Universal Disk Format

Developer(s) ISO/ECMA/OSTA
Full name Universal Disk Format
Introduced 1995 (1995)
Max. volume size 2 TiB (hard disk), 8 TiB (optical disc)[1][2]
Max. file size 16 EiB
Max. filename length 255 bytes (path 1023 bytes[3])
Allowed characters in filenames Any Unicode except NUL
Dates recorded creation, archive, modification (mtime), attribute modification (ctime), access (atime)
Date resolution Microsecond
File system permissions POSIX
Transparent compression No
Supported operating systems Various

Universal Disk Format (UDF) is a profile of the specification known as ISO/IEC 13346 and ECMA-167[4] and is an open vendor-neutral file system for computer data storage for a broad range of media. In practice, it has been most widely used for DVDs and newer optical disc formats, supplanting ISO 9660. Due to its design, it is very well suited to incremental updates on both recordable and (re)writable optical media. UDF is developed and maintained by the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA).

Normally, authoring software will master a UDF file system in a batch process and write it to optical media in a single pass. But when packet writing to rewritable media, such as CD-RW, UDF allows files to be created, deleted and changed on-disc just as a general-purpose filesystem would on removable media like floppy disks and flash drives. This is also possible on write-once media, such as CD-R, but in that case the space occupied by the deleted files cannot be reclaimed (and instead becomes inaccessible).

Multi-session mastering is also possible in UDF, though some implementations may be unable to read disks with multiple sessions.[5]


The Optical Storage Technology Association standardized the UDF file system to form a common file system for all optical media: both for read-only media and for re-writable optical media. When first standardized, the UDF file system aimed to replace ISO 9660, allowing support for both read-only and writable media. After the release of the first version of UDF, the DVD Consortium adopted it as the official file system for DVD-Video and DVD-Audio.[6]


Multiple revisions of UDF have been released:[6][7]


The UDF standard defines three file system variations, called "builds". These are:

Plain build

Introduced in the first version of the standard, this format can be used on any type of disk that allows random read/write access, such as hard disks, DVD+RW and DVD-RAM media. Similarly to other common file system formats, such as FAT, directory entries point directly to the block or sector numbers of their file contents. In writing to such a disk in this format, any physical block on the disk may be chosen for allocation of new or updated files.

Since this is the basic format, practically any operating system or file system driver claiming support for UDF should be able to read this format.

VAT build

Write-once media such as DVD-R and CD-R have limitations when being written to, in that each physical block can only be written to once, and the writing must happen incrementally. Thus the plain build of UDF can only be written to CD-Rs by pre-mastering the data and then writing all data in one piece to the media, similar to the way an ISO 9660 file system gets written to CD media.

To enable a CD-R to be used virtually like a hard disk, whereby the user can add and modify files on a CD-R at will (so-called "drive letter access" on Windows), OSTA added the VAT build to the UDF standard in its revision 1.5. The VAT is an additional structure on the disc that allows packet writing; that is, remapping physical blocks when files or other data on the disc are modified or deleted. For write-once media, the entire disc is virtualized, making the write-once nature transparent for the user; the disc can be treated the same way one would treat a rewritable disc.

The write-once nature of CD-R or DVD-R media means that when a file is deleted on the disc, the file's data still remains on the disc. It does not appear in the directory any more, but it still occupies the original space where it was stored. Eventually, after using this scheme for some time, the disc will be full, as free space cannot be recovered by deleting files. Special tools can be used to access the previous state of the disc (the state before the delete occurred), making recovery possible.

Not all drives fully implement version 1.5 or higher of the UDF, and some may therefore be unable to handle VAT builds.

Spared (RW) build

Rewriteable media such as DVD-RW and CD-RW have fewer limitations than DVD-R and CD-R media. Sectors can be rewritten at random (though in packets at a time). These media can be erased entirely at any time, making the disc blank again, ready for writing a new UDF or other file system (e.g., ISO 9660 or CD Audio) to it. However, sectors of -RW media may "wear out" after a while, meaning that their data becomes unreliable, through having been rewritten too often (typically after a few hundred rewrites, with CD-RW).

