What is the Windows File System Filter Driver?

Download EaseFilter Filter Driver SDK Setup File
Download EaseFilter Filter Driver SDK Zip File
Understand EaseFilter Filter Driver SDK Programming

Windows File System Filter Driver

A file system filter driver intercepts requests targeted at a file system or another file system filter driver. By intercepting the request before it reaches its intended target, the filter driver can extend or replace functionality provided by the original target of the request. File system filtering services are available through the filter manager in Windows. The Filter Manager provides a framework for developing File Systems and File System Filter Drivers without having to manage all the complexities of file I/O. The Filter Manager simplifies the development of third-party filter drivers and solves many of the problems with the existing legacy filter driver model, such as the ability to control load order through an assigned altitude. A filter driver developed to the Filter Manager model is called a minifilter. Every minifilter driver has an assigned altitude, which is a unique identifier that determines where the minifilter is loaded relative to other minifilters in the I/O stack. Altitudes are allocated and managed by Microsoft.

Legacy File System Filter Driver

Legacy file system filter drivers are drivers that attach to the file system stack directly and don't use Filter Manager.it’s the model that existed prior to the invention of Filter Manager. In implementing a file system filter using this Legacy model, you need to get a filter Device Object attached to the file system stack. Once the filter is attached, you will see all the I/O requests coming from the application before (“pre-”) the file system, the file system filter could also see the operations after (“post-“) the file system’s processing, if it attached it filter Device Object in a different place. For optimal reliability and performance, it's recommended to use file system minifilter drivers instead of legacy file system filter drivers, starting in Windows 10, version 1607, administrators and driver developers can use a registry setting to block legacy file system filter drivers.

Filter Manager Concepts

The filter manager is a kernel-mode driver that conforms to the legacy file system filter model. It implements and exposes functionality that is commonly required in file system filter drivers. By taking advantage of this functionality, third-party developers can write minifilter drivers, which are simpler to develop than legacy file system filter drivers, thus shortening the development process while producing higher-quality, more robust drivers. The filter manager is installed with Windows, but becomes active only when a minifilter driver is loaded. The filter manager attaches to the file system stack for a target volume. A minifilter driver attaches to the file system stack indirectly, by registering with the filter manager for the I/O operations the minifilter driver chooses to filter. Minifilter drivers attach in a particular order. The order of attachment is determined by a unique identifier called an altitude. The attachment of a minifilter driver at a particular altitude on a particular volume is called an instance of the minifilter driver. A minifilter driver's altitude ensures that the instance of the minifilter driver is always loaded at the appropriate location relative to other minifilter driver instances, and it determines the order in which the filter manager calls the minifilter driver to handle I/O. Altitudes are allocated and managed by Microsoft.


A minifilter driver can filter IRP-based I/O operations as well as fast I/O and file system filter (FSFilter) callback operations. For each of the I/O operations it chooses to filter, a minifilter driver can register a preoperation callback routine, a postoperation callback routine, or both. When handling an I/O operation, the filter manager calls the appropriate callback routine for each minifilter driver that registered for that operation. When that callback routine returns, the filter manager calls the appropriate callback routine for the next minifilter driver that registered for the operation.

Windows I/O Subsystem Architecture

In Windows, we use a layered, packet based I/O model. Each I/O request is represented by a unique I/O Request Packet (IRP), which is sufficient to fully describe any I/O request in the system. I/O requests are initially presented to the top of a Device Stack, which is a set of attached Device Objects. The I/O requests then flow down the Device Stack, being passed from driver to driver until the I/O request is completed.

I/O subsystem

1. The subsystem calls an I/O system service to open a named file.

2. The I/O manager calls the object manager to look up the named file and to help it resolve any symbolic links for the file object. It also calls the security reference monitor to check that the subsystem has the correct access rights to open that file object.

3. If the volume is not yet mounted, the I/O manager suspends the open request temporarily and calls one or more file systems until one of them recognizes the file object as something it has stored on one of the mass-storage devices the file system uses. When the file system has mounted the volume, the I/O manager resumes the request.

4. The I/O manager allocates memory for and initializes an IRP for the open request. To drivers, an open is equivalent to a "create" request.

5. The I/O manager calls the file system driver, passing it the IRP. The file system driver accesses its I/O stack location in the IRP to determine what operation it must carry out, checks parameters, determines if the requested file is in cache, and, if not, sets up the next-lower driver's I/O stack location in the IRP.

6. Both drivers process the IRP and complete the requested I/O operation, calling kernel-mode support routines supplied by the I/O manager and by other system components (not shown in the previous figure).

7. The drivers return the IRP to the I/O manager with the I/O status block set in the IRP to indicate whether the requested operation succeeded or why it failed.

8. The I/O manager gets the I/O status from the IRP, so it can return status information through the protected subsystem to the original caller.

9. The I/O manager frees the completed IRP.

10. The I/O manager returns a handle for the file object to the subsystem if the open operation was successful. If there was an error, it returns appropriate status to the subsystem.

After a subsystem successfully opens a file object that represents a data file, a device, or a volume, the subsystem uses the returned handle to identify the file object in subsequent requests for device I/O operations (usually read, write, or device I/O control requests). To make such a request, the subsystem calls I/O system services. The I/O manager routes these requests as IRPs sent to appropriate drivers.

An awesome feature of the I/O Manager in Windows is that each individual Device Stack may contain one or more filter Device Objects. By attaching a filter Device Object to a Device Stack, a filter driver writer can intercept I/O requests as they pass through the Device Stack. A filter in the file system stack can intercept file level operations before (“pre-“) the file system driver has a chance to process them. Similarly, a filter in the volume stack would intercept volume level operations before the volume driver has a chance to process them.

Filter drivers can also intercept I/O requests after (“post-“) all lower drivers that handle the request have completed their processing. For example, using “post” processing a file system filter driver could intercept the actual data that’s been read from a file (and not just the request to read that data, that it would see as part of “pre” processing). In the “post” processing case, the file system filter would be called only after the drivers below it in the file system Device Stack and the drivers in any other Device Stacks that handle the request have all finished their processing.