exFAT VDL Feature – Two Data Lengths – File Pre-Allocation Support

In Windows XP for NTFS there is a command that sets the file lengths. It is called the FSUTIL command.

Ex: FSUTIL FILE setvaliddata

Set the valid data length for a file on an NTFS volume.

In NTFS, there are two important concepts of file length:

  • End of File (EOF) marker
  • Valid Data Length (VDL)


The EOF indicates the actual length of the file.

The VDL identifies the length of valid data on disk.

Any reads between VDL and EOF automatically return 0 in order to preserve the C2 object reuse requirement.


Offset Size Description
~ ~ Standard Attribute Header
0x00 8 File reference to the parent directory.
0x08 8 C Time – File Creation
0x10 8 A Time – File Altered
0x18 8 M Time – MFT Changed
0x20 8 R Time – File Read
0x28 8 Allocated size of the file
0x30 8 Real size of the file
0x38 4 Flags, e.g. Directory, compressed, hidden
0x3c 4 Used by EAs and Reparse
0x40 1 Filename length in characters (L)
0x41 1 Filename namespace
0x42 2L File name in Unicode (not null terminated)

Source: http://inform.pucp.edu.pe/~inf232/Ntfs/ntfs_doc_v0.5/attributes/file_name.html



In NTFS, the “End of File” can be referred to as the “allocated size of the file” while “Valid Data Length” would be the “real size of the file”.


There is a way to set these values via a program:


SetFileValidData function to set the “real size of the file”



SetEndOfFile function to set the “allocated size of the file” (Physical size)



Use of this function creates a concept of “file pre-allocation” where you can define the size of the file up front and in advance before or while writing in the file.


But wait …. You say – this is a blog on the exFAT file system, why am I talking about NTFS? This is not a NTFS Blog.


That is true, and you’re correct. BUT…


If we were to examine a legacy FAT directory entry, the end of the directory record is a 32 bit length of the file. A single length, because effectively Valid Data Length = Size of File.


Now, let’s look at exFAT:


From the Specification, we get:


Stream Extension Directory Entry  
Offset Size
Field Name (byte) (byte)
EntryType 0 1
GeneralSecondaryFlags 1 1
Reserved1 2 1
NameLength 3 1
NameHash 4 2
Reserved2 6 2
ValidDataLength 8 8
Reserved3 16 4
FirstCluster 20 4
DataLength 24 8

Source: https://www.google.com/patents/US8321439


We see from the definition of the Stream Extension Directory Entry two, not one: lengths. Just like NTFS, exFAT has two separate data length, each 8 bytes long which provide a maximum theoretical file length of 16 EiB. If we look at the definitions of each:


ValidDataLength Field


The ValidDataLength field describes how far into the data stream user data has been written. Implementations shall update this field as they write data further out into the data stream. On the storage media, the data between the valid data length and the data length of the data stream is undefined. Implementations shall return zeroes for read operations beyond the valid data length.

If the corresponding File directory entry describes a directory, then the only valid value for this field is equal to the value of the DataLength field. Otherwise, the range of valid values for this field is:

  • At least 0, which means no user data has been written out to the data stream
  • At most DataLength, which means user data has been written out to the entire length of the data stream



DataLength Field

If the corresponding File directory entry describes a directory, then the valid value for this field is the entire size of the associated allocation, in bytes, which may be 0. Further, for directories, the maximum value for this field is 256 MB.


So, what does this mean?

First, exFAT can support pre-allocation of a file in advance before writing into it.

Second, a file can be pre-allocated in a very large size to attempt to get many contiguous clusters in a single allocation so that it can use that bit to say the file is contiguous and therefore not have to update the FAT chain. Imagine this: A camera is recording a long HD movie, it gets 3 hours in the movie, then trips on an allocated cluster from another file, in order to continue recording, the camera would need to go back and build the FAT chain, in other words the camera went 3 hours without touching the FAT, it would have to go back and fill in every FAT for every cluster since the beginning of the file, and depending on cluster size – that could be a lot of fixing up to do.


So, this is a feature of the exFAT file system, taken from NTFS and not currently in legacy FAT. Although legacy FAT supports the VDL (Set Valid Data Length) feature, legacy FAT only has one length field in the directory record so VDL is also the physical EOF.