I am doing web development mostly in Ubuntu. Sometimes I need to go into Windows to do other administrative work. Now, I am ignorant about file systems. I cannot tell the difference between NTFS and FAT32. My eyes just glaze over the Wikipedia articles.

All I know is I have been using this 320 GB portable USB harddisk to save files when I am in Ubuntu and when I am in Windows.

Now I got a situation where sometimes the Windows 7 system cannot detect the harddisk. In Ubuntu, I cannot mount the harddisk. I suspect the NTFS data inside is no longer consistent. I believe it has to do with the file system issue. Or my harddisk is coming apart.

How do I make it easy to backup my files in a portable USB harddisk regardless in Ubuntu or Windows?

That would mean I can go from

  • from Linux/Ubuntu to a portable harddisk read/write files
  • from Windows 7 to a portable harddisk read/write files

the same files.


I realise that the issue is due to bad sectors in the hard disk drive. Now I am trying to recover the files. I want to prevent this from happening again since I still need to use Ubuntu and Windows. And yes, the files can be larger than 4 GB, so FAT32 is out.

By the way, I bought a new hard disk drive.

  • Cannot detect the hard disk at all, or cannot detect the partition/filesystem on the disk? – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jan 17 '11 at 3:24
  • 2
    You will need to stick with FAT32 to be compatible across OSes. While Ubuntu does have an NTFS driver, it's not reliable. – user3463 Jan 17 '11 at 3:55
  • @Randolph: I beg to differ. NTFS-3G is quite reliable, even if it does occasionally (rarely) hit a bump or two. – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jan 17 '11 at 4:49
  • I'm using an external NTFS disk with both Ubuntu and Windows (7) systems with no problems. I even use mixed 32Bit and 64Bit versions of the OSs. – user12889 Jan 17 '11 at 5:29
  • initially i can use the NTFS usb portable hdd. As time goes by the NTFS apparently becomes inconsistent. I now cannot mount the hdd in ubuntu. – Kim Stacks Jan 17 '11 at 5:51

Unless you plan on having files larger than 4GB in your web development files... I would recommend FAT32.

While Linux supports NTFS, I understand the implementation is reverse-engineered... even if they people find it to be "quite reliable" there is still a huge margin for issues for the filesystem to fail.

  • Thank you for suggesting FAT32. i do have a few files larger than 4Gb. Zipped files or video files. – Kim Stacks Jan 18 '11 at 2:19

Everyone else is choosing between FAT32 and NTFS, but there is one more alternative: exFAT.

exFAT works any Windows version newer than XP and works on Ubuntu Linux with the "exfat-fuse" package (run "sudo apt-get install exfat-fuse" in a terminal). I am not sure when support first came for OS X, but I believe it works on Macs

I am also not 100% sure of how reliable exFAT is on Linux but I am reasonably sure that your files will not disappear or fail to mount one day. This is the next topic I would research if I was in your position.

exFAT does not have the same limitations of FAT32 for max file size (4GB). It is also another proprietary filesystem from Microsoft, however, so it may not be implemented perfectly on Linux. My advice is to also set up a way to back up your files (maybe to Dropbox, for example)

For any further reading on exFAT, see here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ExFAT


If the file size limitation of FAT32 is an issue, you could switch it around and install Ext2/3 support in Windows (http://www.fs-driver.org/). Then you could format the USB drive in Ubuntu to use either the Ext2 or Ext3 filesystem native to Linux while still being able to access it in Windows (assuming the driver linked or a similar one is installed). The drawback with this method is that the drive would be inaccessible on any non-Linux operating system without those drivers.

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