The plain and VAT builds of the UDF format can be used on rewriteable media, with some limitations. If the plain build is used on a -RW media, file-system level modification of the data must not be allowed, as this would quickly wear out often-used sectors on the disc (such as those for directory and block allocation data), which would then go unnoticed and lead to data loss. To allow modification of files on the disc, rewriteable discs can be used like -R media using the VAT build. This ensures that all blocks get written only once (successively), ensuring that there are no blocks that get rewritten more often than others. This way, a RW disc can be erased and reused many times before it should become unreliable. However, it will eventually become unreliable with no easy way of detecting it. When using the VAT build, CD-RW/DVD-RW media effectively appears as CD-R or DVD+/-R media to the computer. However, the media may be erased again at any time.

The spared build was added in revision 1.5 to addess the particularities of rewriteable media. This build adds an extra Sparing Table in order to manage the defects that will eventually occur on parts of the disc that have been rewritten too many times. This table keeps track of worn-out sectors and remaps them to working ones. UDF defect management does not apply to systems that already implement another form of defect management, such as Mount Rainier (MRW) for optical discs, or a disk controller for a hard drive.

The tools and drives that do not fully support revision 1.5 of UDF will ignore the sparing table, which would lead them to read the outdated worn-out sectors, leading to retrieval of corrupted data.

Character set

The specification allows for nine character encodings: one by agreement, one specified by ECMA-6 (also known as ASCII), three subsets of ASCII, a subset of ECMA-94 (Latin-1), and various other graphical characters.[8][9]


Many DVD players do not support any UDF revision other than version 1.02. Discs created with a newer revision may still work in these players if the ISO 9660 bridge format is used. Even if an operating system claims to be able to read UDF 1.50, it still may only support the plain build and not necessarily either the VAT or Spared UDF builds.

Mac OS X 10.4.5 claims to support Revision 1.50 (see man mount_udf), yet it can only mount disks of the plain build properly and provides no virtualization support at all. It cannot mount UDF disks with VAT, as seen with the Sony Mavica issue.[10][11] Releases before 10.4.11 mount disks with Sparing Table but does not read its files correctly. Version 10.4.11 fixes this problem.[12][13]

Similarly, Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) cannot read DVD-RW discs that use the UDF 2.00 sparing tables as a defect management system.[14] This problem occurs if the UDF defect management system creates a sparing table that spans more than one sector on the DVD-RW disc. Windows XP SP2 can recognize that a DVD is using UDF, but Windows Explorer displays the contents of a DVD as an empty folder. A hotfix is available for this[15] and is included in Service Pack 3.[16]

Table of operating systems
  • Unless otherwise noted, read and write support means that only the plain UDF build is supported, but not the VAT and spared build.
  • Support for "read" means that a UDF formatted disk can be mounted by the system. It enables the user to read files from the UDF volume using the same interface that is used to access files on other disks connected to the computer.
  • Support for "write" means that, in addition to reading files from a mounted UDF volume, data such as files can be modified, added, or deleted.
UDF version Non-plain
Operating system 1.02 1.50 2.0x 2.50 2.60 VAT Sparing Tables Write Note
AIX 5.2, 5.3, 6.1 Yes Yes No No Yes 1.5 is default[17]
AmigaOS 4.0 Yes Yes
BeOS/magnussoft ZETA/Haiku Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
DOS/FreeDOS, Windows 3.11 or older No No No No No No No No No native support. Filesystems that have an ISO9660 backward compatibility structure can be read.
DosBox Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes filesystems are "mounted" under support from host operating system
eComStation/OS/2 Yes Yes Additional fee drivers on OS/2.
FreeBSD 5/6/7 Yes Yes No Yes
Linux 2.2 Yes
Linux 2.4 Yes Yes[18]
Linux 2.6+ Yes Yes Yes Yes[18] (2.6.26+) No Yes[18] (2.6.26+) Yes up to UDF revision 2.01 (3.13)[19] Kernel versions prior to 2.6.10 supported fewer media types. Features implemented in 2.6.26 were augmented in version 2.6.30 with additional mounting options.[20]
Mac OS 9 Yes Yes[18] Yes
Mac OS X 10.4 Yes Yes Yes only with Toast 9+ HD Plugin only with Toast 9+ Can create UDF 1.50 (plain build) volumes using the drutil utility.
Mac OS X 10.5/10.6 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes To create, use newfs_udf utility.
Mac OS X 10.7[21]-10.11 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
NetBSD 4.0 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Reading multi-session VAT, spared and metapartition variants
from all CD, DVD and BD variants as well as HDD and Flash media.
NetBSD 5.0 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Write support for all builds and media including multi-session VAT.[22] Create new with newfs_udf.
Limited writing on 2.50/2.60 (due to needing pre-allocated, fixed sized metadata partition).[23]
NetWare 5.1
NetWare 6
OpenBSD 4.7 Yes Yes Yes[24] Yes[24] No Yes No The filesystem is always mounted readonly.
Solaris 7 11/99+ Yes Yes
Solaris 8/9/10 Yes Yes Yes
Windows 95 OSR2+/Windows 98 Yes[18] No No No No No No No Read and write support for all UDF versions available with third party utilities such as DLA and InCD.
Windows 2000/Me Yes Yes[18] No No No No Read and write support for all UDF versions available with third party utilities.
Windows XP/Server 2003 Yes Yes Yes[18] Yes[25] Yes[25] No Write support available with third party utilities.
Windows Vista/7/8/10 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Referred to by Microsoft as Live File System.

