File Systems and External Hard Drive Data Recovery

by PlatterSwapper

One of the more common reasons that people find that they require external hard drive data recovery has nothing whatever to do with either hardware failure or user error, it is simply down to having an external hard drive which is using an in appropriate file system for their requirements.

The file system is not the same thing as the operating system. Windows (an operating system) can use more than one type of file system. The file system is essentially the means by which the data is organised on your drive, how it is stored and subsequently retrieved when needed. Any storage device will require a file system in order to present itself to your computer and its operating system as a recognisable and usable store for your data.

Over time a variety of different file systems have appeared and evolved. By and large the file system is something that is invisible to the computer user however there are some important qualities of each which it is worth taking a moment to understand in order to avoid a sudden and highly unwelcome requirement for some logical external hard drive data recovery. The potential problems associated with unsuitable file systems tend to appear when a new storage device is introduced to your computer, most commonly of course when you use an external hard drive.

File System Characteristics

Most computer users will, at one time or another encounter one or more of the following 3 file systems; FAT32, NTFS and HFS+.

To take each in turn:

FAT32 (File Allocation Table):

This was the originally the file system used by early versions of Windows. It has the great advantage that both PCs and Macs can both read from and write to a storage device which uses the FAT32 file system. There is very little in the domestic computing world that cannot make full use of FAT32.

Why Might FAT32 Leave Me Needing External Hard Drive Data Recovery?

FAT32 has one massive draw-back; it cannot support a file which is larger than 4GB in size. At first sight this may not seem like a significant problem, 4GB would be a huge file. Until relatively recently it wouldn’t have been a problem, however these days files can routinely extend beyond this size (notably media  and email database files, such as an Outlook PST file). Usually when an attempt is made to try to write a file that is too large to a FAT32 formatted volume it will simply be denied and an error message displayed, however once in a while it will cause the FAT32 volume to become corrupted and subsequently inaccessible, unfortunately this is not an uncommon occurrence.

NTFS (New Technology File System):

This file system has been the standard in use with Windows since around the mid 1990s. A PC with Windows can read from and write to a storage device formatted with NTFS. A Mac however can only read from a NTFS storage volume, it cannot write to such a device. NTFS does not have any limitation on the maximum size of file which can be stored on it (for all practical applications).

The need for external hard drive data recovery may be due to using the wrong file system

Windows can make full use of both NTFS and FAT32

 

HFS+ (Hierarchical File System):

Developed by Apple and used on their Macs (and can also be used to format iPods). A PC can neither read nor write directly to a storage volume which has been formatted as HFS+ (although there are software packages which can be used to achieve both).

What are the Most Commonly Encountered File Systems on External Hard Drives?

These days the vast majority of external hard drives will come factory set with NTFS. They will usually also include some type of on-board software which allows you to convert it to FAT32 and / or HFS+. Which is the correct choice will of course depend upon how you intend to use the external hard drive. If you will only ever be connecting the external to a Windows PC then it makes sense to stick with NTFS. Similarly if you are exclusively a Mac user then you should use HFS+. If you are one of the increasing number of people who use both, then FAT32 is the obvious choice but, of course, never forget the maximum file size limit or you may find yourself in sudden need of external hard drive data recovery.

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