Directory structure

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In computing, a directory structure is the way an operating system's file system and its files are displayed to the user. Files are typically displayed in a hierarchical tree structure.

File names and extensions[edit]

A filename is a string used to uniquely identify a file stored on the file system of a computer. Before the advent of 32-bit operating systems, file names were typically limited to short names (6 to 14 characters in size). Modern operating systems now typically allow much longer filenames (more than 250 characters per pathname element).

Windows, DOS, and OS/2[edit]

In DOS, Windows, and OS/2, the root directory is "drive:\", for example, the root directory is usually "C:\". The directory separator is usually a "\", but the operating system also internally recognizes a "/". Physical and virtual drives are named by a drive letter, as opposed to being combined as one.[1] This means that there is no "formal" root directory, but rather that there are independent root directories on each drive. However, it is possible to combine two drives into one virtual drive letter, by setting a hard drive into a RAID setting of 0.[2]

Common Windows directory structure[edit]

Directory Description Notes
Root of the system drive
The Recycle Bin, which stores deleted files (hidden)
Boot loader files From Windows Vista onward (hidden)
\Documents and Settings
User folders Up to Windows XP, legacy from Windows Vista onward
\All Users
Shared user folders and global application data Up to Windows XP
Public web server Only present if Internet Information Services is installed
Windows Performance Information and Tools logs
Global application data From Windows Vista onward
\Program Files
User applications
\Program Files (x86)
User 32bit (x86 architecture) applications Only present on 64bit (x64 architecture) systems
System recovery data (hidden)
\System Volume Information
System restore data (hidden and inaccessible to users without changing ownership or using special tools)
User folders From Windows Vista onward
Shared user folders From Windows Vista onward
System files
System kernel and drivers


Unix and Unix-like operating systems use the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard as the common form for their directory structures. All files and directories appear under the root directory "/", even if they are stored on different physical devices.[3]

See also[edit]