What is exFAT? (Explained)

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What is exFAT

What is exFAT?

Extended File Allocation Table, or exFAT for short, is the improved version of the FAT file system. Technically, this is a particular type of file system that is designed for and used by USB flash drives.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • exFAT is a specific file system that supports large and unrealistic partitions of up to 128 pebibytes.
  • It does not support journaling, which makes it vulnerable to data corruption because it is unable to keep the record of the changes made.
  • This file system is good to use in a wide variety of devices such as USB memory sticks, external hard drives, and SD cards.
  • It is power-efficient, helps in memory management and is designed to bridge the gap between NTFS and FAT32.
  • This system allows file encryption on exFAT-formatted drives, though it needs to be done manually.

Understanding exFAT

What is exFAT

The Extended File Allocation Table is a file system designed by Microsoft and launched in 2006 with Windows Vista and Windows CE.

The salient feature of this file system is the increased maximum file size in Windows from 4 GB, as it is in FAT32, to practically unlimited.

Apart from Windows, exFAT also supports Macs and Linux operating systems, which is why it is generally used as a sharable and common format for USB flash drives.

The most significant features of this file system, that makes it quite different, if not better than FAT32 and NTFS, are as follows:

  • Free Space Bitmap
  • Valid Data Length
  • UTC timestamps support
  • Customizable parameters for file system

Apart from that, in the mobile Windows versions only, the file systems also offer the following:

  • Transactional-Safe FAT (TFAT and TexFAT)
  • Access Control List

Most importantly, exFAT is highly compatible, being able to work with different types and versions of operating systems apart from Windows, such as:

  • Microsoft Windows XP SP2
  • Vista SP1
  • Server 2003 with KB955704 update
  • Server 2008
  • Server 2008 R2
  • Windows 7
  • Windows 8
  • Windows 10
  • Windows 11
  • Windows Embedded CE 6.0
  • Linux 5.4
  • macOS Snow Leopard 10.6.5
  • macOS 10.6.5+ and higher
  • macOS Lion

Some other features, specifications, and requirements of the exFAT file system are as follows:

  • Higher scalability
  • A higher maximum file number is allowed on volume C
  • Better timestamp granularity for modified and creation times of 10 ms
  • Boundary configuration offset for data region and FAT table
  • Metadata accuracy with checksums
  • Metadata structures based on templates
  • Physical ‘.’ and ‘..’ directory entries resembling subdirectories removed
  • Use of extended file names natively in directory structures in place of the brief 8.3 filename references

All these features and functionalities of the exFAT file system offer improved performance allowing proper allocation of free space and deletion.

The exFAT file system is used by several manufacturers today and many users of both Solid State Drives (SSDs) and Universal Serial Bus (USB) sticks.

Can You Change exFAT to NTFS?

Yes, you can change exFAT to NTFS (New Technology File System) quite easily by using the Command Prompt, Disk Management and File Explorer by following a few simple steps.

To change exFAT to NTFS by using Command Prompt, the steps to follow are:

  • Press the Windows + R keys on your keyboard at the same time to launch Run
  • Type in ‘cmd’ in the Run box
  • Press Enter
  • Right-click on Run as administrator
  • Type in the command-line: format E: /FS: NTFS (where E denotes the drive letter to be replaced by your USB drive)
  • Select Enter
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To change exFAT to NTFS by using Disk Management, the steps to follow are:

  • Press the Windows + R keys on your keyboard at the same time to launch Run
  • Type in ‘diskmgmt.msc’ in the Run box
  • Press Enter

(Alternatively, you may go to This PC, right-click on it, select Manage, and go to Disk Management)

  • Right-click on the USB drive to format
  • Click on Format
  • Select NTFS

To change exFAT to NTFS by using File Explorer, the steps to follow are:

  • Open File Explorer
  • Find your USB drive
  • Select it
  • Click on Format
  • Go to File system
  • Select NTFS

Can You Change exFAT to FAT32?

Yes, you can change exFAT to FAT32 in a few simple processes including via Disk Management, Command Prompt and even through a third-party exFAT to FAT32 converter.  

However, before you start with the conversion process, you should make it a point to create a proper backup of the data. Once you have done that, these are the steps to follow.

