Directory Structure Fundamentals

Directory Structure FoldersHow do you know where to find files on your computer?

How, for that matter, does your computer know where to find files?

After learning file system fundamentals, the next step is to learn the directory structure of each file system.

The directory structure is the way that directories (also called “folders”) are organized.

By understanding the basics of your operating system’s directory structure, not only will you be able to avoid causing problems, but you should also be able to stay organized more easily.

I like to think of directory structures as a tree. A tree starts with a root at the bottom and sprouts multiple branches, from which multitudes of leaves begin to grow.

Keep this analogy in mind, and you should see how the root sprouts into directories (branches) with many sub-directories (leaves) as you read on.

If you think I forgot all about the tree trunk — I didn’t. I just can’t think of a good way to include it in this analogy. Maybe picturing a bush would work better!

Windows Directory Structure

The Windows root directory is the primary storage drive itself, usually identified by a letter. That letter is most often — but not always — the letter “C”.

In that directory/drive, there will be several directories (folders) by default.

Directory Name Directory Purpose
PerfLogs This is short for “Performance Logs”, so it’s fairly self-explanatory.
Program Files This is where x64 program files are installed.
Program Files (x86) This is where x86 program files are installed.
Users This is where each user’s personal files are stored.
Windows This is where all of the Windows system files are kept.

(Several other folders exist, but they are hidden by default and you will not often see them.)

The User directory (or, more specifically, your own directory within it) is where you will store your own personal files, and organize them to your heart’s content.

It may be that you never venture out any further than your own User directory (especially if you don’t have administration access). That’s perfectly OK.

If you do choose to explore beyond your own User directory, my advice is: explore as much as you want, but don’t make any changes unless you have a very reliable (ie. safe) source of knowledge to guide you!

Linux Directory Structure

The Linux root directory is where all other directories are located. The root directory is synonymous with a forward slash, so the / directory means the same thing as the root directory.

The standard directories in the / (pronounced “root”) directory are as follows:

(Note that these are the current standards, but may vary slightly for some distributions.)

Directory Directory Purpose
/bin This directory contains binary executables, or programs that are used in the command line.
/boot This directory contains the Linux kernel and other files necessary for booting up.
/dev This directory contains files and drivers to manage various internal and external devices (USB, speakers, etc.).
/etc This directory contains configuration files for each program.
/home This directory is the home directory for each user (except root) and is where all personal files should be stored. (Example: /home/gwen)
/lib This directory contains program libraries required to run the system and/or various programs.
/lost+found This directory is used to recover files that have problems after a system crash or unexpected shut-down.
/media This directory is a temporary mount point for removable media devices such as CD-ROM drives.
/mnt This directory is a temporary mount point for file systems.
/opt This directory is where optional/additional programs (usually third-party) are installed.
/proc This directory contains current information about the system and processes running.
/root This directory is the root user’s home directory (not to be confused with the / directory).
/run This directory contains transient application files.
/sbin This directory contains binary executables similar to the /bin directory, but these are intended for system administrator “root” use only.
/sys This directory is a virtual file system to allow modifications of system devices.
/tmp This directory contains temporary files that are deleted when the system reboots. Files in this directory can be created by either the system or by users.
/usr This directory contains files for user applications.
/var This directory contains variable data, such as logs and mail files.

The /home directory (or, more specifically, your own user directory within it) is where you will store your own personal files, and organize them to your heart’s content.

It may be that you never venture out any further than your own /home directory (especially if you don’t have administration access). That’s perfectly ok.

If you do choose to explore beyond your own /home directory, my advice is: explore as much as you want, but don’t make any changes unless you have a very reliable (ie. safe) source of knowledge to guide you!

Summary

File systems can be navigated not only from the command line, but also from the graphic interface, by using such programs as Explorer (Windows) or Dolphin (Linux).

Stay tuned, as we will explore not only various methods of keeping personal files organized, but also how to make the most of your graphical file navigator, and eventually even the command line navigation tools.

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