Linux. It doesn’t have the 4GB limit per file restriction like FAT32.
- HFS+: The Hierarchical File System (HFS+) is the default file system in the macOS world. If you are going to use your USB drive on Mac devices mainly, choose this file system. HFS+ can be used with Windows and Linux, but if you need a multi-OS file system, you definitely have better choices.
- EXT 2, 3, and 4: The extended file system is the native for Linux. Similarly to HFS+, you can use it with the other operating systems but it’s not your best option. Use this file system if you are using the USB device on Linux computers mainly.
Most of these USB file systems run with multiple operating systems, e.g. Windows, macOS, Linux, etc., Usually, your choice isn’t limited to just one USB file system. If you don’t have large files to deal with, you have even more options. If the speed of transfer isn’t a top priority either, there are even more choices. And if it turns out your first choice of a USB file system wasn’t the best, you can always reformat the drive, provided there is no valuable data on it, of course.
I hope you found this blog post helpful. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comment session.