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Hard disks continue to increase in size, as does what we're storing on them. There are limits, but not limits that most people need to worry about.

Could you tell me if there is a size limit on a single folder? For example a folder with movies or music in it could end up with quite a few gigabytes! Is there a limit?

There are limits, of course. The limit most people run into first is the size of their hard disk, but assuming that you have a big enough disk for everything, then other limits can come into play.

I will say this right away though: the size of the files in a single folder is not one of them.

There's no practical limit on the combined sizes of all the files in a folder, though there may be limits on the number of files in a folder. More importantly, there are limits on individual file size that depend on what filesystem you're using on your hard disk. (The "filesystem" is nothing more than the specification of exactly how files are store on disk.)

Let's break this down by file system:

  • FAT aka FAT16

    FAT, for File Allocation Table, is the successor to the original FAT12 filesystem that shipped with MS-DOS many, many years ago.

    • Maximum disk size: 4 gigabytes

    • Maximum file size: 4 gigabytes

    • Maximum number of files on disk: 65,517

    • Maximum number of files in a single folder: 512 (if I recall correctly, the root folder "/" had a lower limit of 128).

  • FAT32

    "There's no practical limit on the combined sizes of all the files in a folder, though there may be limits on the number of files in a folder."

    FAT32 was introduced to overcome some of the limitations of FAT16.

    • Maximum disk size: 2 terabytes

    • Maximum file size: 4 gigabytes

    • Maximum number of files on disk: 268,435,437

    • Maximum number of files in a single folder: 65,534

  • NTFS

    NTFS, or "New Technology File System" introduced with Windows NT, is a completely redesigned file system.

    • Maximum disk size: 256 terabytes

    • Maximum file size: 256 terabytes

    • Maximum number of files on disk: 4,294,967,295

    • Maximum number of files in a single folder: 4,294,967,295

Note that when I say "disk" above, I'm really talking about "logical" disks, not necessarily physical. No one makes a 256 terabyte disk drive, but using NTFS you can treat an array of disk drives as a single logical disk. Presumably if you have enough of them, you can build a huge logical drive.

Also note that the NTFS's 256 terabyte limitation may well simply be an implementation restriction - I've read that the NTFS format can support disks up to 16 exabytes (16 times 1,152,921,504,606,846,976 bytes).

So there are two important take-aways from all that data as it relates to the original question:

  1. Nowhere was there a limit of the size of the contents of a folder. Limits on the number of files, yes, but nothing size related.

  2. You probably want to make sure your disk is formatted NTFS. FAT32's 4 gigabytes for a single file just isn't enough any more, especially if you're collecting video or other storage-intensive media.

Article C3024 - May 14, 2007 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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21 Comments
Simon
May 14, 2007 9:44 AM

Good article.

Nitpick: your use of "terrabytes": the prefix is actually 'tera', only one r; from the Greek ????? meaning four (since a terathing is 1000^4 things).

(Of course, if I was being *really* nitpicky, you technically want 'tebi' (2^40) rather than 'tera' (10^12); but since few people know what 'tebi' means and the difference is less than 10% I'll let you off there ;) ).

Leo A. Notenboom
May 14, 2007 2:02 PM

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Thanks, fixed the spelling.

Yeah, I consciously decided to avoid tebi for the very reason you mention. It
might be more accurate, but if no one knows what it means, does it really help?

(Yes, I also realize that actually using it would help further spread knowledge
of the word. I'll just claim that's happening here in the comments.)

:-)

Leo
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Chris Ottaway
May 19, 2007 3:15 AM

I back up to an external hard drive. I can only back up 4 gb in one folder. I think it could be formatted with Fat32. Is their a way to reformat this drive to NTFS?

Leo A. Notenboom
May 19, 2007 7:43 PM

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Yes. Look into the "Convert" command. It's a commandline tool that will convert
a drive from FAT to NTFS. It's included with Windows XP.

Leo
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Emidio
March 17, 2008 10:12 AM

Hi! Actually I'm keeping incurring in a folder size limit of 102 GB. I have several external drives, all of them NTFS, and there is no way to store more than 102 GB in a single folder. Any suggestion?
Thanks

Ansy
July 24, 2008 9:13 AM

Cracking site and I've been trying to find out why I can only store a few Divx files in a folder before its full. No I know why and how to fix it. Cheers

Dwarner
December 8, 2008 1:53 PM

I am creating an archive. Currently we are putting all of our files in one folder and have accumulated over 6,000 files. Is there a utility or piece of software that might have an inbox and place the files in automatically created directories with a maximum of 500 files to improve access performance.

