What Is FAT32?

Data organization has become an essential part of computing since the earliest days of technology. That’s why file systems were developed to efficiently store, locate, and manage data on storage devices. One of the older file systems is FAT32, which helped shape modern methods of organizing data. Let’s dive in and learn more about FAT32 and the important role it has taken on when it comes to data storage.

What is FAT32?

Computers need a way to organize files on a storage device for several reasons, including efficiency, data loss prevention, storage management, and more. This is where file systems step in. FAT32 is a file system developed by Microsoft that evolves the earlier File Allocation Table (FAT) file system concept. It is available in Windows 95 and Windows 98 and is still widely used today because of its wide compatibility across different operating systems.

What does a FAT32 do?

Like its predecessors and successors, FAT32 relies on a File Allocation Table or FAT to manage files in a drive. Here’s how it works:

1. Dividing the drive:

This process involves dividing the drive into small units called sectors. These sectors would then be further grouped into clusters, the actual allocation units for files.

2. The File Allocation Table:

The File Allocation Table acts like an index, residing at the beginning of the drive. Each entry in the FAT table corresponds to a cluster on the drive. The entry value indicates whether the cluster is free, contains part of a file, or marks the end of a file.

3. Storing files:

FAT32 breaks down a file that is saved into smaller pieces. This is done so the pieces would fit into clusters. This allows the FAT table to be updated and shows which clusters contain the different pieces of the saved file. These clusters don’t necessarily need to be consecutive on the drive.

4. Locating files:

Accessing the file you previously saved would tell the operating system to refer to the FAT table. It follows the chain of clusters allocated to the file and then retrieves and reassembles each piece of the saved file to give you its complete form.

What are the pros and cons of FAT32?


  • FAT32 is a specific type of the FAT file system that uses 32-bit entries in its File Allocation Table. This makes FAT32 capable of addressing a larger number of storage units or clusters compared to earlier versions of FAT.
  • FAT32 is still commonly used because of its useful compatibility across different operating systems. This allows for universality, legacy support, ease of data sharing, and simple storage booting.


  • As mentioned, FAT32 is still widely used. However, it also has limitations. As an older file system, its biggest drawback is its file size limit of 4GB, which makes it incapable of handling files larger than 4GB.
  • The theoretical limit for a FAT32 partition is 2TB. However, practical limitations due to cluster size often restrict it to much lower capacities, making it unsuitable for very large storage devices.
  • FAT32, as an older file system, may have limited security features compared to modern ones. Features like file permissions and encryption in modern file systems aren’t available in FAT32.
  • Lastly, performance and scalability may also be definite concerns with FAT32 since newer file systems may be more efficient in these areas, especially for large file operations.


FAT32 is a file system that relies on the concept of a File Allocation Table. Its primary function is to employ a way to organize files on a storage device so they’re protected and ready to be accessed when needed. FAT32 is an older file system which presents some limitations. However, it is still widely used for its diversity and compatibility with different operating systems.

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