Wednesday, May 09, 2007

File formats

I recently ditched the 2GB USB key on which I stored key files to be carried around, in favour of a pocket hard drive with a 160GB capacity. Needing files in a number of different places, and an ability to work on them in-between, the pocket drive offered greater flexibility, and was not as easy to misplace. I thought I had solved my file-portability and accessibility problems... until... I tried to move a 4.5GB file onto the pocket drive to transfer to another computer. Despite the drive indicating it had 114GB of available capacity, each time I attempted to copy the file over I encountered a message indicating insufficient space.
I tried every trick I new. I ran scandisk, chkdsk, defragged the drive, created a new folder, deleted some files, but still the same message appeared, and I remained flummoxed. Then I looked at the file structure of the disk: FAT 32. In case you didn't know there are three available formats for a drive: FAT 16, FAT 32, and NTFS. The two FAT systems carry a maximum capacity for a single file of under 4GB (2GB for Fat 16). Consequently the drive was unable to accept information in a single file which had a size in excess of the drive's capacity limits. There was only one solution: to convert the drive to NTFS.
It's an interesting word, "convert". It's home ground is in religious circles, when there is talk of someone being "converted". And in this computer world, it carries the same connotation: a converted drive was enabled to receive information which it was previously; it resorted the information it already knew to fit the new paradigm; its capacities were expanded, and the holes in its capacities were made smaller (one of the unique aspects of NTFS over FAT 32 is that it can use file clusters more efficiently, effectively increasing capacity), to mention just some of the implications of the change. It also loses the capacity to communicate with some operating and computer systems which cannot recognise NTFS (dos systems in particular), which is often an effect of conversion in the religious world too.
My greatest fear as I set out to convert the drive file systems was the loss of data altogether. Fortunately this was not the case.

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