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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Managing Files

For the most part, the majority of your interaction will be with files. You'll create them, save them, move them, and delete them when you're done with them. In this next section, you'll learn where the operating system stores your work.

In this section, you'll learn the following:

  • About the system's hierarchical file storage system

  • How to navigate the storage system

  • How to duplicate and move a file or folder

  • How to delete and restore a file or folder

  • How to find files and folders

  • How to reduce the size of a file or folder


Regardless of whether you're working with an external diskette, a CD-ROM, or the hard drive, the operating system stores files in a hierarchical structure. In other words, there's usually a starting point, commonly called the root directory, that lists a number of folders (or directories). These folders can contain more folders, and each of those folders can contain even more folders.

A folder within a folder is called a subfolder. Each folder is capable of storing multiple files, but that's where it stops. You can't store a file in a file. Only folders can contain more folders and files.

Your System's Hierarchical File Structure

  • Understand how an operating system shows drives, folders, files in a hierarchical structure.

Figure 3.24 shows just one system's structure; you can access each drive and view the folders and files on each.

Figure 3.24Figure 3.24 The operating system displays each drive and its folders and files in a hierarchical structure.

Storage Devices

  • Know that the devices used by an operating system to store files and folders are the hard disk, diskette, CD-ROM, network drives.

The operating system can handle multiple storage media, as you've already learned. You can create folders on a floppy or hard drive, and you can store files in any of those folders on any drive, including network drives that are made available to you. Other devices, such as CD-ROMs, may contain files without allowing you to save new files.

Folders and Directories

Folders, also known as directories, and files make up the bulk of your system.

Navigating Files and Folders

  • Navigate to a file, folder on a drive.

To access a folder and subsequently the files stored in that folder, open the Windows Explorer by right-clicking the Start button and choosing Explore. Begin with the first layer—the drive—and continue to browse through the structure until you find the file you need. For instance, when accessing a file stored on your hard drive, select the C:\ drive item. Doing so displays all the folders and files to the right, as shown in Figure 3.25.

Figure 3.25Figure 3.25 Display all the folders and files on the C: drive.

Click the plus sign to display all the folders and files stored in that folder. At that point, the plus sign changes to a minus sign (-). Click the minus sign to collapse the folder.

Creating Directories and Folders

  • Create a directory/folder and a further subdirectory/subfolder.

To add a subfolder, select the folder to which you want to add the folder. Then, select New from the Windows Explorer File menu. Next, choose Folder from the resulting submenu. Windows adds a new folder to the hierarchical structure, as shown in Figure 3.26. To add a subfolder to the folder, select the folder and repeat the above process. You can continue this process to nest additional subfolders, if you like.

Figure 3.26Figure 3.26 Windows adds a new folder.

Displaying Folder Properties

  • Open a window to display directory/folder name, size, location on drive.

To learn about a folder, right-click the appropriate folder and choose Properties from the resulting submenu. Figure 3.27 shows the resulting Properties dialog box, which displays the folder's name, size, and location within the drive's file structure.

Figure 3.27Figure 3.27 Display a folder's properties.

Working with Files

Files are your bread and butter; in this next section, you'll learn about files.

The Different File Types

  • Recognize common file types: word processing files, spreadsheet files, database files, presentation files, image files, audio files, video files, compressed files, temporary files.

Where files are concerned, a file by another name isn't just as sweet! Each software application uses a specific file type, which is usually indicated by the file's extension—the three or four (sometimes more) characters at the end of a file's name following the dot character (.). Review the file's extension to learn the file's type. Table 3.2 lists a variety of file types.

Table 3.2 File Types


Application or Common Name


Word processing

Microsoft Word



.txt, .rtf




Microsoft Excel


Microsoft Works


Lotus 1-2-3

.wk1, .wk2, .wk3


Microsoft Access

.mdb, .adp




Microsoft PowerPoint











Windows Media








A special file created by the system


Counting Files

  • Count the number of files, files of a particular type, in a folder (including any files in subfolders).

To learn how many files are in a folder, check the folder's properties, as we did before. After locating the folder in the Windows Explorer, right-click it and select Properties from the resulting submenu. The folder's Properties window displays the number of files in the folder and subfolders (refer to Figure 3.27).

