Insider Tips: The Unix filesystem tree


Article from Issue 61/2005

Unix systems organize files in a hierarchical filesystem tree. A system of naming conventions defined in the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard (FHS) helps admins find their way around.

Even a minimal Linux installation writes thousands of files and directories to disk. The rise of different Unix dialects led to a number of completely different designs for organizing files in a meaningful way on disk. For example, some admins named their users’ home directories /usr/home/Name, whereas others preferred /Users/Name. A mailbox might be /usr/mail/Name on one machine but /var/spool/mail/Name on another. In this case, diversity was a drawback. In contrast to Windows, for example, Unix’s modular design requires administrators to select a single program for each task from a choice of many possible options and to replace this program with a backwards-compatible upgrade if a new version becomes available. For example, if an admin needs to replace the Mail Transfer Agent (MTA), the new version should be capable of locating and handling existing messages.

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