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Understanding files, folders, and directories

From: Computer Literacy for the Mac

Video: Understanding files, folders, and directories

One of the most important concepts to understand when working with computers is the system for organizing, storing, and locating your files and applications. In this context, the term 'file' refers to a single item, such as a word processing document, a photo, a video clip, a song, and so on. Applications are the programs that you run on your computer with which you use, interact with, or create the file stored on your computer. Another term you'll frequently hear is 'folder'. A folder is sometimes refer to as a directory, but I think folder makes more sense because it's easy to understand the concept of storing files within folders.

Understanding files, folders, and directories

One of the most important concepts to understand when working with computers is the system for organizing, storing, and locating your files and applications. In this context, the term 'file' refers to a single item, such as a word processing document, a photo, a video clip, a song, and so on. Applications are the programs that you run on your computer with which you use, interact with, or create the file stored on your computer. Another term you'll frequently hear is 'folder'. A folder is sometimes refer to as a directory, but I think folder makes more sense because it's easy to understand the concept of storing files within folders.

In fact, everything you interact with on your computer is stored in a hierarchy of folders. You can have folders nested within other folders and files stored throughout those nested folders. If it helps, you can think of your hard drive as one big master folder, or even a filing cabinet, where all the other folders are stored, accessed, and arranged. Let's take a look at an example of a file and folder hierarchy. I have this folder on my computer called Bills in which I want to store scanned versions of all my utility and credit card bills. I am going to double-click this folder to open it, meaning I am going to click it twice with my mouse. Inside this folder, you can see I have only three files, but they are clearly labeled electric, heat, and water, with the month's name in the file name.

Now, as I received more bills, I could just continue to save them in this folder called Bills, but as you can probably imagine, my folder will get pretty cluttered and disorganized quickly. This is an example of when it's highly advantages to create nested folders, or subfolders. Now, here in Mac OS X, I just click this gear icon at the top of the window and choose New Folder. That gives me a folder called untitled folder, and notice the name's already highlighted, meaning it's selected, and I can start typing to rename this folder. I'll call this Water. I'm just going to move this down right about there, and I'll just quickly create two more new folders.

I'll call this one Heat. Again, we'll move that down. And we'll create one more and call this one Electric. I think I'll just move that down here. So, now I've created three nested, or subfolders within my main Bills folder. With these three subfolders created, I can now easily organize my various bills by dragging them into the appropriate folders. So, water goes into Water, heat goes into Heat, and electric goes into Electric.

So, if you understood that, you understand the essential principal behind the folders and file system of your operating system. Now, you don't absolutely have to organize your files into folders; your computer is perfectly capable of keeping track of files wherever you place them, but the question is whether you can. It's not hard when there are only three files to organize, but how about 300 or 3000? Really, I'd say organizing your files is an essential skill and habit to get into. Now, I also want to discuss the different ways in which you can view the files within a folder. Here, in Mac OS X, you have four buttons on the upper portion of your window.

The first button represents Icon view, which we are currently looking at. In this view, the contents of the folder you are looking at are represented as these icons, or small pictures. You do have the ability to change the size of the icons using the slider in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. So, I can drag that left and right to make them larger and smaller, and you can see they can get really big and detailed. I prefer them about that size. Now, the second view here is List view. I prefer this view myself because not only can I see the file names, but other information, like the date the file was last modified on. If I scroll to the right, I can now see file sizes and the kind of file they are.

Next, we have Column view, which, as you can see, divides your window vertically. The advantage of this view is that it allows you to see the path you follow to get to certain files. Notice I can click the Water folder and then the actual water bill itself, which ends with me seeing a preview of the file here on the far right, and I can scroll to the left to clearly see the folder or directory path I followed to get here. Finally, we have Cover Flow view. This splits your window horizontally and displays each of the items as images you can browse through either by dragging the scroll bar to the left and right, or by clicking the files in the lower pane.

If I open up any of these folders by toggling that triangle open, I can see a preview of that file as well. It's completely your choice which view you prefer. This has absolutely no effect on the contents of your folder, only the way you look at them. Again, I like List view myself because you can click on these headers to sort your list of files and folders. This can be especially useful if you want to say display all the most recently modified files in order, or if you just want to list them alphabetically, again, click name. Clicking any header twice reverses the order of the list. You'll also have the ability to see your files in List view while in Cover Flow view in the lower portion of the pane here.

But I usually find the Preview pane at the top a little distracting, unless I really need to see previews of what the files contain. So, I keep everything in List view myself, but again, the choice is up to you. Okay, so that's an overview of the thinking behind the file and photo hierarchy, and the various ways you can view the contents of your folders.

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This video is part of

Image for Computer Literacy for the Mac
Computer Literacy for the Mac

55 video lessons · 23230 viewers

Garrick Chow
Author

 
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  1. 2m 49s
    1. Welcome
      1m 9s
    2. Using the assessment files
      1m 7s
    3. Using the exercise files
      33s
  2. 9m 51s
    1. What's a computer?
      1m 49s
    2. What's inside a computer?
      2m 46s
    3. Laptop vs. desktop computers
      1m 59s
    4. Special considerations when using a laptop
      3m 17s
  3. 20m 58s
    1. Understanding the operating system
      3m 3s
    2. Understanding files, folders, and directories
      4m 49s
    3. Understanding your home folder (your user folder)
      5m 21s
    4. Using your desktop
      3m 11s
    5. Taking out the trash (recycle bin)
      2m 21s
    6. The right click
      2m 13s
  4. 24m 8s
    1. Understanding applications
      4m 24s
    2. Opening and saving files
      4m 10s
    3. Choosing the right tool
      4m 44s
    4. How to learn any application
      3m 53s
    5. Five things that work in all applications
      6m 57s
  5. 36m 22s
    1. Understanding computer ports
      2m 59s
    2. Setting up a printer
      3m 7s
    3. Printing your documents
      4m 30s
    4. Setting up a scanner
      2m 27s
    5. Scanning a document
      6m 15s
    6. Setting up a projector or second monitor
      5m 56s
    7. Using a projector
      3m 43s
    8. Portable storage devices
      3m 53s
    9. Pairing with Bluetooth devices
      3m 32s
  6. 17m 27s
    1. Understanding networks and internet access
      2m 58s
    2. Connecting to wired network
      2m 36s
    3. Connecting to wireless networks
      4m 4s
    4. Working in a networked environment
      6m 15s
    5. Staying protected from viruses
      1m 34s
  7. 19m 31s
    1. Understanding email servers and clients
      2m 11s
    2. Setting up your email application
      4m 15s
    3. Receiving and reading email
      2m 21s
    4. Composing new email messages
      5m 52s
    5. Reply vs. Reply All
      2m 11s
    6. Dealing with spam
      2m 41s
  8. 8m 24s
    1. Understanding search engines
      1m 24s
    2. Conducting basic searches
      3m 51s
    3. Conducting advanced searches
      3m 9s
  9. 24m 21s
    1. Using word processors
      4m 22s
    2. Formatting text
      7m 7s
    3. Using spreadsheets
      3m 36s
    4. Creating a simple data table
      7m 37s
    5. Formatting a data table
      1m 39s
  10. 18m 53s
    1. Importing images from a digital camera
      4m 46s
    2. Storing and organizing digital images
      5m 11s
    3. Basic image manipulation
      4m 10s
    4. Tagging images
      2m 32s
    5. Sharing images
      2m 14s
  11. 10m 52s
    1. Common obstacles in sharing files
      1m 37s
    2. Creating PDFs for document sharing
      5m 35s
    3. Compressing files
      3m 40s
  12. 1m 3s
    1. What's next?
      1m 3s

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