Learning the number of files by type is a bit more complicated because you need a command prompt:

  1. Access a command prompt by clicking the Start button and choosing All Programs from the Start menu.

  2. Choose Accessories and then select Command Prompt from the resulting list.

  3. In the Command Prompt window, enter the following command to view a summary of the folder's files, as shown in Figure 3.28 (the figure doesn't show the entire summary).

Figure 3.28Figure 3.28 Use a command prompt to count files by their type.

Changing File Status

  • Change file status: read-only/locked, read-write.

By default, anybody can access a file and change it. That's what's known as a read-write file. Anybody with access to your system can open the file and change the contents. One way to protect a file is to change its status to read-only (or locked). Then, someone can still view the file, but she won't be able to change its contents. To view or update a file's status, follow these steps:

  1. Locate the file in the Windows Explorer.

  2. Right-click the file and choose Properties from the resulting submenu.

  3. In the Properties dialog box, click the Read-Only option, as shown in Figure 3.29. Click OK to dismiss the dialog box.

Figure 3.29Figure 3.29 Change a file's status to read-only to keep users from changing the file's contents.

To make a file read-write after it has been changed to read-only, follow the same steps but uncheck the Read-Only option.

Sorting Files

  • Sort files by name, size, type, date modified.

You might find it easier to find files when your files are sorted in a particular way. To sort files, choose Arrange Icons by from the View menu, as shown in Figure 3.30. Most of the sorting options are self-explanatory. You can sort by filename, size, type, or the date the file was last modified.

Figure 3.30Figure 3.30 You can sort files in a number of ways.

The Importance of Extensions

  • Understand the importance of maintaining correct file extensions when renaming files.

Earlier we mentioned that a file's extension is a quick and easy way to discern the file's type. Not only does a file's extension help you, but also it helps the software application used to create and manipulate that file. When you open an existing file by a software application, the software will check the file's extension, and if it isn't the right extension, it won't (usually) open the file.

Checking for the correct extension helps protect the integrity of both your software and your files. Opening a file in the wrong software has the potential to destroy the data or even permanently corrupt the file.


Fortunately, Windows alerts you if you try to change the extension when you rename a file. If you get this alert, stop and make sure that you aren't making a mistake.

Renaming Files, Directories, and Folders

  • Rename files, directories/folders.

Naming files and folders is a large subject. You'll want to give your folders and files meaningful names that indicate the folder or file's purpose. On the other hand, some organizations have strict conventions for naming folders and files, and the actual names might have nothing to do with the contents.

Regardless of how you go about choosing a name, chances are that you'll end up changing a few of them along the way. Fortunately, renaming a folder or file is simple. To rename a file or folder, follow these steps:

  1. Right-click the folder or file in the Windows Explorer.

  2. Choose Rename from the resulting submenu, which puts the item in edit mode. The item is highlighted in a small box, and the cursor is positioned with the box, as shown in Figure 3.31.

Figure 3.31Figure 3.31 Use edit mode to rename a folder or file.

  1. Type the new name and press Enter.

Duplicate and Move

Just like changing a file or folder's name, you might need to reposition a folder or file. That might mean moving a file or a group of files from one folder to another or moving a subfolder and all its files from one folder to another. You might even need to copy or move a file or subfolder full of files from a hard drive to diskette or vice versa.

Selecting Files, Directories, and Folders

  • Select a file or directory or folder individually or as a group of adjacent or nonadjacent files or directories or folders.

Using the Windows Explorer, select the drive that contains the files or folders you want to duplicate or move. Locate and select the folder or files. You can select a single file by simply clicking it. Selecting a group of files takes a few more steps.

To select a group of contiguous (or adjacent) files, select the first file in the block of file items and hold down the Shift key as you select the last file. Doing so highlights the entire block of files—the first, the last, and every file between the two, as shown in Figure 3.32.

Figure 3.32Figure 3.32 Select a contiguous list of files.

