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NTFS (New Technology File System) is Windows NT's native file system. It is not only based on HPFS, but also supports security features such as access control. Since Windows NT is entirely unicode, NTFS is a unicode filesystem, with each character (e.g. in names) being 16-bits instead of 8-bits.


NTFS doesn't only add security features to HPFS. In NTFS, there is a lot more built-in redundancy. For example: in HPFS, wiping out a sector in the wrong place can render the entire volume inaccessible. Support for multiple hard-links to a file (before NTFS, the only easy access was through the POSIX subsystem, but Windows 2000 (NT 5) added this to Win32 as well) was also added.

NTFS supports an arbitrary number of file forks (much like Mac OS, except Mac OS always has exactly 2 forks for each file).

HPFS decrees that a cluster is always 512 bytes long and a cluster is always one sector. For the sake of performance and compatibility with some (especially Japanese) machines, NTFS allows sectors of different sizes. It also supports clusters of more than one sector, which can be beneficial on performance.

In short, NTFS' most significant changes:

  • Better and more security.
  • Multiple hard-links to one file.
  • An arbitrary number of forks.
  • Variable cluster and sectors sizes (usually resulting in better performance).


NTFS is probably one of the most difficult file system to deal with, especially because of the lack of hacking experience and reliable documents. A read-only stable driver can be found in the Linux source code base since kernel 2.4, while an experimental read-write driver is coming with linux 2.6.

The NTFS-3G project apparently has a read/write implementation for Linux/FreeBSD/BeOS that is currently in beta development status.


The NTFS format is built around "file" tables that allow both pre-defined and custom attributes to be stored and read by the operating system.

The NTFS boot sector is similar to other file systems, like FAT.

Field Type
JMP int8_t[3]
OEM System char[8]
Bytes Per Sector uint16_t
Sectors Per Cluster int8_t
Reserved Sector Count uint16_t
Table Count int8_t
Root Entry Count uint16_t
Sector Count uint16_t
Media Type int8_t
Sectors Per Table uint16_t
Sectors Per Track uint16_t
Heads uint16_t
Hidden Sector Count uint32_t
Sector Count (32-bit) uint32_t
Reserved uint32_t
Sector Count (64-bit) uint64_t

This is followed immediately by a NTFS specific header.

Field Type
Master File Table Cluster uint64_t
Master File Table Mirror Cluster uint64_t
Clusters Per Record int8_t
Reserved int8_t[3]
Clusters Per Index Buffer int8_t
Reserved int8_t[3]
Serial Number uint64_t
Checksum uint32_t

Using the "Master File Table Cluster" and "Sectors Per Cluster" values, you can find the Master File Table. This table contains entries for every object in the file system, including files, folders, and the tables themselves. The size of each record in the Master File Table can be calculated using the "Clusters Per Record" and "Sectors Per Cluster" fields from the boot sector.

Each record starts with the same header structure.

Field Type
Record Type char[4]
Update Sequence Offset uint16_t
Update Sequence Length uint16_t
Log File Sequence Number uint64_t
Record Sequence Number uint16_t
Hard Link Count uint16_t
Attributes Offset uint16_t
Flags uint16_t
Bytes In Use uint32_t
Bytes Allocated uint32_t
Parent Record Number uint64_t
Next Attribute Index uint32_t
Reserved uint32_t
Record Number uint64_t

The remainder of the file record contains additional tables and data for this record. The "Attributes Offset" field contains the byte offset (from the start of the record) of the beginning of the attribute list for this record.

Attributes have a variable length, but always start with the same sequence.

Field Type
Attribute Type uint32_t

If the "Attribute Type" field contains the value 0xffffffff, this marks the end of the attribute list. Otherwise, the attribute sequence continues with the length of the attribute "record".

Field Type
Attribute Length uint32_t

This length value defines the total length of the attribute record, including the "Attribute Type" and "Attribute Length" fields.

See Also

External Links