What Data Structure Does NTFS Use?


Angela Bailey

Data Structure Used by NTFS

When it comes to file systems, NTFS (New Technology File System) is widely used in Windows operating systems. It offers various features that enhance performance, security, and reliability. One crucial aspect of NTFS is its underlying data structure, which plays a significant role in managing and organizing files and directories.

Master File Table (MFT)

The core component of the NTFS data structure is the Master File Table (MFT). It serves as a centralized database that stores metadata for all files and directories on an NTFS volume. Each entry in the MFT represents a file or directory and holds important information such as size, creation date, permissions, and data attributes.

The MFT uses a fixed-size record format to store these entries efficiently. Each record typically contains attributes like filename, timestamps, security descriptors, and pointers to the actual data stored on the disk.

B+-Tree Structure

To manage large amounts of data efficiently, NTFS employs a B+-tree structure for organizing the MFT entries. A B+-tree is a balanced tree-like structure that allows for quick searching and retrieval of data.

The MFT’s B+-tree consists of multiple levels called nodes. The top-level node is referred to as the root node and serves as an entry point to the entire tree. Each node contains multiple keys that act as references to other nodes or MFT records.

This hierarchical structure enables speedy access to specific files or directories by traversing through the tree based on key values. As a result, file system operations like file opening, deletion, or modification can be performed efficiently even on volumes with millions of files.


In addition to the MFT’s B+-tree structure, NTFS also utilizes clusters to allocate and manage disk space. A cluster represents the smallest unit of allocation in NTFS and consists of one or more sectors.

Clusters are used to store actual file data on the disk. When a file is created, NTFS assigns it one or more clusters based on its size. The MFT record for that file contains information about the allocated clusters, allowing the operating system to locate and read the file’s content efficiently.


Understanding the data structure used by NTFS is crucial for optimizing file system performance and ensuring data integrity. The Master File Table, B+-tree structure, and clusters work together to provide efficient storage, retrieval, and management of files and directories on NTFS volumes.

Next time you work with an NTFS volume or encounter any file system-related issues, keep in mind these underlying data structures that make it all possible.

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