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How NTFS File System Works: NTFS Physical Structure (2)

September 17th, 2009

Partition Tables on MBR and GUID disks

Master boot record (MBR) disks use both basic volumes and dynamic volumes. Because partition tables on MBR disks support partition sizes only up to 2 terabytes, you must use dynamic volumes to create NTFS volumes over 2 terabytes. Windows Server 2003 manages dynamic volumes in a special database instead of in the partition table; therefore dynamic volumes are not subject to the 2-terabyte physical limit imposed by the partition table. Dynamic NTFS volumes can be as large as the maximum volume size supported by NTFS. Itanium-based computers that use GUID partition table (GPT) disks also support NTFS volumes larger than 2 terabytes.

Organization of an NTFS Volume

The figure Organization of an NTFS Volume illustrates how NTFS organizes structures on a volume.

Organization of an NTFS Volume

NTFS Volume Structures

The following table describes each of the organizational structures on the NTFS volume.

NTFS Volume Components

Component Description
NTFS Boot Sector Contains the BIOS parameter block that stores information about the layout of the volume and the file system structures, as well as the boot code that loads Windows Server 2003.
Master File Table Contains the information necessary to retrieve files from the NTFS partition, such as the attributes of a file.
File System Data Stores data that is not contained within the Master File Table.
Master File Table Copy Includes copies of the records essential for the recovery of the file system if there is a problem with the original copy.

Boot Sectors

On MBR disks, the boot sector, which is located at the first logical sector of each partition, is a critical disk structure for starting your computer. It contains executable code and the data required by the code, including information that the file system uses to access the volume. The boot sector is created when you format a volume. At the end of the boot sector is a 2-byte structure called a signature word or end of sector marker, which is always set to 0x55AA. On computers running Windows Server 2003, the boot sector on the active partition loads into memory and starts Ntldr, which loads the boot menu if multiple versions of Windows are installed, or loads the operating system if only one operating system is installed.

GUID partition table (GPT) disks are similar to MBR disks, except they use primary and backup partition structures to provide redundancy. These structures are located at the beginning and the end of the disk. GPT identifies these structures by their logical block address (LBA) rather than by their relative sectors.

A boot sector consists of the following elements:

  • An x86-based CPU jump instruction.
  • The original equipment manufacturer identification (OEM ID).
  • The BIOS parameter block (BPB), a data structure.
  • The extended BPB.
  • The executable boot code (or bootstrap code) that starts the operating system.

All Windows Server 2003 boot sectors contain the preceding elements regardless of the type of disk (basic disk or dynamic disk).

Components of a Boot Sector

The MBR transfers CPU execution to the boot sector, so the first three bytes of the boot sector must be valid, executable x86-based CPU instructions. This includes a jump instruction that skips the next several nonexecutable bytes.

Following the jump instruction is the 8-byte OEM ID, a string of characters that identifies the name and version number of the operating system that formatted the volume. To preserve compatibility with MS-DOS, Windows Server 2003 records “NTFS” in this field.

Note: You might also see the OEM ID “MSWIN4.0” on disks formatted by Windows 95 and “MSWIN4.1” on disks formatted by Windows 95 OEM Service Release 2 (OSR2), Windows 98, and Windows Millennium Edition. Windows Server 2003 does not use the OEM ID field in the boot sector except for verifying NTFS volumes.

Following the OEM ID is the BPB, which provides information that enables the executable boot code to locate Ntldr. The BPB always starts at the same offset, so standard parameters are in a known location. Disk size and geometry variables are encapsulated in the BPB. Because the first part of the boot sector is an x86 jump instruction, the BPB can be extended in the future by appending new information at the end. The jump instruction needs only a minor adjustment to accommodate this change. The BPB is stored in a packed (unaligned) format.

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