See also


  1. 232 × block size
  2. "Wenguang's Introduction to Universal Disk Format (UDF)". Google Sites. 1 February 2009. Section 5.1 Highlight of the UDF Format. Retrieved 16 July 2014.
  3. This restriction might be lifted in newer versions.
  4. ECMA-167 - Volume and File Structure for Write-Once and Rewritable Media using Non-Sequential Recording for Information Interchange
  5. Multi-session mastering has always been part of the UDF specification. See [UDF 2.01/6.10.1], though earlier documents were not very clear that the anchor offsets are specified to be from the last session.
  6. 1 2 OSTA - UDF Specifications
  7. Wenguang's Introduction to Universal Disk Format (UDF)
  8. "OSTA Univeral [sic] Disk Format Specification Revision 1.02" (PDF). Osta. Retrieved 25 September 2010.
  9. "Universal Disk Format Specification Revision 2.01" (PDF). Osta. Retrieved 25 September 2010.
  10. "Sony Mavica UDF Compatibility Issue". Apple. 19 February 2012. Archived from the original on April 26, 2012. Retrieved 16 July 2014.
  11. "Mac OS X UDF Compatibility Issues". Free(code):. 11 July 2012. Retrieved 16 July 2014.
  12. "Intel Update". Apple. 14 November 2007. Archived from the original on March 28, 2010. Retrieved 16 July 2014.
  13. "PowerPC Update". Apple. 14 November 2007. Archived from the original on May 31, 2010. Retrieved 16 July 2014.
  14. "Microsoft Windows UDF Read Troubleshooting". microsoft.com.
  15. "Windows XP UDF hotfix". microsoft.com.
  16. "MS Windows and UDF optical discs".
  17. "Welcome to the AIX 6.1 Information Center". IBM. Retrieved 25 September 2010.
  18. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 README.Debian from udftools 1.0.0b3-14 in Debian GNU/Linux. Unofficial mirror: See also: MS KB321640
  19. "Linux 3.13: fs/udf/udf_sb.h". 2013-09-24. Retrieved 2014-01-29.
  20. "Linux 2.6.30 Changelog". 2009-06-12. Retrieved 2015-09-13.
  21. Mac OS X 10.7.4 mount_udf(8) - man page
  22. "NetBsd 5 release notes". NetBSD.
  23. "NetBSD System Manager's Manual". Retrieved 25 September 2010.
  24. 1 2 "The OpenBSD 4.7 Release". OpenBSD. Retrieved 25 September 2010.
  25. 1 2 TOSHIBA UDF2.5 Reader File System Driver (TOSHIBA HD DVD File System Driver)

Further reading

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