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File Management

This page was updated: 15Dec08

Files | Types of File Systems | File Management Storage Devices | Folders and Files | Naming a File or Directory | Saving a Document | Hierarchical Structure | Files, and Folders | File Types and Extensions | Windows Explorer vs. My Computer | Viewing Folders | Creating New Folders | Arranging Files in Folders | Selecting Files | Moving or Copying Files | Renaming a File or Folder | Deleting Files and Folders Safely | Deleting Files and Folders Safely | Deleting Program Files Safely | Options and Guidelines for Saving Data | Security Backing Up Files and Folders | Compressing and Transferring Files | Home Directory Service | Compressing and Zipping Files | FTP Best Practices for Effective File Management | File and Folder Sizes | Setting Permissions for Shared Files | Assignments

The following reserved characters are not allowed in file/folder naming: ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) + = ~ ` < > : " / \ | ? *
Avoid using blanks/spaces in file names.


In modern computer systems, files always have names. Files are located in directories. A file's name within a directory must be unique. In other words, no two files in a directory may have the same name.

A file's name and the path to the file's directory uniquely identifies it among all other files in the computer system—no two files can have the same name and path. The appearance of the name depends on the type of computer system being used. Early computers permitted only a few letters or digits in the name of a file, but modern computers allow long names (some up to 255) containing almost any combination of unicode letters or unicode digits, making it easier to understand the purpose of a file at a glance. Some computer systems allow file names to contain spaces; others do not. Such characters such as / or \ are forbidden. Case-sensitivity of file names is determined by the file system. Unix file systems are usually case sensitive and allow user-level applications to create files whose names differ only in the case of characters. Microsoft Windows supports multiple file systems, each with different policies regarding case-sensitivity. The common FAT file system can have multiple files whose names differ only in case if the user uses a disk editor to edit the file names in the directory entries. User applications, however, will usually not allow the user to create multiple files with the same name but differing in case.

Most computers organize files into hierarchies using folders, directories, or catalogs. (The concept is the same irrespective of the terminology used.) Each folder can contain an arbitrary number of files, and it can also contain other folders. These other folders are referred to as sub-folders. Sub-folders can contain still more files and folders and so on, thus building a tree-like structure in which one “master folder” (or “root folder” — the name varies from one operating system to another) can contain any number of levels of other folders and files. Folders can be named just as files can (except for the root folder, which often does not have a name). The use of folders makes it easier to organize files in a logical way.

When a computer allows the use of folders, each file and folder has not only a name of its own, but also a path, which identifies the folder or folders in which a file or folder resides. In the path, some sort of special character—such as a slash—is used to separate the file and folder names. For example, in the illustration shown in this article, the path /Payroll/Salaries/Managers uniquely identifies a file called Managers in a folder called Salaries, which in turn is contained in a file called Payroll. The folder and file names are separated by slashes in this example; the topmost or root folder has no name, and so the path begins with a slash (if the root folder had a name, it would precede this first slash).

Many (but not all) computer systems use extensions in file names to help identify what they contain. On Windows computers, extensions consist of a dot or period at the end of a file name, followed by a few letters to identify the type of file. An extension of .txt identifies a text file; the .doc extension identifies any type of document or documentation, commonly in the Microsoft Word file format; and so on. Even when extensions are used in a computer system, the degree to which the computer system recognizes and heeds them can vary; in some systems, they are required, while in other systems, they are completely ignored if they are present.


Types of File Systems

File system types can be classified into disk file systems, network file systems and special purpose file systems.

Disk file systems
A disk file system is a file system designed for the storage of files on a data storage device, most commonly a disk drive, which might be directly or indirectly connected to the computer. Examples of disk file systems include FAT, NTFS, HFS and HFS+, ext2, ext3, ISO 9660, ODS-5, and UDF. Some disk file systems are journaling file systems or versioning file systems.

Database file systems
A new concept for file management is the concept of a database-based file system. Instead of, or in addition to, hierarchical structured management, files are identified by their characteristics, like type of file, topic, author, or similar metadata. Therefore a file search can be formulated in SQL or in natural speech. Examples include BFS and WinFS.

Transactional file systems
This is a special kind of file system in that it logs events or transactions to files. Each operation that you do may involve changes to a number of different files and disk structures. In many cases, these changes are related, meaning that it is important that they all be executed at the same time. Take for example a bank sending another bank some money electronically. The bank's computer will "send" the transfer instruction to the other bank and also update its own records to indicate the transfer has occurred. If for some reason the computer crashes before it has had a chance to update its own records, then on reset, there will be no record of the transfer but the bank will be missing some money. A transactional system can rebuild the actions by re-synchronizing the "transactions" on both ends to correct the failure. All transactions can be saved, as well, providing a complete record of what was done and where. This type of file system is designed and intended to be fault tolerant and necessarily, incurs a high degree of overhead.

Network file systems
A "network file system" is a file system that acts as a client for a remote file access protocol, providing access to files on a server. Examples of network file systems include clients for the NFS, SMB, AFP, and 9P protocols, and file-system-like clients for FTP and WebDAV.

Special purpose file systems
A special purpose file system is basically any file system that is not a disk file system or network file system. This includes systems where the files are arranged dynamically by software, intended for such purposes as communication between computer processes or temporary file space.

Special purpose file systems are most commonly used by file-centric operating systems such as Unix. Examples include the procfs (/proc) file system used by some Unix variants, which grants access to information about processes and other operating system features.

Deep space science exploration craft, like Voyager I & II used digital tape based special file systems. Most modern space exploration craft like Cassini-Huygens used Real-time operating system file systems or RTOS influenced file systems. The Mars Rovers are one such example of an RTOS file system, important in this case because they are implemented in flash memory.

File systems and operating systems
Most operating systems provide a file system, as a file system is an integral part of any modern operating system. Early microcomputer operating systems' only real task was file management — fact reflected in their names (see DOS and QDOS). Some early operating systems had a separate component for handling file systems which was called a disk operating system. On some microcomputers, the disk operating system was loaded separately from the rest of the operating system. On early operating systems, there was usually support for only one, native, unnamed file system; for example, CP/M supports only its own file system, which might be called "CP/M file system" if needed, but which didn't bear any official name at all.