To switch the file system from exFAT to FAT32 by using Disk Management, the necessary steps to follow are as follows:

  • Connect the exFAT external hard drive, SD card, USB flash drive, or pen drive to your computer
  • Right-click on the Windows icon
  • Select Disk Management
  • Right-click on exFAT
  • Select Format
  • Set the file system to FAT32
  • Tick on the Quick Format checkbox
  • Click OK

To switch the file system from exFAT to FAT32 by using the Command Prompt, the necessary steps to follow are as follows:

  • Connect the exFAT device to your computer
  • Right-click on Windows
  • Type ‘cmd’
  • Right-click on Command Prompt
  • Select Run as Administrator
  • Type ‘diskpart’ in Command Prompt
  • Press Enter
  • Open DiskPart
  • Types ‘list disk’
  • Press Enter
  • Type ‘select disk 0’ (replace 0 with your exFAT device disk number)
  • Press Enter
  • Type ‘list volume’
  • Press Enter
  • Type ‘select volume 1’ (replace 1 with your exFAT device volume number)
  • Press Enter
  • Type ‘format fs=fat32 quick’
  • Press Enter
  • Type ‘exit’ when the process is complete

To switch the file system from exFAT to FAT32 by using third-party software, the necessary steps to follow are as follows:

  • Launch the software
  • Right-click on the particular partition that you want to format
  • Choose Format
  • Enter the Partition label in the new window
  • Choose the FAT32/EXT2/EXT3/EXT4 file system
  • Indicate the cluster size based on your needs
  • Click OK
  • Click on Yes on the warning window to continue
  • Review the changes
  • Click on Apply

Is Formatting to exFAT Safe?

Yes, formatting a flash drive to exFAT is pretty safe if you work on Windows and Mac computers often.

It is compatible with both and allows easy transferring of files between these two operating systems. You will not need to reformat it every time or keep backup constantly.

However, the safety aspect largely depends on whether or not you format it correctly. If you are not sure about it, here are four easy ways to go ahead with it.

You can format your flash drive to exFAT by using File Explorer. The steps to follow are:

  • Plug in the USB to your computer
  • Wait for it to be recognized
  • Open Windows File Explorer
  • Go to the disk location
  • Go to This PC
  • Locate the USB drive
  • Right-click on it
  • Select Format
  • Click on File System
  • Select exFAT
  • Check the Quick Format checkbox
  • Click Start
  • Click OK or Cancel on the message “Formatting will erase ALL data on this disk”
  • Click OK
  • Eject the drive safely or start using it.

You can format your flash drive to exFAT by using Disk Management. The steps to follow are:

  • Plug in your USB drive to the computer
  • Wait for it to be recognized
  • Open Windows Search bar
  • Type Disk Management
  • Click “Create and format hard disk partitions”
  • Right-click on the flash drive
  • Select the Format option
  • Type in a name in the Volume Label field
  • Go to the File System dropdown menu
  • Select exFAT
  • Tick the Perform a quick format option
  • Click OK
  • Wait for the process to complete
  • Unplug the drive safely or start using it.
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You can format your flash drive to exFAT by using the Command Prompt. The steps to follow are:

  • Plug in the flash drive
  • Wait for it to be recognized
  • Go to the Windows Search bar
  • Type “CMD”
  • Go to This PC
  • Select the right drive
  • Type “format D: /fs:EXFAT”
  • Press Enter
  • Enter a Volume Label when asked
  • Press Enter
  • Eject the drive safely or start using it.

You can format your flash drive to exFAT by using Windows PowerShell. The steps to follow are:

  • Plug in your flash drive to the computer
  • Wait for it to be detected
  • Go to Windows Search bar
  • Type PowerShell
  • Click on the Windows PowerShell application to open it
  • Type in the command “Format-Volume -DriveLetter DRIVE-LETTER -FileSystem exFAT” for quick format (replace the DRIVE LETTER with the letter of your flash drive)
  • Press Enter
  • Eject the dive safely or start using it once the formatting process is complete

Can Any Flash Drive be exFAT?

Yes, any flash drive can be exFAT but it does not make any sense to format a small USB flash drive, say, 4 GB, to exFAT.

This is because you will not be able to store files larger than 4 GB in it, ever. Ideally, it is best for drives equal to or greater than 32 GB.

Actually, you should format a flash drive to exFAT when:

  • You need to store larger files.
  • You typically use a flash drive continuously between Mac and Windows.
  • Your job needs large partitions to store different types of data.

Advantages

  • It can restore formatted exFAT file systems and deleted files on Windows.
  • It assists in recovering data from a memory stick, a memory card, a USB drive, a hard drive and more.
  • It helps in storing larger files.
  • There are no real partition size limits or file size.
  • It allows retrieving files from exFAT like photos, images, documents, videos, music, emails, and others.
  • It supports Free Space Bitmap allowing more efficient free space provision.
  • It offers cross-platform support for Windows, macOS, and Linux.
  • Valid Data Length (VDL) allows secure pre-allocation.
  • It enhances the interoperability capabilities of desktop computers and mobile devices.
  • The file size and cluster size are quite large.
  • It supports access control.

