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Volume vs. Partition – What’s the Difference?

Posted by Jessie Richardson on June 6, 2019
Volume VS Partition

Storage is one of the essential components of every computer, including smartphones, tablets, PCs, and servers. There are two basic types of storage – volume and partition. The two terms are often used interchangeably and many computer users don’t know the difference.

Though they seem small, the differences between volumes and partitions are important. Keep reading to find out more.

Partitions

Partition

A partition is a logical portion of a physical storage volume. It may or may not be formatted. Likewise, it may or may not have a file system. Instead, it is just a portion of the disk with an allocated size that’s set upon the creation. To resize a partition, you have to format the disk and rewrite its partition table, possibly losing all the data you have on the said partition.

Users generally create multiple partitions on the same hard disk to house different operating systems without them interrupting each other. Another common use is to delineate between the “System” and “Storage” sections of computers, within a singular operating system. Virtual machines primarily use partitions because they’re simple to create.

Primary, Extended, and Logical Partitions

Let’s take a look at different types of partitions.

  1. A hard disk drive can have up to four of these. Each primary partition can have only one file system. For example, you can have one Windows, one macOS, one Ubuntu, and one Fedora primary partition on your hard disk. If you want a partition to be bootable, it has to be a primary partition. Keep in mind that only one primary partition can be active at any given time, and different primary partitions can’t see each other. However, Mac partitions can read Windows files and see Windows partitions.
  2. Any hard disk can have only one extended partition. An extended partition is not bootable and it can’t be used to store data. However, it can hold an unlimited number of logical partitions. You can have an extended partition on your hard disk only if you have less than 4 primary partitions.
  3. Logical partitions or logical drives are contained within the extended partition. You can format them and assign them a letter, but you can’t install an OS on them. Logical partitions are primarily used to mount image files.

Volume

Volume

A volume is, basically, a storage container in a particular file system that your computer can use and recognize. The main types of storage volumes are hard drives, solid state drives, DVDs, and CDs. Apart from physical, there are also logical volumes, but more on them later.

One of the main characteristics of a storage volume is that it can contain multiple partitions. A volume has a file system and a name along with its size. For example, all disk icons that you see on a Mac’s desktop are volumes. Also, when you plug in your USB flash drive, it will be treated as a volume.

In terms of flexibility, volumes have the edge over partitions. You can contract and expand them to suit your needs. Like with partitions, you can create multiple volumes on a single disk. If you do so, your OS will keep track of which volumes belong to which drives.

If you’re using a Mac, you can see the list of available volumes in Disk Utility. If you’re using Ubuntu, you’ll find the list of volumes in Disks.

Logical Volume

Logical volumes are a special kind of volume, and they aren’t limited to one physical disk. If needed, a logical volume can contain multiple physical drives, as well as partitions. It manages and allocates storage space on mass storage devices. Also, it separates your OS from the rest of the physical drives that comprise your storage.

RAID 1, also known as mirroring, is the most common type of logical volume. With RAID 1, your operating system doesn’t know how many physical volumes make up the storage. It sees them all as a single logical volume. You can also alter the number of physical drives and the OS won’t be aware of that. It will only detect the change in storage size.

Aside from RAID 1, there are other RAID systems that can make multiple physical volumes appear as one logical volume to the OS. RAID 0, RAID 5, and RAID 1+0 (RAID 10) are popular alternatives.

Storage Types – The Takeaway

To sum things up, a partition is always created on a single physical disk while a volume can span multiple disks and have many partitions. Whereas partitions only have numbers, volumes have names. Finally, partitions are more suitable for individual devices, while volumes (especially logical volumes) are more flexible and suited for networks.

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