Because of this, there needs to be an interface provided by the operating system software between the user and the file system. This interface can be textual (such as provided by a command line interface, such as the Unix shell, or OpenVMS DCL) or graphical (such as provided by a graphical user interface, such as file browsers). If graphical, the metaphor of the folder, containing documents, other files, and nested folders is often used (see also: directory and folder).


File Management


File Management is probably one of the most overlooked areas of the computer. Yet, good File Management is critical for maintaining, protecting, and securing data. The following tutorial is designed to acquaint you with basic procedures related to data storage and retrieval. Every time you create a document, the first thing you need to do is to save it.  But the question is:  Where?  If you need to continue working on that same document a week later, you will need to know how to retrieve it. Often, we have a hard time remembering where we store our data so let's begin by looking at some of the storage devices.

Computer storage, computer memory, and often casually memory refer to computer components, devices and recording media that retain data for some interval of time. Computer storage provides one of the core functions of the modern computer, that of information retention. It is one of the fundamental components of all modern computers, and coupled with a central processing unit (CPU), implements the basic Von Neumann computer model used since the 1940s.

In contemporary usage, memory usually refers to a form of solid state storage known as random access memory (RAM) and sometimes other forms of fast but temporary storage. Similarly, storage more commonly refers to mass storage - optical discs, forms of magnetic storage like hard disks, and other types of storage which are slower than RAM, but of a more permanent nature. These contemporary distinctions are helpful, because they are also fundamental to the architecture of computers in general. As well, they reflect an important and significant technical difference between memory and mass storage devices, which has been blurred by the historical usage of the terms "main storage" (and sometimes "primary storage") for random access memory, and "secondary storage" for mass storage devices. This is explained in the following sections, in which the traditional "storage" terms are used as sub-headings for convenience. (Wiki)






Folders and Files

A computer file is a piece of arbitrary information, or resources for storing information, that is available to a computer program and is usually based on some kind of durable storage. A file is durable in the sense that it remains available for programs to use after the current program has finished. Computer files can be considered as the modern counterpart of the files of printed documents that traditionally existed in offices and libraries, which are the source of the term.  Think of your disk drive as one big file cabinet.  You will stash your work in the file cabinet.  But you shouldn't just throw documents in without any organizational structure.  Your computer system can be regarded as a large house with several filing filing cabinets in it. Each of these cabinets represents a drive of some sort, and within each filing cabinet are file folders. Folders provide that organizational structure to a disk drive, just as they do in a file cabinet.  First, you will put labeled folders into your cabinet/drive.  Likewise, each folder will have a descriptive name.  When you view the contents of a disk drive, folders are normally listed in alphabetical order.

Inside the folder, you will put your documents or what are actually files.  In order to be able to find your documents later within an overstuffed folder, you will give each file a name.  On a PC, it is wise to use the following naming conventions for both folders and files: 

A file name is made up of two parts:  (1) the name of the document and (2) the file extension.  You may name a file anything you wish, but it is preferable to name a file something you are likely to remember later.

File names should be no longer than 8 characters whenever possible.  Although Windows (and Mac) allow longer file names, you may get in problems while transferring files to other computers if you use longer file names. Also, use only letters and numbers in your file names. Special characters like "-", "/", "&", or blank spaces must be avoided in the file name.

The second part of a file name is the extension.  In the file text.doc, the word text is the file name and the .doc is the extension.  A period always separates the two.  The extension identifies what kind of a document you have.  Some examples of file extensions are:

.txt : plain text
.doc : Microsoft Word Document
.htm or .html : Web document 
.gif , .jpg , .bmp : image
.ppt : PowerPoint Presentation
.pdf : Portable Document File

Here is a complete listing of different file extensions.

The following reserved characters are not allowed in file/folder naming: ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) + = ~ ` < > : " / \ | ? *
Avoid using blanks/spaces in file names.

Naming a File or Directory

All file systems follow the same general naming conventions: a base file name and an optional extension, separated by a period. However, each file system, such as NTFS and FAT, can have specific and differing rules about the formation of the individual components in a directory or file name. Character count limitations can also be different. Any Windows (Win32) application developer should be aware of these limitations and differences and know which file and path names are valid.

Basic Naming Conventions

The following fundamental rules enable applications to create and process valid names for files and directories, regardless of the file system:

Use a period to separate the base file name from the extension in the name of a directory or file.

Use a backslash (\) to separate the components of a path. The backslash divides the file name from the path to it, and one directory name from another directory name in a path.

Use a backslash as required as part of volume names, for example, the "C:\" in "C:\path\file" or the "\\server\share" in "\\server\share\path\file" for Universal Naming Convention (UNC) names. You cannot use a backslash in the actual file or directory name components because it separates the names into components.

Use almost any character in the current code page for a name, including Unicode characters and characters in the extended character set (128–255), except for the following:

The following reserved characters are not allowed:

< > : " / \ | ? *

Characters whose integer representations are in the range from zero through 31 are not allowed.

Any other character that the target file system does not allow.

Use a period as a directory component in a path to represent the current directory, for example ".\tmp.txt".

Use two consecutive periods (..) as a directory component in a path to represent the parent of the current directory, for example "..\tmp.txt".

Do not use the following reserved device names for the name of a file:


Also avoid these names followed immediately by an extension; for example, NUL.txt is not recommended.

Do not assume case sensitivity. For example, consider the names OSCAR, Oscar, and oscar to be the same, even though some file systems (such as a POSIX-compliant file system) may consider them as different. Note that NTFS supports POSIX semantics for case sensitivity but this is not the default behavior. For additional information, see CreateFile.

Do not end a file or directory name with a trailing space or a period. Although the underlying file system may support such names, the operating system does not. However, it is acceptable to start a name with a period.

The following reserved characters are not allowed in file/folder naming: ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) + = ~ ` < > : " / \ | ? *
Avoid using blanks/spaces in file names.

