Understanding Files and Directories

The Windows file systems deals with two kinds of data arrangement: files and directories.

Each file and directory must be given a unique name; within a directory you cannot have two files, two directories, or a file and a directory with the same name as each other. See Naming a File or Directory.


Any data you record on a disk is stored in a file. Files contain information, which may be from a word processor, from a paint program, from a database, or the entire contents of a program.

Whether a file is visible or can be deleted and edited depends upon attributes that are explained in the File and Directory Attributes.

All files have a datestamp which shows what the system date and time were the last time the file was written to. See File and Directory Times.

Each file can be either a binary or ASCII containing human-readable text. See Text Files Coding and End of Line Characters.


To store information in a logical manner, disks are generally organized into directories, which are often referred to as folders. If you picture a disk as a cabinet, with your programs, database files and pictures as the actual files, than directories are the folders of the filing cabinet. Some of these folders have further folders inside them, called subdirectories, which themselves contain folders, and so on, indefinitely.

The directory or subdirectory containing any given subdirectory is known as its parent directory.

The highest level of organization is the root directory.

The route you take along a directory tree to reach a file is called path. As you proceed along the path, each branch of the tree is separated from the next by a backslash (\) character. For example, the path of Pictures is expressed as C:\My Downloads\Pictures. See Disk Path Specifier.

To refer to Summer.jpg, you use what is called pathname. This consists of a file's path, followed by the name of the file, Summer.jpg's pathname would be C:\My Downloads\Pictures\Summer.jpg.

See Also

File Systems
Naming a File or Directory
Disk Path Specifier
File and Directory Times
File and Directory Attributes
Text Files Coding and End of Line Characters