Files aren't always in a contiguous list. When you need to select a number of noncontiguous files, select the first and then hold down the Ctrl key as you click the remaining files. The operating system highlights each of the files that you click, as shown in Figure 3.33.

Figure 3.33Figure 3.33 Click each file while holding down the Ctrl key to select noncontiguous files.

Duplicating Files, Directories, and Folders

  • Duplicate files and directories or folders between directories or folders and between drives.

To duplicate a folder or file, select the file (as discussed in the previous section). Then, choose Copy or Copy to Folder from the Edit menu. (Use Copy when working with a file and Copy to Folder when working with a folder.) Windows displays the Copy Items dialog box. Use the resulting list to locate the target folder, as shown in Figure 3.34. The list includes all your system's drives and folders, including external drives such as the floppy or CD. Select the appropriate drive and folder, and click the Copy button. Doing so makes an exact duplicate of the selected file or files at the new location. This procedure is an easy way to back up your work to floppy or CD-ROM.

Figure 3.34Figure 3.34 Use the Copy command to duplicate files.

Moving Files, Directories, and Folders

  • Move files, directories/folders between directories/folders and drives.

Moving files and folders is similar to copying them. Just remember that you won't end up with two files in different locations. You're simply moving a file from one location to another. Use the process in the preceding section to move files and folders, except choose Move to Folder from the Edit menu.

The Importance of Backing Up Your Files

  • Understand why making a backup copy of files to a removable storage device is important.

In the last section, we mentioned that you can use the copy feature to copy your work to a floppy or CD. That's what's known as a backup copy—an extra copy that you can resort to if the worst happens and you can't use your computer, or a file stored on your computer is corrupted.

You'll want to back up your files on a regular basis. If the only copy of your work is on the internal hard drive and something happens to your computer system, such as a virus, hardware failure, theft, and so on, you've lost not only your computer, but all your hard work.

It could take days to reconstruct all your work, and even then, it might not be possible to fully recover everything. Do yourself a favor and back up your work on a frequent and regular basis. Even every day isn't too often if you make frequent changes and additions to your files.

Delete and Restore

With time, most files do become obsolete and you'll want to delete them to free up space.

Deleting Files, Directories, and Folders

  • Delete files, directories/folders to the recycle bin/wastebasket.

To delete a file, simply select it in Windows Explorer and press Delete. There's nothing to it! However, before actually deleting a file, you might want to make a backup copy as discussed in the previous section.

To delete a folder, select the folder in Windows Explorer and press Delete. This will delete both the folder and everything stored in the folder (other folders or files).

Deleted files and folders are not completely removed from your system. Rather, they are stored in the recycle bin. The next section shows how you can get back a file that you accidentally deleted.

Restoring Files, Directories, and Folders

  • Restore files, directories/folders from the recycle bin/wastebasket.

How many times have you deleted a file only to groan, "Oh no!" just moments later? It happens to everyone, but don't fret. Windows stores deleted files in a special folder called the recycle bin instead of immediately deleting a file. You can restore a file from the recycle bin to its original location by simply right-clicking the file in the recycle bin and selecting Restore.

Taking Out the Trash

  • Empty the recycle bin/wastebasket.

The recycle bin can consume a lot of disk space if you let the deleted files pile up; just like real garbage, all those files can really muck up the place. Consequently, it's a good idea to occasionally delete the files in the recycle bin. To do so, right-click the recycle bin (in the Windows Explorer or on the desktop), and choose Empty Trash from the resulting submenu. Unlike dragging a file to the recycle bin, emptying the recycle bin is permanent.


The more files you add, the harder it might be to find just the file you need. Oh, they're there on your hard drive; you just can't find them. When this happens, you can use the Windows Search (or Find) tool to quickly locate the files.

Finding Files, Directories, and Folders

  • Use the Find tool to locate a file, directory/folder.

To launch the Search feature, click the Start button and choose Search from the Start menu. Doing so opens a new window with several options. Click the All Files and Folders option, which displays a new set of options.

Enter the name of the file or folder you're searching for into the first control, as shown in Figure 3.35, and then click Search. After a few seconds, Windows begins displaying a list of files that match the entered name. To immediately launch a file, simply double-click the file in the results list.