Maximum Path Length

In the Windows API (with some exceptions discussed in the following paragraphs), the maximum length for a path is MAX_PATH, which is defined as 260 characters. A local path is structured in the following order: drive letter, colon, backslash, components separated by backslashes, and a terminating null character. For example, the maximum path on drive D is "D:\<some 256 character path string><NUL>" where "<NUL>" represents the invisible terminating null character for the current system codepage. (The characters < > are used here for visual clarity and cannot be part of a valid path string.)

Note  File I/O functions in the Windows API convert "/" to "\" as part of converting the name to an NT-style name, except when using the "\\?\" prefix as detailed in the following sections.

The Windows API has many functions that also have Unicode versions to permit an extended-length path for a maximum total path length of 32,767 characters. This type of path is composed of components separated by backslashes, each up to the value returned in the lpMaximumComponentLength parameter of the GetVolumeInformation function. To specify an extended-length path, use the "\\?\" prefix. For example, "\\?\D:\<very long path>". (The characters < > are used here for visual clarity and cannot be part of a valid path string.)

Note  The maximum path of 32,767 characters is approximate, because the "\\?\" prefix may be expanded to a longer string by the system at run time, and this expansion applies to the total length.

The "\\?\" prefix can also be used with paths constructed according to the universal naming convention (UNC). To specify such a path using UNC, use the "\\?\UNC\" prefix. For example, "\\?\UNC\server\share", where "server" is the name of the machine and "share" is the name of the shared folder. These prefixes are not used as part of the path itself. They indicate that the path should be passed to the system with minimal modification, which means that you cannot use forward slashes to represent path separators, or a period to represent the current directory. Also, you cannot use the "\\?\" prefix with a relative path, therefore relative paths are limited to MAX_PATH characters as previously stated for paths not using the "\\?\" prefix.

When using an API to create a directory, the specified path cannot be so long that you cannot append an 8.3 file name (that is, the directory name cannot exceed MAX_PATH minus 12).

The shell and the file system have different requirements. It is possible to create a path with the Windows API that the shell user interface cannot handle.

Relative Paths

For functions that manipulate files, the file names can be relative to the current directory. A file name is relative to the current directory if it does not begin with one of the following:

A UNC name of any format.

A disk designator with a backslash, for example "C:\".

A backslash, for example, "\directory").

If the file name begins with a disk designator with a backslash, it is a fully qualified path (for example, "C:\tmp"). If a file name begins with only a disk designator but not the backslash after the colon, it is interpreted as a relative path to the current directory on the drive with the specified letter . Examples of this format are as follows:

"C:tmp.txt" refers to a file in the current directory on drive C.

"C:tempdir\tmp.txt" refers to a file in a subdirectory to the current directory on drive C.

A path is also said to be relative if it contains "double-dots"; that is, two periods together in one component of the path. This special specifier is used to denote the directory above the current directory, otherwise known as the "parent directory". Examples of this format are as follows:

"..\tmp.txt" specifies a file named tmp.txt located in the parent of the current directory.

"..\..\tmp.txt" specifies a file that is two directories above the current directory.

"..\tempdir\tmp.txt" specifies a file named tmp.txt located in a directory named tempdir that is a peer directory to the current directory.

Relative paths can combine both example types, for example "C:..\tmp.txt". This is useful because, although the system keeps track of the current drive along with the current directory of that drive, it also keeps track of the current directories of all of the different drive letters if your system has more than one.

As stated previously, you cannot use the "\\?\" prefix with a relative path because it is considered a form of UNC naming.

Short and Long File Names and Paths

Typically, Windows stores the long file names on disk as special directory entries, which can be disabled for performance reasons depending on the particular file system. When you create a long file name, Windows may also create a short MS-DOS (8.3) form of the name, called the 8.3 alias, and store it on disk. This can also be disabled for a specified volume. On many file systems, a short file name contains a tilde (~) character within each component when it is too long to comply with 8.3 naming rules, as previously discussed.

Note  Not all file systems follow this convention, and systems can be configured to disable 8.3 alias generation even if they normally support it. Therefore, do not make the assumption that the 8.3 alias already exists.

To request MS-DOS file names, long file names, or the full path of a file from the system, consider the following options:

To get an MS-DOS file name that has a long file name, use GetShortPathName.

To get the long file name that has a short name, use GetLongPathName.

To get the full path of a file, use GetFullPathName.

On current file systems, Windows stores the long file names on disk in Unicode, which means that the original long file name is always preserved. This is true even if a long file name contains extended characters and regardless of the code page that is active during a disk read or write operation. The case of the file name is preserved, even when the file system is not case-sensitive.

Files using long file names can be copied between NTFS file system partitions and Windows FAT file system partitions without losing any file name information. This may not be true for MS-DOS FAT and some types of CDFS (CD-ROM) file systems, depending on the actual file name. In this case, the short file name is substituted if possible.

Note: Above is a lot of information, but it is pretty easy to simplify things while creating great looking file names. However, when naming files when developing Web pages you have even more limitations placed upon you. Inserting a blank is completely legitimate in file names, but it gives the URL a messy look. For example, let's say we save a page as: My First Web Page.htm the page will be displayed as My%20First%20Web%20Page.htm in the URL address box of the browser. This is common in most browsers, but not all. A good rule of thumb is not to use any spaces in your address name. When working with Dreamweaver and Flash, you will run into major problems when you use: spaces, and '. Even though these are legitimate characters, Flash will bomb if you use either in a file or folder name. To avoid any potential problems or messy URLs then the following rules should be adhered to.

