Computer Filesystems

All about computer filesystems

File systems or filesystems are the way computers organize and store the files that contain data and programs on a hard disk drive or other storage device. Every computer operating system has a unique file system. We will cover two here. The Microsoft® Windows® filesystem and the filesystem most common on the web.

For a complete description of filesystems, please see Wikipedia here.

The Windows Filesystem

Microsoft® Windows® has evolved over time. The filesystem varies in different versions of Windows. We will discuss a generic filesystem applicable to all versions of Windows®. For a discussion of the filesystem evolution in Windows, see Wikipedia.


My Computer


If you click on My Computer in any version of Windows, a list of all the storage devices on your computer will be shown.

The computer shown to the right with Drives (C) through (J) probably has more drives than your computer but every computer running Windows will have a (C) Drive.

This is the hard drive containing all your data and programs. Here the name is OS. A name chosen when the disk was created. On your computer the name could be anything.

To view the contents, simply double click on the drive.



And you will be taken to a display of the contents as shown below. If your display does not look like this, you can change the looks by clicking on View and Icons to change the look.

To change what is displayed see our Computer Help on File Types here. The Windows default is not that useful.

The display uses Windows Explorer. It shows all the files and folders on your computer.

The folders are identified by a folder icon [fs-03.png 13x13]. The files are shown in the lower two rows. their icon varies depending on the type of file. For more information on File Types go here.

The view you are looking at is known as the root of the (C) drive. It is the highest level view of the drive and is represented in text by C:\

Windows uses the backslash \ to separate folders. There are folders in folders, in folders etc.

C:/ display


Audio Folder





If we open the Audio Folder on this computer we see the folder structure shown at the right.

In this example, the folder Artist 2 is in the folder Unknown Album, which is in the folder Unknown Artist, which is in the Audio folder that is in the root directory of the OS(C:) drive.

This could also be written in text as:


C:\Audio\Unknown Artist\Unknown Album\Artist 2\


This shows a four deep nesting of folders, both above and to the right.


Do you understand that? This is important. If not, go over it again.


If it is still not clear or if you would like more information please take our Files and Folders course.




D&S Folder



Documents and Settings Folder




If we now look at the Documents and Settings folder on most Windows system we see the directory structure structure shown at the right.

This is another source of confusion in Windows. If we are looking for the My Documents folder there is not a single folder, but a separate folder for each user user defined in the system. There may be one user or many users. All computers are different.

The same is true for Internet Downloads. This is the reason we ask you to create a My Stuff folder for downloads. See our Computer Help topic on Downloads for more information.


It is helpful to understand the contents of the Documents and Settings folder to locate lost files on your system. Chances are that they are somewhere in this folder. Everything unique to you is there.






If you would like additional information on the Windows File System please take our Files and Folders course.


Web Filesystems

Most Web Servers do not use Windows. Instead they are based on other Operating Systems, primarily Linux so the filesystem is closer to that OS.

The first difference is the separator between folders is a forward slash / instead of a back slash \ as in Windows.

The Home Page of a web site is generally a file called index.html or index.htm. The base of a web site is is its URL and is known as the site Home Page. The base page defaults to a file called index.

For example, our Home Page is while this page is This shows that this page is located in the /help directory of

If you land on a web site that is not the Home Page but would like to visit the Home Page you can backspace over the Address in your web browser until you get to the base URL.

Let's say you land on the site below.

URL Address


Simply back up the address to the base URL as shown below.

Base Site


So this long URL:

becomes this:

You can do this on any web site that is not the base URL or Home Page.


When you are browsing the web or using Windows Explorer remember these tips.