Brief introduction to file systems and partition tables

The file system organizes information within the device.

En the previous article We had begun to explain one of the basic requirements for installing an operating system, partitioning. We now continue with a brief introduction to file systems and partition tables.

As we had explained in the previous article, A file system establishes how data is stored, collected, and accessed. Partition tables indicate the type and size of partitions present on a storage device and their location. In addition, they point out the presence of operating systems with boot loaders.

A brief introduction to file systems and partition tables

Types of file systems

Among the most common file systems are:

  • FAT32: It is generally used by pendrives and memory cards used in mobile devices and digital cameras. Many Linux distributions also require a small partition in this format for certain system functions.
  • HFS +: It is the file system of Apple computers. Linux can read data from this file system, although writing to it may require certain modifications to macOS settings or the installation of additional software.
  • Ext2/3/: These are the variants of the standard Linux file system. Today, Ext4 is the most used although some of the most important distributions are testing other formats.
  • btrfs: It can handle larger data volumes than Ext4 and will likely become its successor.
  • XFS: This UNIX file system is more than 30 years old and keeps a change log which makes it suitable for recovering lost data.
  • Swaps: Unlike other file systems, Swap does not store data permanently. When the computer is turned on, the RAM memory uses it to temporarily store information not necessary at that moment.

Partition types

We had said that partitions are divisions created by software. Its use has the following advantages:

  • Allows you to dedicate a device to different uses.
  • Make organization easier by assigning different partitions to different types of data
  • It allows you to adapt the use of the device according to the needs of the moment.
  • It is possible to assign different access permissions or encrypt each of them.

If you try to install Linux on a computer that is more than 5 years old you will find that you cannot create more than 4 partitions. This restriction does not exist on more modern computers since it uses a different partition table system. However, if you're just getting started, it's best to let the installer take care of everything.

We have two types of partition tables available. MBR (Master Boot Record) for older computers and GPT (GUID Partition Table) for more modern ones. GPT is superior to MBR not only because it works with larger disks but also allows recovery in case of physical damage to the device.

To overcome its limitations, MBR has two types of partitions:

  • Primary Partition: There can only be 4 with only one active. They are useful for storing the operating system with its corresponding boot loader. The computer will access the partition indicated as active after completing the boot procedure.
  • Extended Partition: To overcome the limit of 4 primary partitions, there is the possibility of creating an extendia partition that acts as a container for our third type of partition, the logical partition.
  • Logical Partition: Logical partitions partially have the functions of primary partitions. The main restriction is that they cannot contain the bootloader. That is why it is necessary to do it on a logical partition.

Both Windows and the installers of the different Linux distributions include their own tool for working with partitions. The GNOME and KDE desktops also have their own tools that can come pre-installed or be in the repositories. In the case of GNOME it is called Gparted (Which can also be downloaded as a standalone Linux distribution) and in the case of KDE Partition Editor.

In our contact form, reader Samquejo gives us the following:

Regarding mbr, it is not entirely correct.
5 years is a good approximation to avoid getting caught, but I have machines that are more than 10 years old (and BIOS of its time) that accept gpt without problem.
The mbr-bios scheme has a limit of 2 TB, 4 primary or 3 primary partitions and an extended one without native boot capacity (in the extended partitions you can or could put a grub chainload for boot) and the extended partition I think which can hold 32 logical partitions but I'm talking about memory and that number may be different but certainly not less.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *



  1. Responsible for the data: Miguel Ángel Gatón
  2. Purpose of the data: Control SPAM, comment management.
  3. Legitimation: Your consent
  4. Communication of the data: The data will not be communicated to third parties except by legal obligation.
  5. Data storage: Database hosted by Occentus Networks (EU)
  6. Rights: At any time you can limit, recover and delete your information.