MFT – The Master File Table, this is the first, and key file, in an NTFS file system. All files are referenced through the MFT and it behaves like an index system or library card system for all files – similar to the old File Allocation Table, in FAT.
By referencing the MFT the computer can find the other files. Below is a basic example of how this works.
When the computer wants to find a file goes to the MFT and looks down the list to find the file (they are not in alphabetical order). When it comes to the entry for the file it then reads across and gets more information from within the MFT entry for that file.
The MFT entry will tell it information such as – the full name of the file, the date the file was created, modified and accessed, the directory it is in, how big the file, and where it is on the hard drive. (Remember the name of the file is not in the file on the hard drive, that’s just the file itself, but the name is kept in the MFT).
A more technical article on the MFT is available here.