The Linux file system explained

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The Linux file system is structured differently than the Windows file system that you're probably used to. Below you can find a brief explanation of the main characteristics.

Everything in Linux is organized in folders; even the hard disks and CD players are... folders. These folders can have subfolders. Each folder and every file in a folder, has an owner.

I will explain something about the following folders:












The root folder

The primary folder is the "/" (without the quotation marks), or the root (the character looks somewhat like a carrot, hence the name). Anyone who owns a folder, is also owner or co-owner of all subfolders and the subfolders of the subfolders (etc.). You get the picture.....

The administrator is the owner of the primary folder, the root, and has therefore primary authority over the whole system.

The home folder

An ordinary user, let's call him John, is only owner of his own personal folder. This folder is called /home/john and is a subfolder of /home. But John is not the only owner of /home/john; of course the root is always co-owner.

The configuration files of all applications are placed in each user's folder. Each user has his own set. That reduces the risk of systemwide damage. The configuration files are hidden. You can make them visible by doing this:

Launch your file manager and press the key combination Ctrl h

Now you can see the hidden files and folders (with a dot before their names, such as .mplayer).

Has the configuration of an application become corrupted? Make sure that the application that it belongs to, is closed. Then simply delete the configuration folder for that application.

Then start the application: it will generate a new configuration folder with the default settings.

The launchers

An application generally has its launcher in /usr/bin or in /bin and can therefore be launched by double-clicking that launcher there (when it has no shortcut in the menu). Or it can be launched from the terminal, by typing the name of the launcher and pressing Enter.

For example: to launch Firefox from the terminal, you can simply type firefox (and press Enter) because the launcher of Firefox in /usr/bin is called firefox.

Launchers for applications that need root rights, are in /usr/sbin or in /sbin.

Pictures, logo's and icons

The map /usr/share/pixmaps contains all kinds of pictures, logo's and icons.

The partitions

A mounted (accessible) partition of a hard drive has two folders. One is in /media (or in /mnt) and the other is in /dev.

The first hard drive is called hda or sda. The second hard drive is called hdb or sdb. The first partition on the first hard drive is called hda1 or sda1. When it's mounted, the folder of sda1 is therefore both in /media/sda1 and in /dev/sda1.

When a partition is not mounted (not accessible), then it has only one folder, namely in /dev. So if it's mounted: two folders. If not mounted: only one folder.


Bootloader Grub has part of its files in /boot/grub (other parts are in the Master Boot Record of the hard disk, in /etc/default/grub and in /etc/grub.d). Note: if you wish to change Grub manually, you're only supposed to make changes in /etc/default/grub.

The libraries

In /lib you can find most library files. These are supporting libraries. Their names have no extension. In Windows for example, these supporting libraries are called DLL (Dynamic Link Libraries) and there they do have an extension, namely .dll.

In Linux you can recognize a library file by the first part of its name, which is always lib (for example, a library for the application "example", can be called "libexample" (no extension).

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