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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Hard Disk Drives | Hard Disk Logical Structures and File Systems | New Technology File System (NTFS) | NTFS Directories and Files ]

NTFS Reparse Points

One of the most interesting new capabilities added to NTFS version 5 with the release of Windows 2000 was the ability to create special file system functions and associate them with files or directories. This enables the functionality of the NTFS file system to be enhanced and extended dynamically. The feature is implemented using objects that are called reparse points.

The use of reparse points begins with applications. An application that wants to use the feature stores data specific to the application--which can be any sort of data at all--into a reparse point. The reparse point is tagged with an identifier specific to the application and stored with the file or directory. A special application-specific filter (a driver of sorts) is also associated with the reparse point tag type and made known to the file system. More than one application can store a reparse point with the same file or directory, each using a different tag. Microsoft themselves reserved several different tags for their own use.

Now, let's suppose that the user decides to access a file that has been tagged with a reparse point. When the file system goes to open the file, it notices the reparse point associated with the file. It then "reparses" the original request for the file, by finding the appropriate filter associated with the application that stored the reparse point, and passing the reparse point data to that filter. The filter can then use the data in the reparse point to do whatever is appropriate based on the reparse point functionality intended by the application. It is a very flexible system; how exactly the reparse point works is left up to the application. The really nice thing about reparse points is that they operate transparently to the user. You simply access the reparse point and the instructions are carried out automatically. This creates seamless extensions to file system functionality.

In addition to allowing reparse points to implement many types of custom capabilities, Microsoft itself uses them to implement several features within Windows 2000 itself, including the following:

  • Symbolic Links: Symbolic linking allows you to create a pointer from one area of the directory structure to the actual location of the file elsewhere in the structure. NTFS does not implement "true" symbolic file linking as exists within UNIX file systems, but the functionality can be simulated by using reparse points. In essence, a symbolic link is a reparse point that redirect access from one file to another file.
  • Junction Points: A junction point is similar to a symbolic link, but instead of redirecting access from one file to another, it redirects access from one directory to another.
  • Volume Mount Points: A volume mount point is like a symbolic link or junction point, but taken to the next level: it is used to create dynamic access to entire disk volumes. For example, you can create volume mount points for removable hard disks or other storage media, or even use this feature to allow several different partitions (C:, D:, E: and so on) to appear to the user as if they were all in one logical volume. Windows 2000 can use this capability to break the traditional limit of 26 drive letters--using volume mount points, you can access volumes without the need for a drive letter for the volume. This is useful for large CD-ROM servers that would otherwise require a separate letter for each disk (and would also require the user to keep track of all these drive letters!)
  • Remote Storage Server (RSS): This feature of Windows 2000 uses a set of rules to determine when to move infrequently used files on an NTFS volume to archive storage (such as CD-RW or tape). When it moves a file to "offline" or "near offline" storage in this manner, RSS leaves behind reparse points that contain the instructions necessary to access the archived files, if they are needed in the future.

These are just a few examples of how reparse points can be used. As you can see, the functionality is very flexible. Reparse points are a nice addition to NTFS: they allow the capabilities of the file system to be enhanced without requiring any changes to the file system itself.

Next: NTFS Security and Permissions

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