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How NTFS File System Works: NTFS Physical Structure (4)

September 17th, 2009

Master File Table

When you format a volume with NTFS, Windows Server 2003 creates an MFT and metadata files on the partition. The MFT is a relational database that consists of rows of file records and columns of file attributes. It contains at least one entry for every file on an NTFS volume, including the MFT itself.

The MFT stores the information required to retrieve files from the NTFS partition.

MFT and Metadata Files

Because the MFT stores information about itself, NTFS reserves the first 16 records of the MFT for metadata files (approximately 16 KB), which are used to describe the MFT. Metadata files that begin with a dollar sign ($) are described in the table Metadata Files Stored in the MFT. The remaining records of the MFT contain the file and folder records for each file and folder on the volume.

Metadata Files Stored in the MFT

System File File Name MFT Record Purpose of the File
Master file table $Mft 0 Contains one base file record for each file and folder on an NTFS volume. If the allocation information for a file or folder is too large to fit within a single record, other file records are allocated as well.
Master file table mirror $MftMirr 1 Guarantees access to the MFT in case of a single-sector failure. It is a duplicate image of the first four records of the MFT.
Log file $LogFile 2 Contains information used by NTFS for faster recoverability. The log file is used by Windows Server 2003 to restore metadata consistency to NTFS after a system failure. The size of the log file depends on the size of the volume, but you can increase the size of the log file by using the Chkdsk command.
Volume $Volume 3 Contains information about the volume, such as the volume label and the volume version.
Attribute definitions $AttrDef 4 Lists attribute names, numbers, and descriptions.
Root file name index . 5 The root folder.
Cluster bitmap $Bitmap 6 Represents the volume by showing free and unused clusters.
Boot sector $Boot 7 Includes the BPB used to mount the volume and additional bootstrap loader code used if the volume is bootable.
Bad cluster file $BadClus 8 Contains bad clusters for a volume.
Security file $Secure 9 Contains unique security descriptors for all files within a volume.
Upcase table $Upcase 10 Converts lowercase characters to matching Unicode uppercase characters.
NTFS extension file $Extend 11 Used for various optional extensions such as quotas, reparse point data, and object identifiers.
12–15 Reserved for future use.

The data segment locations for both the MFT and the backup MFT, $Mft and $MftMirr, respectively, are recorded in the boot sector. The $MftMirr is a duplicate image of either the first four records of the $Mft or the first cluster of the $Mft, whichever is larger. If any MFT records in the mirrored range are corrupted or unreadable, NTFS reads the boot sector to find the location of the $MftMirr. NTFS then reads the $MftMirr and uses the information in $MftMirr instead of the information in the MFT. If possible, the correct data from the $MftMirr is written back to the corresponding location in the $Mft.

MFT Zone

To prevent the MFT from becoming fragmented, NTFS reserves 12.5 percent of volume by default for exclusive use of the MFT. This space, known as the MFT zone, is not used to store data unless the remainder of the volume becomes full.

Depending on the average file size and other variables, as the volume fills to capacity, either the MFT zone or the unreserved space on the volume becomes full first.

  • Volumes that have a small number of large files exhaust the unreserved space first.
  • Volumes with a large number of small files exhaust the MFT zone space first.

In either case, fragmentation of the MFT occurs when one region or the other becomes full. You can change the size of the MFT zone for newly created volumes by to correspond to a percentage of the volume to be used as the MFT zone. The MFT zone sizes follow:

  • Setting 1, the default, reserves approximately 12.5 percent of the volume.
  • Setting 2 reserves approximately 25 percent.
  • Setting 3 reserves approximately 37.5 percent.
  • Setting 4 reserves approximately 50 percent.

In most computers, the default setting of 1 is adequate. The default setting accommodates volumes with an average file size of 8 KB. Storing a large number of smaller files might necessitate that you increase the size of the MFT zone for new volumes.

After you increase the size of the MFT zone, NTFS does not immediately allocate space to accommodate the size of the new MFT zone. Instead, NTFS exhausts the original reserved space before increasing the size of the MFT zone. When the original space is exhausted, NTFS looks for the next contiguous space large enough to hold the additional MFT zone, which can cause the MFT to become fragmented. You can adjust the zone size for the MFT if the defaults do not fit your needs.

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