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Dabbling in Linux? File structure explained. :: Archived
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Joined: Jan 21, 2005
Posts: 7015
Location: Central Illinois, USA
PostPosted: Tue Dec 06, 2005 12:16 pm
Post subject: Dabbling in Linux? File structure explained.

As some of you know, I run Linux/XP as a dual boot set up and other than the initial interest in something other than XP, the file structure is probably the most confusing for Windows users to understand. Linux uses terms like /home, /usr, etc, as directories and Windows uses My Computer, My Documents, Program Files and so on, and this is something I found on the net to help you understand how those two different OS' place files in the file tree.

There are several differences between windows and linux filesystem structure. these differences are the way linux ( and other unix os ) protect against both data loss and filesystem corruption.

t begin with a basic terminology definition ( most likely not needed, but included for completeness )

root is both the system admin, and the foundation of the file system. the differentiation is:
root = system admin
/ = foundation of file system

Directory: a folder on a partition. the biggest difference is a directory can be a partition name as well, when this happens accessing the directory is changing drives in windows.

filesystem type: this is the underlying structure of the filesystem, e2fs, reiserfs.... a windows version is fat, fat32 or ntfs.

partition: the same as windows, a section of physical hard drive set up to act as a hard drive in and of itself.

where a directory or partition has an * after it will be where the term is applying to more than one definition.

now that this is clarified, the linux names and the windows equivalents.

/ this is the same as the c drive with windows.

/bin this directory is used to store the command line executables that any use can access. comparable to c:\windows\command

/boot this directory can be, and usually is, a separate partition. this contains the kernel, and those parts of the bootloader that are not able to fit in the mbr ( master boot record )

/dev this directory is used to store the definitions of all known devices. it is not recommended to make this it's own partition.
this is most closely matched to device manager in windows, though this is not a good match, as it also resembles the c:\windows\system folder

/etc this directory is used to store system configuration data, such as what drivers, default fonts, default interface, default runlevel... are setup for the system. it contains the configuration defaults for every distribution included application. the closest windows has to this is the windows directory itself.

/home* this is comparable to the c:\documents and settings in windows nt family of products. it is recommended that this be a separate partition

/lib this is the core shared libraries and kernel modules. again this is the windows\system folder

/media a directory detailed to be used for removable media, such as floppys and cdroms, this is often not included. my computer in windows

/mnt this directory is always used, it is intended to hold mount points for filesystems, it is also used for the media mout points mentioned above. my computer in windows.

/opt* : Add-on application software packages.
by making this a partition, not just a directory in the / filesystem, you can control the space available for after market applications. unfortunately, this usage has not happened as much as it should have. c:\program files ( need I say more? Wink )

/proc this is a depreciated structure, it was used to store active processes. newer systems will no longer have this.

/root this is the system admin users home directory, locked to root access only. optionally, but not recommended, a separate partition it is comparable to c:\windows

/sbin this is the root user only executable tools.
comparable to c:\windows\command

/srv : Data for services provided by this system
no real windows equivalent, other than c:\windows

/tmp : Temporary files, optionally a separate partition. comparable to c:\windows\temp
I personally do make this a separate partition, as some cd burning software creates temporary disc images in this, and I can ensure enough space for this activity this way.

/usr this is the area that the actual programs, libraries sources for the kernel... are installed.
most 3rd party software also installs itself here, despite the existance of the /opt directory / partition. this is c:\program files there is an entire heirarchy under this, that breaks the contents into even smaller areas, the url supplied at the bottom has these details. I always set this as it's own partition and ensure it is twice the size required for the system ( those 3rd party apps you know. )

/var optionally it's own partion, recommended to be so. this is used to store logs, default for webserver root. public ftp mailcap ( email server ) in short to store anything that is changed regularly, and that a record is needed. most closely matched by c:\windows

and there you have a brief outline of what each of those cryptic directories are for on your linux workstation. this should help you to find your way around, if / when you are troubleshooting a system. ( like finding default font setting for xfs ( x font srever ) )
all of this, in technical detail, including options can be found: Here

Posted by: Jaqui

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