Windows File Structures and Paths – CompTIA A+ 220-802: 1.1

How does Windows organize files and folders? In this video, you’ll learn about referencing storage devices, folders, and individual files in Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7.
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You’ll notice in the operating system that every drive that’s created, whether it’s a physical drive or a logical drive, has a drive letter associated with it. That’s the method that we’re going to use to tell Windows go to this physical or logical drive to find the information that we’d like.

If we look closer, we will notice that there are some commonalities as we move from computer to computer. It’s very common for instance to see a floppy drive referenced as drive A. And you’ll notice that it has an A and a colon right after that. That’s how we designate that as being a storage device.

Primary hard drives are very commonly called drive C. And you’ll see a C colon for those. And occasionally, you’ll see a DVD-ROM drive or a CD-ROM drive on a device and it’s usually called drive D.

These drives of course don’t have to have these specific letters associated with it. You can have drive D, E, and F as physical hard drives or SSDs in a computer. A CD-ROM could be on drive H. It just depends on the computer configuration you happen to be working with at that time.

Underneath each volume is a set of storage folders. There’s a hierarchy of folders that you’ll find underneath that. This is an example of it. On this computer I have a drive C. Within drive C is a Documents and Settings folder, a Program Files folder, a Recycler folder, a System Volume Information, and Windows. And notice that there are additional folders underneath that folder as well.

Let’s see what this looks like in a Windows operating system. If I right mouse click the Start menu and choose Explore, it launches the Windows Explorer. And from here, I can see every storage device and every folder that might be in that storage device.

I can see for instance there is a My Computer and there is a local disk, a C colon underneath that has a Documents and Settings folder. Underneath the Documents and Settings folder is an All Users folder. Underneath the All Users folder is an Application Data folder, and et cetera, and et cetera. And within these folders, there might be files that are located.

This hierarchy is built so that we can arrange and organize things the way we’d like within the operating system itself. So if we built some spreadsheets and some presentations for a project, we can create a folder just for that project and keep all those files inside of that. Alternatively, we might want to create a folder for every spreadsheet that we might own or every document that we might create in a word processor. And by organizing it this way, it’s very similar to how you would think about organizing things in real folders. We’re simply doing it inside the operating system itself.

If we think about this real world aspect of organizing our files in the Windows operating system, you can think about folders this way. In the Windows operating system on our computer storage device, we can add many folders inside of that. And those folders can contain files, just like you would take actual pieces of paper and put them into a folder in the real world. Unlike the real world, however, in the Windows operating system you can have a folder within a folder, within a folder, within a folder, and et cetera.

That’s not normally what you would do with real world folders. You might sometimes put a single folder inside of one. But it would be very difficult to organize and find things in the real world if we started adding folders within folders. But in the Windows operating system, that’s completely normal. That’s a very common way and a hierarchical way of organizing our files.

Therefore, in order to reference a file name, you can reference the storage device letter. You then put the folders associated with that particular file and then the file name itself. For instance, we have an msconfig.exe file. This is the executable the runs the Microsoft configuration program.

In order to reference that file, the full and complete path to that file starts with a drive letter. And in this case the drive letter is C colon. As I mentioned earlier, the drive letter could be anything. But we’re specifying a particular file that’s located within particular folders on a particular storage device and this storage device happens to be C colon.

We then specify what folders this might be located in, starting at the very top of the tree and working our way down. So right off the root of C colon is a folder called Program Files. And the way that we separate the names of these folders is we put a backslash just prior to the folder name. So C colon backslash Program Files means that it is the Program Files folder that is just under that C colon storage device.

Now, there is a folder within the Program Files directory called System32. So again, we put a backslash and write System32. 32 Within the System32 folder, there is a file called msconfig.exe. So we separate that again with a backslash and finally put the file name.

So that’s a full path. That is exactly where you would identify the location for the msconfig.exe by writing C colon backslash Program Files backslash System32 backslash msconfig.exe.

Now we understand how files and folders work on storage devices, let’s take a step back and look at how we would organize information across the entire operating system. Windows XP organizes things this way. The Desktop is at the very top of the Windows Explorer and underneath the Desktop is everything else. For instance, there’s the My Documents folder, the My Computer folder, the My Network Places folder, and the Recycle Bin. Underneath the My Computer folder is where you would find all of your storage devices and all of the folders and all of the files that are contained within that storage device.

Let’s look around at a Windows XP configuration in real time. I’m going to go to my desktop’s Start Menu, right mouse click and choose Explore and it brings up the Windows Explorer. Let me make this a little bit smaller so we could start at the top with a summary view where we have our Desktop. We have My Documents, My Computer, My Network Places, Recycle Bin.

Notice under My Computer that we have two devices, a local disk. This is our local storage device. And it’s designated with a drive C. You see the C colon right next to that.

We also have a DVD or a CD drive on this device that is designated as drive D. And again, this could be any drive letter. But you can see we’re following a lot of the standards you’ll see on almost any computer.

If we click the plus sign next to local disk C, you’ll see all of the folders at the top level of that drive. If I go to, for instance, Documents and Settings, we drill down even further. So here’s a My Computer, local disk C colon. There’s Documents and Settings. There is a Professor folder that has my information inside of it.

I can go to My Documents and go under My Pictures and even go further inside of that and look at other things as well. But notice how we’ve collapsed this to have an organization of this hierarchical structure. We have a folder within a folder, within a folder and inside that are some files. So you have to be very specific when you’re mentioning where a file might be located and give the full path name, the drive letter, all of those hierarchical folders, separated with a backslash, all the way down to the file name that you’re referencing.

The structure in Windows 7 and Windows Vista is a little bit different than Windows XP. In those operating systems, it was changed just a little bit to focus more on the organization of the files that you have in that operating system. If you look closely, we still have a Desktop at the very top of this. But we also break down things into Libraries. And we also finally have the Computer down here at the bottom for the local disk.

So we have a series of different areas where we can store information. We have Libraries, a User folder. This is the Rodney user, who’s logged on to this machine. There is a Computer System folder, a Network System folder, the Control Panel, and the Recycle Bin. And if you’re somebody who uses Windows a lot, these are usually the places where you will want to either find information or store information on your system. So it makes sense to have easy access to the computer, easy access to devices that may be located across the network, and so on.

Once you understand these windows file structures and the paths associated with the data, it makes it very easy for you to not only reference where things might be located, but it makes it very easy to keep all of your files and folders very well organized.