Old-school NTFS meeting new-school Android
The format wars are nearly over — no, it’s probably not the one you’re thinking about. For as long as they could, Android phone owners have been plugging in external drives to move files about for one reason or another. But if your disk was formatted in anything other than FAT32, they were most likely out of luck. Nowadays, Google is helping Android make a determined comeback to tablets and other large form factors that might get hooked up to those external drives with those difficult formats. Part of that comeback means getting over the NTFS hump.
Back in June, we covered the slow grind that got Pixel phones on Android 13 to support exFAT. The situation there was more confusing because individual Android OEMs (not Google, though) licensed support from Microsoft back when that company had propriety over the format. When it released exFAT into public domain, it triggered a chain of development to integrate support on the Linux kernel, the downstream Android kernel, and the subsequent device kernels.
NTFS, also a Microsoft-pioneered format, has had a different story when it came to Linux support. Our point of entry is pretty recent, however, as read/write abilities in NTFS were incorporated into version 5.15 of the kernel. Mishaal Rahman of Esper reported on an Android 13 kernel based on that version that came about back in August.
There were some major caveats that would block NTFS support from being enabled with near-future software updates or on new devices, though. The biggest one was that the volume daemon, Android’s storage mounting service, needed to be updated to support NTFS — something still in Google’s hands.
The good news is that, according to Rahman, Google has just built and integrated a utility that fixes common NTFS problems. This could be a sign that the company is actively progressing on a fuller NTFS support implementation and opens up the possibility that applicable Android 13 devices as well as any device on a future Android version will get this benefit. Don’t get your hopes too high if you’ve got an Android 13 device, though, as Google’s pretty much the only OEM that would put in the work to bump up the Linux base for its device kernels. In short, we could be in the running for NTFS support on all Android 14 devices if Google keeps up its pace.
If this sort of thing gets your goat going, you might want to make yourself aware of another file format, this one read-only, that Android’s been itching to get OEMs on board with.