Searching by File Properties

  • Search for files by content, date modified, date created, size, wildcards.

When searching for information, a file's name might not be helpful. For instance, you might need to search for a file based on the day it was last modified, or you might be searching for a specific string of characters (such as "cat") within any file. When this is the case, Windows needs more information. Table 3.3 lists the options and settings.

Figure 3.35Figure 3.35 Search for a specific file or folder.

Table 3.3 Advanced Search Options



Additional Settings


Search by content

Enter the exact text string that you're searching for into the second control in the A Word or Phrase in the File control.


Finds all the files that contain the search string.

Search by date modified

Click the When Was It Modified option.

Don't Remember

Includes all dates.

Within the Last Week

Finds all files modified during the current week.

Past Month

Finds all files modified during the current month.

Within the Past Year

Finds all files modified in the current year.

Specify Dates

Allows you to specify a time period.

Search by file's size

Click the What Size Is It option.

Don't Remember

Includes all sizes.

Small (Less Than 100KB)

Finds all files that are smaller than 100KB in size.

Medium (Less Than 1MB)

Finds all files that are smaller than 1MB in size.

Large (More Than 1MB)

Finds all files that are larger than 1MB in size.

Specify Size (in KB)

Narrows the search by specifying a range of sizes.

Search by file type

Click More Advanced Options option.

Select a file type from the Type of File control's drop-down list.

Finds all files of the specified file type.

Windows does not offer an easy way to search for files by date created. But here's a trick you can use. Search for the file by date modified, using a date range that includes the date created that you're looking for. Then right-click at the top of the results on the header row, where it says Date Modified. This will show you a list of information that you can display about each file in the results. Select Date Created from the list, and then click the Date Created header to sort the results by date created. Now you can quickly scan the list to find the file that you're looking for.

Wildcards are special characters that narrow the results of your search. Technically, a wildcard is a symbol that represents one or more characters. Use them when you're uncertain of the exact characters needed. Windows supports two wildcard characters during a search task: the asterisk (*) matches any character or multiple characters, and the question mark (?) matches any one character in the same position.

When searching by filename or by content, simply substitute the appropriate wildcard for the unknown characters. For instance, Sm*th would match Smith, Smyth, and smooth. On the other hand, Sm?th would match only Smith and Smyth.

Viewing Recently Used Files

  • View list of recently used files.

Sometimes the easiest way to find a file is to view a list of the most recently used files. This procedure is an efficient way to search for a file without having to wait for Windows to search through all the files in your system.

To find a file in this manner, click the Start menu and choose My Recent Documents from the Start menu. Doing so displays a list of all the files you've recently opened. Simply click a file to open it.


If the Start menu doesn't list your recently used documents, right-click the Start menu, choose Properties, and click the Customize button on the Start Menu tab. Then, click the Advanced tab and check the List My Most Recently Opened Documents option, and click OK twice.

Compressing Files

Files come in all sizes and the more data a file contains, the larger it is. In addition, file types can create large files, even when the file contains a small amount of data. For instance, a database or image file can be very large. The larger a file is, the more room it consumes. Furthermore, larger files take longer to download when transferring files over the Internet. As a result, you might find yourself compressing files from time to time—both to save space and to save time when transferring data.

What Is File Compression?

  • Understand what file compression means.

Compressing a file, a folder, or even a software application decreases the size of that file and consequently the space required to store that file on your hard drive or diskette (or CD-ROM). In addition, a compressed file transfers more quickly over the Internet than a noncompressed file.

Compressing Files

  • Compress files in a folder on a drive.

To compress a folder, select the file or folder in Windows Explorer and select New. Then, choose Compressed (zipped) Folder from the resulting list of options shown in Figure 3.36. Once you compress a folder, you can drag files to it. You can move a compressed folder and its files to a diskette, CD-ROM, or another folder.

Figure 3.36Figure 3.36 Compress a file to save space.

Extracting Compressed Files

  • Extract compressed files from a location on a drive.

To extract a compressed file, right-click it and select Extract to from the resulting menu. This option is available only when you've selected a compressed file.

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Last Update: November 17, 2020