File and Folder Name Rules:

  1. Make the name descriptive so that you as a programmer or developer can easily recognize the content of the file/folder...this will also help anyone who is not familiar with the file gain a snapshot of the content. Compare these two filenames for a picture: 189873H.jpg or Sunset_in_Mexico.jpg. Which makes the most sense? Let's say we want to create a Web page that is going to be a Fireworks (FW) tutorial and the subject is "creating moving text." Some good file names would be: FW_Moving_Text.htm, FW-Moving-Text.htm, Moving_Text.htm. Note the insertion of FW. By inserting the FW then all of the Fireworks tutorials will be grouped together...no big deal if you have a site of 20 pages, but with a site of a few hundred pages then these would be great organizational assets.
  2. Use only characters (both lower and upper case), numbers, underscores _ and hyphens -. Nothing more. For example, Recording_Links.htm, and RecordingLinks.htm are both descriptive filenames. If you notice, I use underscores a lot. Here is a legitimate filename: myfavoriteswimmingholes.htm, but it is difficult to read and comprehend the content. The brain sees things in groups and in this example there is no grouping. Here is another legitimate filename: MyFavoriteSwimmingHole.htm Yes, there is a sense of grouping, but for some it may still be difficult to read and comprehend. The filename: My_Favorite_Swimming_Hole.htm jumps out at you and is very easy to read. So, hyphen or underscore? I have found that underscores are the cleaner of the two. You decide: My_Favorite_Swimming_Hole.htm or My-Favorite-Swimming-Hole.htm You make the decision, and use the format that you prefer.
  3. Use one specific format for you file naming convention for every unique project. The last thing you want to do is add a sense of inconsistency. For example, creating filenames with hyphens, underscores, or no spacing at all.
  4. Do not be too descriptive with your file names. Try to make them as short, yet as descriptive as possible. If you make very long file names then the chances of creating a typing error increases, but more importantly you may run into problems moving the files between different operating systems. I have had many long filenames created in Windows blow up on me when I moved them to a Mac OS computer. This may not always be the case, but better to be safe ...besides, where is the fun in typing long filenames?

Saving a Document 

There is no great mystery about saving documents.  A document will go wherever you put it.  However, if you don't pay attention, it's likely to end up where you least expect it.  A few tips about saving documents: 

  1. What drive is it on?  You can save it anywhere--the floppy disk, the hard drive inside the computer, a zip/jazz drive (external), or on a remote location on a server.  You have to tell the computer where you want it.
  2. What folder is it in?  Once you've chosen the drive, you must then select the folder.  You can put it in any folder you want. 
  3. What is the of the name of the file?  You can call it anything you like, but take in account some filename conventions. Play it safe, and use only 8-character file names.  For consistency, use all lowercase letters in filenames.
  4. What is the extension?  If you have created a MS Word document, be sure the extension is .doc. If it's a web page, the extension should be .htm or .html (it also could be .asp, .php, etc.)
  5. When you click "Save As" notice how the filename is highlighted, in computer lingo this is called "focus." When a filename such as "Untitled Document" is given focus all you have to do is start typing the new file name. Do not click on the file name and scroll across it with the mouse and rename it. If you do this in Dreamweaver then you may loose the extension. If you loose an extension, then the OS does not know what type of file it is. Like wise, if you want to change a file type you cannot change the extension manually. If you do, then your file will not load properly. To change the file type you must go to Save As and choose the correct file type. This can be done by going to the drop down box just below the filename text box.
  6. The very first thing you should do when you create a new file/document is save it and give it a good filename.

Once a file or folder has been saved, it will have a specific address on the computer, just as you have one for your home.  This "address," or where a file lives, is called a path.  Here's an example(Win):  C:\Windows\i386\bin\wet.dll

This path says the following:  This file is stored on the "C" drive (c:\), in the folder called "cter", in the "edpsy387" folder. The file is named "paper3.doc" and it is an MS Word document because it has a .doc extension on it.  Notice that each level of the hierarchy is separated by a backslash "\".  The highest level is the drive; the lowest level is the file name.  

Moving and Copying a File
There will be times when you need to change the location of a file.  You may want to copy it from one folder to another on a drive, or you may want to copy it from the hard drive to a diskette (or vice versa).  Or you may simply want to move it to another location without making another copy of it.  Moving and copying files from one place to another is relatively simple.  However, a few warnings are in order: 

If you are copying from the hard drive to a diskette, watch out for the size of your files.  Hard drives are large capacity storage areas.  Diskettes will hold only 1.4 MB of data.  For text files, this is usually not a problem, since they tend to be rather small.  But, once you get into multimedia files (images, sound or video), you may have a serious problem since these files tend to be enormous (especially sound and video).  Check the size of the file before you attempt to copy it onto a disk if you suspect it might be quite large.  This is also true of PowerPoint presentation files. 

If your file is larger than 1.4 MB, you can either zip the file (compress it) or save it onto a zip drive. Also, you may burn a CD.


Moving vs. Copying
Moving a file means just that:  you have one copy of a file that you remove from one location and place in another.  You start out with one copy of a file and you end up with one copy of the file in a different place.  When you drag and drop a file from one folder to another folder on the same drive, you are moving it.  When you drag and drop a file from one drive to another, you are copying it.  Copying a file means that you make a second copy of the same file and store it in a different location.  You start out with one copy of a file and end up with two, each in a different location. 

Retrieving a File  
Retrieving a file is simple, once you know how to save a file.  It's the same process in reverse.  Let's assume that yesterday you saved a file named "test.doc".  Today, you want to go back and add to it.  So instead of creating a new file you will OPEN an existing file. 

When we try to open a file, a dialogue box will open up.  This box is asking us what file we want to work on. We have to choose the file.  In order to choose it, we will have to follow the same steps we followed when we saved it: 

What drive is the file on?
What folder is it in?
What is the name of the file?

Finding a File  
Retrieving a document is quite simple IF you remember where you put it in the first place.  But you will need some method for retrieving files when you can't remember where you put it. Several methods are possible: 

Win: to click on START then FIND (or SEARCH) then FILES OR FOLDERS  

Mac: Go to the Spotlight at the top right of corner of your desktop.

Spotlight takes searches to a whole new level. Pity the poor Windows user who has never had the opportunity to use it.

Viewing File Types and Extensions

When managing files in Windows, it is helpful to know the type of each file, especially if you have files for the same project or with similar names that were created in different applications. Each application has its own file type or types (Dreamweaver, WordPerfect, SPSS, to name a few), indicated by a three- or four-letter file extension, such as .doc for a Microsoft Word document. These extensions are pre-defined by the supporting application. On some Windows installations, file extensions are hidden by default.

