File Servers
Lesson 1

Understanding File Systems and Volumes

By Sai Kurada
August 28, 2023
A file system is a way of organizing and storing files on a storage medium, like a hard drive or a solid-state drive. It manages how data is stored, retrieved, and organized. Each operating system typically has its own preferred file system, though many can work with multiple types.
Common file systems include:

  • NTFS (New Technology File System): Used by Windows operating systems.
  • FAT/FAT32 (File Allocation Table): Older file system used by Windows for smaller drives and removable media.
  • exFAT (Extended File Allocation Table): A newer file system optimized for flash drives.
  • HFS/HFS+ (Hierarchical File System): Used by older versions of Mac OS, while HFS+ is used in earlier versions of macOS.
  • APFS (Apple File System): The current default file system for macOS.
Linux and Unix-like systems use various file systems like ext2, ext3, ext4, XFS, ZFS, etc., depending on the specific distribution.


A volume is a distinct storage area with its own file system. It can be a partition on a physical disk, an entire physical disk, or a virtual storage space provided by technologies like virtualization or RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks).
  • Partition: A division of a physical disk that can be formatted with a file system and treated as a separate unit.
  • Logical Volume: An abstraction over physical volumes that allows for more flexible management of storage. Logical volumes can span multiple physical devices.
  • Mount Point: In Unix-like systems, a mount point is a directory where the file system is attached to the system's hierarchical directory tree.
  • Drive Letter: In Windows, volumes are typically assigned a drive letter (like C:, D:, etc.).

Relationship between File Systems and Volumes:

  • A volume can have one file system at a time. However, a file system can span multiple volumes if it supports it (like ZFS or some RAID configurations).
  • You can think of a volume as a container for a file system. It provides the space where the file system's structure and data are stored.
  • The file system handles how files and directories are organized and how data is read and written. The volume, on the other hand, provides the space and manages access to that space.
  • When a volume is formatted with a particular file system, it is prepared to store data according to the rules and structures defined by that file system.


Understanding file systems and volumes is crucial for managing storage, performing backups, and ensuring efficient data organization and retrieval. Different operating systems and applications may have specific requirements or recommendations for the type of file system and volume configurations they work best with.