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Partitioning allows you to split a storage medium, usually a hard disk into logical parts. Partitions can have different sizes, types and used for different purposes.

Why use multiple partitions

  • Back in the days people had multiple partitions because MS-DOS and it's filesystem (FAT16) wasn't able to handle "large" partitions, namely partitions larger than 2GB. DOS users with >2GB disks had to create multiple partitions
  • Storage partitions: putting your downloaded files, installed games and such on a partition that is not your system drive can save you a lot of work in case you decide to reinstall your operating system regardless of the reason
  • Swap partition: you can put your virtual memory on a different partition. This is the default and recommended method under *nix systems.
  • Multiple operating systems: if you decide to install a 2nd, 3rd, 4th... operating system, you'll have to install it on a separate partition.

The partition table

Disks with partitions must have some kind of partition table. Removable media, such as floppies or USB flash drives can work without a partition table, however in case of flash drives it is a good idea to create one.

  • MBR: the good ol' MS-DOS partition table, used since 1983. Can be used for disks up to 2TB of size. Can handle 4 primary partitions or if a primary partition is an extended partition, that can have more logical partition inside.
    • Primary partition: the partition you boot an operating system from should be a primary partition.
      • Active partition: a primary partition which is marked as "active". This can be done from partition management programs.
    • Extended partition: a primary partition which contains one or more logical partitions. If you have one primary partition, you may put the rest inside an extended partition, unless it is used to boot an operating system which doesn't supports booting from a logical drive, such as BSD.