NTFS and Linux – An Annoying Relationship

Very recently I wrote a blog about getting rid of FAT32 file systems because the maximum file size that it can handle is 4GB. Read it here if you are interested.

By the end of that blog I had decided that I would move to either ext4/NTFS and get rid of FAT totally. ext4 was only for linux and is not compatible with windows. NTFS on the other hand is compatible with windows and linux. I started off by copying stuff off my 16GB FAT32 pen drive and loading it on my laptop, to format it into an NTFS drive, so that I can load it all back again. I was done with this process in half an hour. Then I noticed something, all the files and folders in the drive had weird (read, write, execute) permissions now. Everything was a 777 (rwxrwxrwx). Meaning, every file had permissions to read, write and execute for user, group and others. That was an irritating sight to see on a terminal.

A little searching,  and I realized that, although NTFS has a much bigger file size limit, it does not retain permissions from a linux system. Uff! That was really disappointing. It was still possible to maintain permissions, but it was a long process and I was not going to complicate my life for basic backup and file transfer. I had to do some thinking and I realized that the best way to handle this was to use ext4 along with FAT32 and NTFS, in some fashion so I get the best of both worlds. So this is what I decided for the two 16GB pen drives and one 1TB hard disk I have for work.

  1. One of the 16GB pen drive would be turned into an ext4 system for use with Linux and also for those big files. Since most of the computers around me use linux, it would not be much of a problem and I do not want any pesky virus filled windows users to use my pen drive either.
  2. The other 16 GB pen drive will remain FAT. To be compatible across all machines. It would not be able to handle huge files but who’s handling huge files all the time.
  3. The 1TB hard disk would be split into two drives
    1. 800GB ext4 for use with my machine and other linux machines if required. Again to avoid virus laden windows users and their machines. (It is pretty simple to clean off viruses from a linux system later on though. But it needs some work. Maybe I will talk about it in some other post)
    2. 200GB NTFS for use with windows if required anytime in the future. A big portion, but I thought it might be required somehow.
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Get rid of the FAT(32)

Here is one good reason why you can stop using FAT32 file format for your drives.

The Story: I have been using computers since around 2000. I started out with windows 98 first of all and I have grown up using FAT32 for a very long time. When NTFS came in, right about when windows NT came in i guess? I am not sure, I never bothered to know what it was about and I continued using FAT32 on all my data drives till now. Although my C drive may have been in the new NTFS format, I was still using FAT32 for the other drives without realizing what I was doing. Then I switched to Linux where it was ext4. So for a lot of years NTFS and FAT32 did not bother me.

The Crux: Calamity struck now after so many years. I was trying to download an 8GB zip file containing a database and the downloads kept stopping at 4GB. A little investigation, and I came to know that the maximum file size in a FAT32 drive is only 4GB. Gladly, my trust wget command line downloader gave me a perfect error to search for. The only way out of this was to have an NTFS or ext4 drive. Maybe I would just go for ext 4. I dont see myself adding/installing windows anytime in the future on my laptop.

A good job for tomorrow. Backup everything on an external hard drive, format my hard disk, put it all back again.


Thu Oct 5 14:10:16 IST 2017: Related update here