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How Windows file systems work

Lots of people have some confusion about how windows filesystem work. I get questions like "Can windows98 get files from Windows 2000 even though Windows 2000 is using NTFS?"

So here is a short illustrated guide on how it basically works...

The FileSystems

First lets meet our filesystems and their friend the file...

NTFS (file cabinet), FAT32 (desk drawer), FAT16 (paper sorter), a file (paper)

The Windows OSes

Now meet the Windows OSes themselves and their friend SMB...

Windows9x (dog), WindowsNT (stick-figure boy), Windows 2000-XP (weird mspaint man), SMB (a ghost)

Windows and their Filesystems

Windows 2000 and Windows XP:

Mr. Windows 2000-XP holding three files from three different file systems

Mr. Windows 2000-XP can open the file cabinet (NTFS), the desk drawer (FAT32), and the paper sorter (FAT16) without a problem.

Windows 95, 98 and Windows Millennium:

Mr Windows 9x holding two files from two different file systems

Mr. Windows9x can only reach the papers (files) from the paper sorter (FAT16) and the desk drawer (FAT32). Some smaller dogs (Windows 95a) can only get to the paper sorter because they are too weak to open drawers.

Windows NT:

Windows NT Jr. holding two files from two different file systems

Windows NT Jr. can only open the file cabinet (NTFS) and the paper sorter (FAT16). He can't get the desk drawer (FAT32) open because he doesn't know you have to open the larger drawer first.

Network Transfer

SMB takes files from Mr. Windows 2000-XP while Mr. Windows9x waits

What if we wanted to move a paper (file) from Mr. Windows2000-XP, who has put the paper (file) into his file cabinet (NTFS), to Mr. Windows9x so he can put the paper (file) into his desk drawer (FAT32) over the network? Well Mr. Windows9x doesn't go to Mr. windows2000-XP's file cabinet, he would hit him with a broom.

So Mr. Windows9x asks SMB the ghost who runs the network to ask Mr. Windows2000-XP for the papers (files). SMB then asks Mr. Windows2000-XP if Mr. Windows9x can have the papers (files). Mr. Windows2000-XP checks his clipboard (ACL) if it's ok. He then gives SMB the files from the file cabinet (NTFS), SMB then runs back to Mr. Windows9x and he puts the files into his desk drawer (FAT32).

Last Update: Jan 26th, 2003 (minor)
Written by Mike "Catfish" Moniz @ Halfdone Development
Page last modified: June 20th, 2005 - 5:44pm Boston, USA time.
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