Disadvantages

  • It does not support journaling.
  • It is vulnerable to file corruption.
  • It does not support multi-user environments.
  • It is prone to widespread file fragmentation.

exFAT Vs NTFS

  • While exFAT was introduced with Windows XP and Windows Vista in 2006, NTFS, on the other hand, was introduced with Windows NT in 1993 and is also used extensively in Windows XP.
  • exFAT works with all versions of the Windows operating system as well as Mac OS X. However, it needs additional software for using on Linux. On the other hand, NTFS works with all versions of Windows, a few of Linux and read-only with macOS.
  • exFAT comes with useful features and no overhead as the NTFS file system. On the other hand, NTFS allows file permissions, changes journals, creates shadow copies for backup, helps with recovering from errors quickly in case of a system crash, provides encryption, allows hard linking and has disk quota limits.
  • There are no limits on partition size or file size in the case of exFAT, but, in comparison, NTFS offers infinite limits for file and partition size.
  • exFAT is a modern file system and more devices and operating systems support it than NTFS.
  • exFAT is lightweight and most suitable for flash drives and it also supports more devices and operating systems than NTFS, but in comparison, NTFS is best suited for Windows systems, internal drives used by Windows, and most fixed drives.
  • The maximum cluster size in the case of exFAT is 32 MB, but in comparison, the maximum cluster size of NTFS is just 2 MB.
  • The maximum volume size in the case of exFAT is 128 PB, but in comparison, the maximum volume size of NTFS is only 8 PB.
  • The maximum file size in the case of exFAT is 16 EB, but in comparison, that of NTFS is 8 PB.
  • The maximum allocation unit size in the case of exFAT is 32 MB, but in comparison, the maximum allocation unit size of NTFS is 64 KB.
  • The date and time resolution for exFAT is 10 ms, but in comparison, that for NTFS is 100 ns.
Read Also:  How to Partition a Hard Drive? (Step by Step Guide)

Questions & Answers:

Why exFAT Takes Up More Space?

The exFAT file system takes up more space mainly due to its design which supports large files in excess of 4 GB and a higher cluster size and volume size. Moreover, the default allocation unit size is also large.

Typically, in an exFAT system even a file of 100 bytes may take up one cluster, as opposed to other file systems such as NTFS that can store small files as an internal attribute in the Master File Table.

Can Windows 10 Run on exFAT?

Yes, exFAT is compatible with Windows 10. In fact, it is widely supported on a wide variety of operating systems apart from most mainstream Windows versions, such as MacOS X and even Linux, with additional software.

However, the degree of support may vary between different versions. Typically, for Windows 10, you will probably be better off using it on the NTFS file system.

Is exFAT Good for Large Files?

Yes, exFAT is good for large files because it is specially designed for them. Therefore, you can use it to handle really large file sizes such as the ones that are used for audio and video.

It will allow you to exchange files seamlessly between removable storage devices, regardless of the type or the operating system. As a matter of fact, the maximum file size limit of exFAT is pretty high, at 16 EiB (Exbibyte).

Is exFAT Good for SD Cards?

Though it is advertised that exFAT supports regular memory cards, it is better not to use it with an exFAT-formatted memory card.

Typically, it is found that the product does not offer support for the Secure Digital Extended Capacity (SDXC) memory cards especially, or even the exFAT format in which these cards are formatted. There is a high possibility of data loss and damage to the card.

Should You Use exFAT?

Yes, you may use exFAT in place of NTFS especially if you want to use a storage device on both Windows and Mac systems.

It is surely a good and reliable format and is probably the best one to use for larger portable storage devices. It is quite flexible and allows hassle-free exchange of files between two systems.

Does exFAT Affect Performance?

Yes, when you compare exFAT with other file systems such as FAT32 and NTFS, you will see a notable increase in performance.

In fact, exFAT will offer up to about 9% performance gain in comparison to 5% of the other file systems, when you read a medium-sized file from a USB flash drive.

Conclusion

As you can see, exFAT is one of the best formats for storage devices, especially for the portable storage devices, with Windows operating systems.

It offers more power efficiency and helps with better memory management.

The most significant aspect of it is that you can use it for both Windows and macOS.

About Taylor

AvatarTaylor S. Irwin is a freelance technology writer with in-depth knowledge about computers. She has an understanding of hardware and technology gained through over 10 years of experience.

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