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A system used by computers to organize files on the basis of specific information.
Directories can be organized hierarchically so that files appear in a number of different ways, such as the order in which they were created or updated, alphabetically by name or file type, or by any other classification available to the files within a given directory.
Directories are most often represented on a computer as a folder. For instance, if you are using a Windows computer, your personal files are probably saved to your My Documents folder. My Documents is a directory containing your personal files. Your computer can have a seemingly infinite number of directories and subdirectories containing everything from your saved documents to executable program files to your system preference information.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I find out what’s inside a directory?
Depending the operating system you are using, the method for searching your device’s files will vary. On Windows, the File Explorer lets you search the contents of your computer’s hard drive. On mobile devices, there may be a built-in file explorer, or you may need to download one from your app store. From you file explorer, you can search for files or programs; browse each directory; and move, copy, paste, or delete files. On some computers, you may need to search directories using a command line interface, meaning all you will see is text on the screen. Command line terminals each have their own commands for opening and viewing the contents of a directory. For specific instructions, you should refer to your system’s user manual or online help system.
Is there a difference between a directory and a folder?
There is no difference. Systems that utilize a graphical user interface (meaning they use icons and visuals to help you navigate), often depict directories as folders, simply because it is an easy concept for people to understand. Folders are used within filing cabinets to group similar documents. Likewise, on your computer, directories are used to store files that are related in some way, whether they all support the same program or they are a collection of all the photos you have saved. If you access the same hard drive using a command line interface, the folders will now be listed as directories, though the names and content will be exactly the same.
Can a directory also be a subdirectory?
Yes. File systems are organized hierarchically, similar to a tree, so that your root directory contains everything else within the system. On many desktop computers, this is represented by the C: drive. From there, you have directories (or folders) for your program files, system files, and user files. Each of those directories contain subdirectories. And most of those subdirectories contain more directories within them. Aside from the root directory, every directory on your computer can be either a directory or subdirectory, depending on what level of the file “tree” you are looking at.