File Allocation Table (FAT) is an area on the hard disk or floppy disk containing information of every file stored and unallocated spaces on the disk and first developed for MS-DOS. FAT16 indicates that the size of each entry in the file allocation table of a disk is 16 bits. In other words, it uses 16 bits to address clusters. It is the core of the file system. Cluster refers to allocation unit of disk space. Cluster size ranges in FAT16 are 4KB, 8KB, 16KB and 32KB. FAT16 can store 65526 clusters (216 minus few clusters, approx). MS-DOS introduces FAT16. FAT16 file system has a root folder.

Values like 0000 (free), 0002-ffef (cluster in use) etc., are stored in entries of FAT16. FAT16 supports hard disk volumes ranging from 16MB to 2GB. It is present in MS-DOS and Windows 95 systems. FAT16 has a variant called VFAT, which is available in Linux. The term FAT refers to FAT16 generally. Let us take a scenario, where a particular file is deleted; the entry of that file is deleted from the file table (FAT16 in our case) but the content remain as it is (later it would be over-written). Hence, file allocation table is similar to the table index of a book. 04h (<volumes with 65526 sectors) and 06h (>volumes with 65526 sectors) are ID numbers of file system associated with FAT16 volumes.

Partitions can be made using FAT16 with utmost 2GB sizes. FAT16 file system is used by digital cameras, PDAs, portable music devices etc. FAT16 with larger cluster size is ineffective because of wastage of storage space. In case of memory cards, FAT16 Boot Record is located at the beginning of every partition (sector 0 in Windows XP). First 2 clusters are used for the FAT16 Boot Record and for the Directory table.


  • File name size is longer compared to FAT12
  • Compatible across wide variety of operating systems compared to FAT12 like Windows 95 / 98 / Me (Millennium Edition), Linux, and some versions of UNIX.
  • Tools and utilities are available to tackle problems
  • More speed and storage compared to FAT12
  • Decreased complexity of interfacing
  • Universal kind of file system, which is supported in most of operating system

Disadvantages of FAT16

  • No built-in file system security
  • No utility to compress files
  • Due to large cluster size, it wastes the storage space for larger drives
  • Root folder can manage maximum of 512 entries
  • File size more than 2GB cannot be created
  • Fixed number of clusters per partition
  • Larger the hard disk, large is the wastage of storage space
  • As the size of the cluster increases, Inefficiency on larger volume sizes increases

Related Information

How to recover FAT32 partition?
FAT 32 is popularly used in external storage devices like memory cards, USB drives, etc. Data loss is common problem faced by FAT partitions users. If you have lost data from FAT16 or FAT32 format storage units, no need to worry as you can recover FAT partition with Remo Recover (Windows) software.

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