To show file extensions in Windows XP:

From the Desktop, double-click My Computer.

Select Folder Options from the Tools menu.

Select the View tab, then uncheck the box beside Hide file extensions for known file types.

Click the Apply to All Folders button to apply this setting to all of your folders, then click OK.

In both Vista and Mac OS X, you can move your mouse over the file and the file type will pop-up. You can also choose Details in both OSes.



Hierarchical Structure

A hierarchical file system is one that uses directories to organize files into a tree structure. File management makes good sense once you realize the hierarchical structure of the Windows environment. The uppermost level of file structure is the Desktop. Branching off from the Desktop are whatever folders or files you see displayed on the Desktop screen. Each of these folders may contain additional folders or files. The following examples show how folders branch out--such structure is sometimes referred to as an "inverted tree" or "waterfall." Similar to a family tree, the branches keep growing and growing the further away you are from the starting point, which in our examples is the Desktop.

Note: The following image is a highly simplified diagram. Your computer may have much more information than what you see here, and depending on the operating system, the structure may look different.

schematic view of windows hierarchy


Further Note: The My Documents folder may appear under C:\ or on the Desktop, or in both places, depending on your operating system and file configuration. In cases where My Documents appears in multiple locations, only one instance is the actual folder. The other instances are shortcuts, or links, to the original My Documents.


Folders (Directories), and Files

The diagram above shows an example overview of the entire file structure on your computer. You are probably more familiar with the way file structure is displayed by your operating system. Windows Explorer or My Computer are convenient ways to display file structure on Windows machines.

Windows Explorer
(Updated Image Coming)

The screen capture above shows a root and many parent folders, also known as directories, with sub-directories (or sub-folders) and files expanding beneath them. In the example below, clicking the plus sign beside My Documents expands the files and additional sub-directories inside, or beneath, My Documents. Clicking the minus sign collapses the sub-directories and files.

(Updated of Windows Image Coming)

Windows offers several different ways to view your files and folders. The Windows Explorer view above is the List view option, which shows files and folders in a simple alphabetical list. Select your preferred view option from the View menu. The list option is useful for managing files because you can see many folders and files at once.


View Option Definition
List Alphabetically lists files and folders, no detail
Large Icons Shows files and folders as large icons (similar to Desktop), no detail, no set order
Small Icons Shows files and folders as small icons, no detail, no set order
Details Alphabetically lists files and folders, with date, size, and file type

Mac OS

Creating New Folders

Make sure you have your worksheet containing the names and organization of the folders that make up your file management plan. It is time to start creating those folders in the locations you have chosen. Additionally, check your departmental guidelines regarding storing work related files and folders, and the storage location: a shared directory, a departmental server, a lease on Premium server, etc.

You probably decided to locate your project-based data folders inside of the My Documents folder. Putting your most frequently used folders here makes them easy to access when saving or opening documents, and easy to search when you are not sure which document you need. We'll base the following examples on the assumption that your project-based folders will be located inside of My Documents.

To create a new folder inside of My Documents using Windows Explorer:

From the Start button, select Programs | Windows Explorer.

Click on My Documents in the Folder List Box to select it. The contents of My Documents will show in the right hand pane of Windows Explorer.

From the File menu, select New | Folder to create a new folder inside of the My Documents folder.

If the name New Folder is highlighted, you can just start typing the name of the new folder over the highlighted text. If New Folder does not appear highlighted, click on the folder once to select it, choose Rename from the File menu, and type your chosen name for the folder over the highlighted blue text.

exploring my documents

Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you have created all of the folders listed in your file management plan.

Note: Creating a new folder using My Computer is accomplished by the same steps as above, except that step one changes to:

From the Desktop, double-click the My Computer icon.


Arranging Files in Folders

Now that you have your folders the way you want them, it is time to place your files into the proper folders. Windows Explorer is a good way to organize existing files. Once you have existing files where you want them, saving new files into the right location is easy--just pick the appropriate folder inside of My Documents each time you save a new file.

Selecting Files in Windows Explorer

There are several ways to move, copy and delete files using Windows Explorer. All require that you first select the file or files you want to copy, move, or delete.

To select a single file in Windows Explorer, click once on the file, so that it is highlighted.

To select multiple files not adjacent to each other, hold down the Ctrl key while clicking on each file you want to select.

To select multiple files adjacent to each other, click to select the first file, then hold down the Shift key and click on the last file you want to select. All of the files between the first and last will be selected.

To select all of the files in a folder, choose Select All from the Edit menu, or use the keys Ctrl and A.

Moving or Copying Files in Windows Explorer

Once files are selected, you can move or copy them to the folder of your choice by using menus, keyboard commands, or drag and drop.

To copy or move selected files to another folder by using menus:

With the selected files highlighted in the right pane of Windows Explorer, from the Edit menu, choose Copy (to copy) or Cut (to move without leaving a copy behind.

In left pane, select the folder into which you want to copy the files, and choose Paste from the Edit menu.

If you chose to copy files instead of cut, be sure to delete the original files once you are certain you have copied them to the correct location (information on safe deleting is listed below).

To copy or move selected files to another folder by using keyboard commands:

With the selected files highlighted in the right pane of Windows Explorer, use the keys Ctrl and C to copy the files, or the keys Ctrl and X to move or "cut" the files.

In left pane, select the folder into which you want to move the files, and use the keys Ctrl and V to paste the files.

If you chose to copy files instead of cut, be sure to delete the original files once you are certain you have copied them to the correct location (information on safe deleting is listed below).

To move selected files to another folder by using drag and drop:

With the selected files highlighted in the right pane of Windows Explorer, click and drag the selected files on top of the folder in the left pane into which you want to move the files.

If you are dragging and dropping files between locations on the same drive, this method moves the files, so no files are left behind in the original folder to delete. If you are dragging files from one disk to and dropping them into another disk, such as from a hard disk to a floppy disk, this method makes a copy of the dragged files, and you must go back and delete the original file once you are certain the move has been successful.

Renaming a File or Folder

There may be instances when, rather than moving a file or folder to a new location, it makes more sense to rename it.

