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NTFS & ReFS File Systems in Windows Server 2016: Definition, Uses, Pros & Cons

Instructor: Giorgos-Nektarios Panayotidis

George-Nektarios has worked as a tutor and student consultant for five years and has a 4-year university degree in Applied Informatics.

When it comes to Windows Server 2016, what are the two most important file systems that exist? They are NTFS and ReFS. In this lesson, we will look into their pros and cons and examine which is best for the current need.

Resilience to Corrupt Data in File Systems

How can one describe the significance of ReFS? Almost everyone has heard about Python, a nearly 4th generation programming language. One of Python's most famous traits is garbage collection (it's considered one of its top functionalities). The gc module, as it is called, is run and rerun in real-time, over and over again, looking for redundant and useless variables. This helps free space to the extent that this is feasible. One might say that Python is garbage resilient.

This is quite similar to the Resilient File System (ReFS), as it is incorporated into Windows. Specifically, it's a novel feature of Windows Server 2016. ReFS is always vigilant - but not so much about garbage as about corrupted data. Moreover, the corrupted data is not wiped out but mended. As a general guideline, the ReFS file system is usually the preferred choice, but there are features it lacks and, when so, NTFS ought to be utilized. Both of these systems and their characteristics will be analyzed in this particular lesson.

ReFS and NTFS

In the following subsections, we will briefly describe what each of these file systems really are. Let us begin with ReFS.

ReFS (Resilient File System)

Resilient File System/ReFS is in essence Microsoft's newest and most novel file system. As far as Windows Servers are concerned, ReFS was initially included in Windows Server 2012. The original intent and primary use case of ReFS was data archiving for especially sensitive data that needed such an augmented degree of resilience. It's a sort of beefed-up version of NTFS.

NTFS (New Technology File System)

NTFS is the standard and primary file system for both Microsoft Windows and Windows Server. At the time that it was introduced - 1993 - the FAT (File Allocation Table) system was the king of file systems. NTFS is an expanded version of the FAT, and includes journal capabilities (data corruption protection), larger file sizes, and file permissions.

When to Use (ReFS or NTFS)

Due to the fact that ReFS is an evolved and improved version of NTFS, it would seem reasonable to assume that it should always be used. However, that is not always the case, as there are instances where ReFS usage is not feasible or is even not recommended.

More specifically, the following instances are when the use of ReFS is strongly discouraged or even impossible overall.

Startup Disks

One isn't able to make use of ReFS, when it comes to startup or boot disks. In order to start up your PC and go through the boot sequence, you will need to use NTFS. Why is this, one might ask? The reason is probably similar to why removable drives use the FAT instead of NTFS (the non-essential nature of ReFS and its abilities as a boot disk).

Encryption of Separate Files

Encryption of separate files is not supported in ReFS. Consequently, if you are particularly in need of such a feature, you should turn to NTFS. Still, ReFS currently includes full hard drive encryption, through the BitLocker feature (BitLocker Drive Encryption).

Compression of Separate Files

Similar to encryption, ReFS doesn't support separate file compression at all. Thus, if you need to have per-file compression, an undoubtedly important feature, you'll need to utilize NTFS.

Disk Quotas

NTFS includes disk quotas - that is, limitations to the number of user-created files/directories and percent of occupied space by user-created data. ReFS lacks this particular feature. So, it follows that (if you need this), you will need to use NTFS.

Advantages and Disadvantages

In the paragraph above, we've referred to some of the primary disadvantages of ReFS and the respective advantages of NTFS. Both of these correspond to instances wherein ReFS cannot be used and NTFS should be used. But what are the most positive traits of ReFS?

We could name the following two:

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