OP
February 16, 2009 6:27 AM

Is it possible to put 1-2 thousand files in a folder in windows 2003 server and share it so that other users (more than 200) can directly execute exes from it. Or its a better idea to divide those files into sub folders inside the main folder. Thanks in advance.

Tb
July 13, 2009 4:51 PM

Can you share resources for learning more about the optimal way to store files in a web application? We currently put all files into the main directory, and this is creating some issues with copying and we think backups. One folder has over 185,000 files, all of which are fairly small. The copy rate is about 6 gig/hour on a LAN.

sreejith
August 29, 2009 7:44 AM

Does any one here know about the maximum number of files in a single folder for ext2, ext2 FS of linux.
?

mykeeX
September 25, 2009 5:56 AM

My question and problem is this.. I have all my mp3 files cataloged in one directory.. which is about 30GB on a 1TB SATA drive.
Im albe to play music just fine but if i wanted to open my directory where all my music is.. It takes like 5 mins to open..
I realize it has to read all the files before opening the directory..
So my question is this.. where is the fine line at.. how much can music or files can be store in one directory so it doesnt take you 20 years or longer to open?

Jaisin
October 6, 2009 9:42 AM

what is the max limit of single file that can be access from the share path.

Rick
December 13, 2009 2:17 PM

There has to be some sort of size limit to folders. I have been copying DVD's to my laptops hard drive, and had about 8 Movies on my hard drive, and when I tried to copy another DVD's files over to that folder, I got a message that said something to the effect "There is not enough space in folder C:\...\....(... being the directory path), please make sure there is at least 4.2 Gb of free space. I thought it was a fluke and rebooted, and got the same message, but once I deleted one of the Movie folders, it then let me copy the files to that folder.
Any thoughts?

Rick
December 13, 2009 2:23 PM

To add more details, my file system is NTFS, and I have over 100 GB of free space on my hard drive.

comnut
January 20, 2010 1:06 PM

fat16 filesize limit is 2Gb, google "2gb limit" to verify....

a simple answer to 'folder size' here..
http://www.myhowtoos.com/en/windows-howtoos/91-how-to-display-folder-size-in-windows-explorer

Tim Hohs
April 13, 2010 9:51 AM

I'm obviously missing something here. I have several movies stored on my FAT32 external drive that are way over 4 Gb. How can that be if the limit is 4Gb?

If you mean DVDs or ripped DVDs you'll often find that the movie is stored as several separate files, none of which exceed 2 gigabytes. FAT cannot handle large files, so either you don't have FAT, or you don't have large files.
Leo
17-Apr-2010

Pete B
July 6, 2010 11:16 AM

On a related matter, there are limits on the length of the full location of a file for some operations (I now forget which). So if you have a file which is

C:\folder A\subfolder B\very long subfolder name C\ ....\some long file name as well.docx

then there can be a limit of (128 or?) 256 characters for certain operations (like opening it in Word?). Very frustrating until you work out what the problem is. But some of the people commenting above may then hit this issue if they create lots of nested subfolders.

Code Master
November 28, 2010 4:53 PM

By the way, the limit to the number of files in a single directory is, if I'm remembering correctly, 2^4080, approx 1.5936e+1228 (in other words, you'd have to exhaust 255 characters of 16-bit unicode text in order to run out of space in a single directory).

Bzh972
March 24, 2011 8:39 AM

It seems that the max number of files per folder in fat32 depends on the size of the clusters.
In fat32, on my micro sdhc card, the max number of files within the root of a single folder is 21844.
And I found this: "under FAT 32 provided partition with 4-kB-Clusters permits "only" max.
21844 files per path"

Source: http://www.staff.uni-marburg.de/~naeser/oe.htm

Do you have more information about this phenomenon ? I didn't find any.

Thanks

jarze
July 12, 2011 8:08 AM

That can't be right for FAT. I have a 2GB usb flash drive, it has folder which has over 25,000 files in total, and over 13,000 in its root. So the "maximum number of files in single folder" is not right. Well, at least when I look drive properties there stands FAT. If the numbers presented are right, seems more like my drive had FAT32...

Mike
April 7, 2012 4:09 PM

Well, we just watched a 2GB thumb drive frustrate my wife all afternoon, until we (a) found this thread here, and (b) verified 129 total items in the root level (2 folders, 127 files). Created a new subfolder, moved the files, and it's back in business.

Next thing you know, I'll have to remember my 8 inch floppy single / double density formatting rules...

thanks Leo!!

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