To rename a file or folder in Windows Explorer:

Select the file or folder.

Choose Rename from the File menu, or right click on the selected file or folder and choose Rename from the pop-up menu.

The original name will now be highlighted and surrounded with a box. Type the new name over the old name, and hit Enter. If you are renaming a file, be sure you include the appropriate file extension with the new name, or Windows will warn you that the renamed file may become unusable without the proper file extension.

renaming file icon


Deleting Files and Folders Safely

Windows and Macintosh computers usually protect files deleted from your hard drive by placing them in a Recycle Bin. The deleted files remain in the Recycle Bin until you empty it, so you can often recover files you accidentally or prematurely deleted. Once the Recycle Bin has been emptied, its contents are permanently deleted and cannot be recovered.

Note 1: Files deleted from a server are permanently deleted--there is no server Recycle Bin from which to recover them. However, most servers are backed up regularly, and your server administrator may be able to restore earlier versions of the deleted file from backups made before the deletion occurred. Check with your server administrator to determine how frequently backups are done.

Note 2: It is not advisable to delete program files using Windows Explorer or My Computer. See the section on Deleting Program Files Safely for the preferred method of removing application files from your hard drive.

To delete a file or folder using Windows Explorer:

Select the file or folder. You may select multiple files or folders at once using the methods described above.

Choose Delete from the File menu, or hit the Delete key on the keyboard.

Windows will prompt you to confirm the deletion with the message "Are you sure you want to send (filename) or (these X items) to the Recycle Bin? Click Yes to confirm the deletion.

deleting files confirmation

To restore a file or folder from the Recycle Bin:

On the Desktop, double-click on the "Recycle Bin" icon.

Select the file or folder you want to restore.

From the File menu, choose Restore, or click the Restore option in the Recycle Bin window. Choosing Restore will put the file or folder back to its original location before it was deleted.

To empty the Recycle Bin:

On the Desktop, double-click the Recycle Bin icon.

From the File menu, choose Empty Recycle Bin.

Windows will prompt you to confirm the deletion with the message "Are you sure you want to delete these X items?" Click Yes to confirm the deletion. Once items are deleted from the Recycle Bin, they cannot be restored unless you kept a backup of them in another location.


Deleting Program Files Safely

Program files cannot be deleted in the same way that data files can be deleted, since there are many files associated with each program, or application, on your computer. In Windows, those files include Desktop icons, .exe files, and many other associated files, some of which are hidden even when viewing folders in Windows Explorer. If you decide that you no longer use a certain application, the best way to remove it is with the Add/Remove Programs tool in the Control Panel.

To remove a program using Add/Remove Programs:

From the Start button, select Settings | Control Panel.

In the Control Panel, double-click the icon for Add/Remove Programs.

Select the program you want to remove from the list in the Install/Uninstall tab (Windows 98 or NT) or Change or Remove Programs tab (Windows 2000 or XP).

Click the Add/Remove button (Windows 98 or NT) or Remove button (Windows 2000 or XP).

Windows will prompt you to confirm the removal. Click Yes to confirm.

Click OK after Windows confirms that the program has been deleted.

You may need to restart you computer to complete the removal--Windows will prompt you to restart if needed.

Repeat steps 3 through 7 for each program you want to remove.



Options and Guidelines for Saving Data

Most applications automatically choose a location for saving documents. For example, Microsoft Office products save your files to the My Documents folder if you don't choose another location. When you save an Office document for the first time, you are presented with a dialog box that looks similar to the image below:

If you were to click on Save at this point, you would automatically save your file in the My Documents folder. The problem with this method of saving files is that you may end up with hundreds or thousands of files in My Documents. If you were looking for one particular file, you might have to sort through countless files before you find the right one. If instead, you use the Project-based method of organizing your files into folders, finding the right file will be quicker and easier.

If you set up a project-based organization structure, your My Documents folder might look something like the following:

after project based file management



Even if you do not have access to a departmental file server, you will probably have occasions to share files with colleagues. You can send files as e-mail attachments, store them in your Home Directory and make them accessible to others, or place them on removable media such as ZIP or floppy disks. When you receive files from colleagues either inside or outside of the University, it is very important to be sure the files are virus-free. DCI machines come with the latest version of U.Va.'s site-licensed anti-virus program, Norton Anti Virus. However, since new viruses are being created all the time, anti virus software is useless unless you keep the anti virus definitions up to date. Norton makes it very easy to get the latest virus definitions, and even lets you schedule automatic updates.

There are a few more things you can do to protect your computer from viruses, or at least to be prepared if a virus does slip through:

Keep your antivirus program and definitions up to date (see above paragraph).

If you get an e-mail message with an attachment from someone you don't know, delete it. Many viruses come in the form of innocuous or curiosity-piquing e-mail attachments.

Make an emergency boot disk for Windows 98 or NT, or be familiar with system restore in Windows XP.

Keep your original operating system CD and application CDs handy

Keep your DCI restore CD handy

Back up your important data files often and your entire system regularly, the frequency determined by the importance of the data, and your own need.

To set up a system restore point on Windows:

Have ready one new or reformatted floppy disk.

Find the startup disk creation tool in your operating system:
Windows XP:

From the Start button, select Programs | Accessories | System Tools | System Restore.

To save your computer's current configuration as what will be restored in future, choose Create a restore point and follow the instructions in the wizard.

If you have not selected a restore point but need to restore your machine to an earlier configuration because of software or hardware problems, you can still select an automatically configured restore point by choosing Restore my computer to an earlier time, then selecting a date from the resulting calendar when you know your computer was working properly.

