What is FAT32?

FAT32 is a file system used for storage devices, and file systems are ways to organize storage on devices like hard drives, SSDs, memory sticks, microSD cards, etc. FAT32 is also an acronym for File Allocation Table 32, and the 32 part of its name comes from the fact that FAT32 uses 32-bit data to identify clusters of data on the storage device.

FAT32 was introduced by Microsoft to the world in 1996 that used it in MS-DOS 7.1 and Windows 95 OSR2 . FAT32 is next in line after FAT16 and FAT. The original FAT file system was originally developed and used in 1977. It was meant to be used on floppy disks, but with the advancement of computer technology it soon became the standard choice for formatting hard drives.

FAT and its derivatives, including FAT32, were the most popular file systems used by Disk Operating System (DOS) and Windows computers from the 1980s through to 2000. FAT32 began to lose its importance in 2001 when Windows XP was launched and uses NTFS instead of FAT32 by default.

FAT32 can also be used under modern operating systems such as Windows 7 , but this is no longer particularly practical in everyday life. There are several reasons for this. For example, the maximum file size under FAT32 is only four gigabytes. In 1997, this may have been considered completely sufficient in view of consumer hard drives, which only offered 20 gigabytes of storage capacity in total. However, files of this size are no longer uncommon.

Even in the professional field of image or video editing, the user quickly reaches the four-gigabyte limit under FAT32. Additionally, the mentioned maximum partition size is two terabytes, but Windows 98, Windows 2000 and Windows XP are not able to work properly with these partition sizes under FAT32. Partition sizes of a maximum of 128 gigabytes are much more realistic, which is not enough for most professional and private users these days.

Furthermore, the limit described applies that individual hard drives may only be eight terabytes in size. Even today, in 2012, that is still completely sufficient, but with a little foresight it should be clear that this limit will soon be cracked. Individual external hard drives already offer storage capacities of four terabytes, so that reaching double the capacity will probably only be a very short question of time.