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What Is Large File Support?

By Alex Newth
Updated May 16, 2024
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Large file support is the ability of a computer to accept and work with files that are considered rather sizeable. A large file once was defined as files 2 gigabytes (GB) or bigger, but this value has risen with technological upgrades. Large file support was needed because computers originally were built with a 32-bit size, which only allowed a 2GB file to be created; as businesses and consumers needed larger files, computer manufactures had to find a way to go beyond this limit. After the 2GB limit was conquered, this term started being used to mean the largest file a computer could feasibly handle. So-called large files can be just about anything, but they generally are multimedia files or large business databases.

When large file support was new, the largest file that could be created was 2GB. Any file larger than this could not be handled by the computer, so it would be impossible to open, make, edit or do anything with a file any larger than this 2GB limit. Upgrades in operating systems (OSs) forced this limit to be raised.

The 2GB large file support limit was not an arbitrary number; there was a reason why this was the original limit. Early computers were built with 32 integers, or 32 bits. This architecture only allowed a 2GB file at most, though more than 2GB of memory could be saved if each file was under the limit. While this limit was fine originally, consumers and businesses eventually needed larger file sizes and computer manufacturers made OSs with higher bit configurations, allowing much larger files to be produced.

While 2GB is the traditional definition of a large file, large file support has changed, and now is connected to the largest file a computer can support without crashing. As of 2011, that goes beyond 1 terabyte (TB). Just like with the 2GB problem, if any file goes beyond this threshold, the OS will not be able to handle or work with it. Minor problems with having a large file can include crashing, while massive problems may wipe or completely destroy an OS.

A large file can be any type of file, but there are certain files that commonly need a lot of memory. For example, a simple text document must have a massive amount of information to get close to the large file limit, and this will rarely get larger then a few megabytes (MB). Files that commonly need a lot of memory include multimedia files, databases, server programs and some design programs, because a lot of computer resources are needed to handle the information.

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