Backing Up Files and Folders

Backing up is the process of creating a spare copy of a file, file system, or other resource for use in the event of failure or loss of the original. A "backup" is most commonly used to refer to a copy of all the files on a computer's disks, made periodically and stored on magnetic tape or other removable or fixed storage media.Most operating systems include their own back up tool. For instance, the MS Backup utility in Windows 98, 2000, and XP is a simple way to back up files. [Start | Programs | Accessories | System Tools | Backup] Why back up at all? Performing backups helps protect your data from accidental loss if your system experiences hardware or storage media failure. Most new computer users neglect this essential precaution until they experience a disk failure or accidental deletion of the only copy of the file on which they have spent a long time working. In backing up data, you create a duplicate copy of the data on your hard disk, and then archive the data on another storage medium such as a floppy disk, hard disk (personal hard disk, or a network server's), a ZIP/super disk, a tape, etc. If the original data on your hard disk is accidentally erased or overwritten, or becomes inaccessible because of a hard disk malfunction, you can easily restore the data from the archived copy.

Note: Ideally, the backup copies should be kept at a different site or in a fire safe since, though your hardware may be insured against fire, the data on it is almost certainly neither insured nor easily replaced. Saving or backing up data on regularly backed up network servers is one of the best ways of insuring against data loss.

There is free third party applications available for backing up the Mac: PsyncX, Carbon Copy Cloner, iBackup

Suggested Frequency of Backups

The frequency of backing up of files/folders/systems really depends upon your individual needs, including the type of data, time, and resources available to you. Optimal backup frequency can range from every day to once a week, or once in two weeks. Good questions for you to ask yourself are: "How much am I willing to lose and redo?" and "How much risk am I willing to take with this file or system?" The answers to these questions will determine how frequently you decide to back up data files and folders.

Automatic backups: Saving important data onto networked servers will take advantage of the frequent automatic back up process most servers are made to perform. Many commercial tools, available for a fee, perform automatic backups.

Compressing and Transferring Files

You have more storage options for files than just on your hard drive. You may decide to archive some of your less-used files on removable media (such as Zip disks or CD-RWs), or you may want to keep files you access from more than one computer in your Home Directory account. Both options provide an advantage over hard drive storage--the files can easily be moved from computer to computer. The disadvantage of these two options is the amount of storage space available. Removable media such as floppy disks, Zip disks, and even CDs provide much less storage space than a typical hard drive. Home Directory accounts for staff provide up to 125 megabytes of storage, but graphics and other media-rich files can quickly eat up space. Compressing or zipping files before storing them can significantly reduce file size. This approach is particularly advantageous for archiving old or infrequently accessed data.

Home Directory Service

A Home Directory account allows you to save, store, and access files on a central file server, whether you are using a computer on-grounds or off-grounds. This service eliminates the need for floppy disks as file storage, since files stored on the Home Directory Service are accessible from any computer connected to the U.Va. network. Home Directory accounts can be accessed through ethernet or dial-up connections to the U.Va. Network Some of the other advantages of the Home Directory Service are:

The Home Directory is backed up daily. Files that you accidentally delete can usually be recovered.

Files are secure in case of hardware failure. If your personal files are saved to the Home Directory Service and the hard disk on your computer crashes, you will have copies of your work.

You can publish Web pages without the need to use a UNIX account and you will have easy access to personal Web space through the Home Directory.

Compressing and Zipping Files

Compressing or zipping files can be accomplished with Windows tools, Mac tools, or in the UNIX environment. Windows and Mac compression utilities are great for files already on your computer's hard drive. UNIX compression tools are a good way to reduce the size of old web page directories or outdated e-mail folders that reside on the University's UNIX servers.

Note: Using Zip disks and zipping files are not the same. CD-RWs or Zip disks are a storage option--copying file onto a Zip disk does not compress, or reduce the size of, the files copied. Using a compression utility such as WinZip reduces the size of files as they are moved into a WinZip archive folder, which can then be transferred to a Zip disk or other storage media.


Once you have compressed or zipped the files you want to archive, you can move them to the storage media of your choice. Using Windows Explorer to move files onto Zip drives or your Home Directory will work quite well in most instances. Another alternative is to FTP the compressed files to the server of your choice. FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol, and is a useful tool in the following circumstances:

when you want to move files from one server to another

when you are traveling and have a network connection but are not mapped to your usual server drives, such as Home Directory or your local server

Note: Date Stamp change - When you FTP a file or group of files and folders, remember that the date stamp for the files and folders in the new location will be different from the original dates on which they were last created or modified. The new date is indicative of the date on which the file transfer occurs. Hence, relying on file creation dates as a way of keeping track of file versions can be misleading if you perform an FTP.

Best Practices for Effective File Management

You must be able to locate and work with every file you created on your computer quickly and easily. If you cannot do this, or if you spend an inordinate amount of time and effort searching for these files, you need to reorganize the folder and file structure, and enable ways that facilitate effective long-term file management. Following the practices outlined in this tutorial will take you a long way towards effective file management. However, there are many ways to manage files and directories. In addition to the information contained in the main pages of this tutorial, we have identified the following tips, do's and don't's as "best practices" because these provide a starting point for file managers:

Planned maintenance: File management is ineffective without scheduled maintenance steps that help clean, protect, and backup the hard drive and the various files and folders in it. This also means exercising caution when downloading files from e-mail or the internet. Some key steps comprising maintenance are: deleting or backing up unnecessary files such as, Netscape cache files, .tmp files, old and/or large files you have not used in a long time; emptying the recycle bin; at least a weekly scheduled virus scanning of your system and virus definition updates; backing up critical data; maintaining an updated list of all software and data files on your system; renaming files and folders cautiously; and, moving files and folders to appropriate locations to maintain the integrity of the directory structure.

File and Folder Names: Keep files, folders, folder structures, and their names, logical and easily recognizable by you and anyone else who may need access to the folders/files.

Grouping scheme: Organize files by project (esp. in a project-based organization), person (when working for a number of persons), or year (esp. for financial and other time-sensitive data), irrespective of file type, as this helps you save time accessing the needed files. For instance, you might have to create files using Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Visio, Photoshop and Dreamweaver to develop a workshop called "Effective Accounting Practices." A simple example of an effective file structure for this would be saving all these files as follows: My Documents | Workshops | Accounting Practices. Saving files by application can make it very difficult to keep track of all the files you created for a project using different applications. You may mix various grouping schema under My Documents.

Nesting: Divide folders containing too many files and/or sub-folders.

Separation of Data and Applications: Keep data files separate from program files in appropriate folders. Ensure that program folders do not contain data generated by that or any other program. Move the data files to an appropriate folder under My Documents.

Consistent Save location: After updating or revising a file, remember to save the file in the same location each time by following the tree structure, both during regular saves and during back-ups. Keeping related files together under a relevant folder makes it easier to move groups of data, find files, and facilitate easy sharing of files.

Software List: Maintain a list of both software you routinely use, and software that resides in your computer. Additionally, keep the CDs, floppy disks, and license information for these applications, well organized, and in a safe location. It might be a good idea to ensure that a designated person or the individual user is responsible for this.

Hard copy list data files in hard drive: Creating a paper copy list of all data files in your hard drive before data migration will ensure that you can compare the old data set to the new one and identify those files/folders that may have fallen through the cracks. How to do this?

Recycle Bin: Carefully eliminate unwanted, outdated, or duplicate files you created or saved in the same or different location, by going through the folders periodically and by emptying the recycle bin. Make sure that you are not deleting something important. How?

Add/Remove Programs: Always use Add/Remove programs under the Control Panel of Settings to install a new application or uninstall an existing one. Do not simply delete an application file in the hope that it would disappear. There may be associated files in other folders of your hard drive that you might miss. Note: Generally, removing a program does not automatically delete the configurations or settings files, unless you manually do so. These files remain available should you change your mind about reinstalling these programs again.

Storage: Many storage options, removable and non-removable, are available. Depending on your departmental policy, and your system attributes, you may choose to save your files and folders in the hard-drive, in the network file server, or home directory space available to you, in removable devices such as floppy-disks, ZIP disks, CDs, or tapes. Tapes are becoming obsolete these days. For details about various storage devices and their attributes, see Storage Locations.

File size: Be aware of space available in your system, or quota available to you on a network server, for storing files and folders. Old files not in use, but still maintained for record-keeping purposes, or extremely large files that are accessed very infrequently, can be compressed by using the WinZip utility and decompressed if there is a need to access the file contents. WinZip can compress the size of a file, making more space available on your system or the network server used by your department. How to compress files?

Back-up: Plan for periodic back-up of your files and folders, specifically, data files of all types that you create. Many operating systems have their own back-up applications that can be used to perform regular back-ups of data files as well as configuration files, executable files, and application files. It is a good idea to store your backed up disks/CDs/tapes in a different physical location or in a fire-proof safe. Remember that hardware can be insured or replaced whereas data contained in it cannot. Saving files or backing them up on regularly backed-up network servers is a good practice that can insure against catastrophic data loss. Backing up can provide a nice interim solution if you are migrating from old computers to new computers. When backing up, maintain and mirror the well-organized file and folder structure in your system. Experts suggest keeping many iterations of back-up, labeled with names. How to back-up?

Defragmentation: Webopedia explains file fragmentation as follows: "Refers to the condition of a disk in which files are divided into pieces scattered around the disk. Fragmentation occurs naturally when you use a disk frequently, creating, deleting, and modifying files. At some point, the operating system needs to store parts of a file in noncontiguous clusters. This is entirely invisible to users, but it can slow down the speed at which data is accessed because the disk drive must search through different parts of the disk to put together a single file." Different operating systems have built-in or added-on utilities that help with this process. Analyzing and defragmenting disk volumes can help to preserve the performance and general operation of the system. How to defragment?

Storage options: ITC has free and fee-based services such as home directory services, HSM services, disk wedge allotments, etc. to assist with file storage. More information about these and other options can be found in the Storage Media list.

Departmental options: Some departments find it more efficient to establish a standard for the following: file/folder saving locations; the type of storage devices to use; the frequency of back-ups; file-naming conventions; the type of applications used to generate specific data files, etc. This approach, recognized as a best practice in technology planning, is especially useful when migrating to new computers, and if access to certain folders and files are shared.


Do not save all your files in the root folder (C:\ on most Windows computers). There is a physical limit on how many files can exist in there.

Do not use word processing applications as file management tools

File and Folder Sizes

When working with files and directories, it is often useful to know the amount of storage space each file or directory requires. Particularly if you are running out of room, you will want to move, compress, or delete larger files first.

Determining File and Directory Sizes in Windows:

To determine the size of a file or directory, an easy way is to select the files or folders in question, select the File menu from Windows Explorer and select properties. Following is another way to determine file sizes.

Checking individual file sizes is very easily done with Windows Explorer. Simply open the directory or folder containing the file(s) in question, and view it in detail view. File sizes will be shown in the Size column.

windows explorer to determine size

You can also use Windows Explorer to determine the size of directories.

In Windows Explorer, open the directory in question.

From the Edit menu, choose Select All.

The total size of files in the directory will show in the gray bar at the bottom of the Windows Explorer window.

Note: The function described above will not include the sizes of any files contained in sub-directories. You must check the size of sub-directories individually by repeating the steps above for each sub-directory.


  1. Describe the five types of files that you use the most. What are the extension names?
  2. Can you change the extension of a file by simply renaming it? What happens if you do?
  3. Draw the file structure of your computer at school. Start at the root directory, and follow the path that containing "My Documents" or "User" and go as far/deep as you can.
  4. When you are moving word processing files between computers, it is suggested that you save them as .rtf (Rich Text Format.) Why?
  5. At school you need to create the following folders under your 'Users/<YOURNAME>': Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Fireworks, Documents, Images, and Misc. For Digital Audio: Music, Recordings, Sandbox, Mixes, Final
  6. Give 4 examples of how you would categorize your files by using file names.
  7. Download 4 images from the Web. Save the images in your "Downloads" folder and using proper file naming conventions give each image a descriptive filename...DO NOT OVERWRITE THE EXTENSION.
  8. Create five different filenames that are descriptive. For example, My_First_Web_Page.htm. Use at least three different extensions.
  9. Describe five different storage devices.
  10. Open a document and click Save As. When the dialog box first appears is the filename field highlighted? What happens if you click your mouse once? Twice? Three times? Below the Filename text field is a File Type drop down menu. What file types are available in the File Type menu?

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