The Linux File System
By Stephen Bucaro
Linux uses a whole different file system philosophy than Windows. Windows automatically
assigns a drive letter to every partition and drive it finds. But Linux makes every
partition and drive a subdirectory of the root (/) partition. If you are a Windows user,
you may get confused when you try to use Linux.
No matter how many partitions, hard drives, or floppy drives your computer has, the Linux
File Manager displays everything in a single directory tree under the root directory
indicated by a slash (/). Every partition or drive is "mounted" onto the directory tree,
and appears in File Manager as a subdirectory.
Linux needs at least three partitions to work, the root partition, the /boot partition,
and the swap partition. The root partition is mounted at startup. The root directory
itself doesn't contain any files, just subdirectories. The /boot partition contains files
used to boot the system. The swap partition is used as "virtual memory".
When the operating system needs more memory than there is available in the system's RAM,
it can use disk space to emulate memory. As the system operates, data is swapped back and
forth between RAM and the swap partition. The swap partition doesn't have a mount point
because it's a system file and is never accessed directly by the user.
Note: Linux, the Internet, and the rest of the computing world use forward slashes to
form directory paths. Only Windows uses back-slashes to form directory paths. The back-slash
also represents an ASCII escape character, resulting in all kinds of bugs in Windows programs.
In Windows you just insert a floppy disk into the drive and it's accessible. With Linux,
before you can access devices such as a CD ROM or a floppy drive, you have to "mount"
the drive. For example, to mount the floppy drive, insert the disk into the drive and
then select Main Menu | Programs | System | Disk Manager. The "User Mount Tool" utility
will appear. In the "User Mount Tool" click on the "Mount" button to the right of /dev/fd0.
Note: Linux abstracts every device attached your computer, including the hard drive and
floppy drive as a file. Files in the /dev/ folder are equivalent to device driver files
in Windows. Linux provides device files for most common devices, but if you install an
uncommon device, you may need a special device file.
After mounting the drive, you can access the floppy disk. Before removing the disk, you
have to "unmount" the drive. If you find yourself frequently mounting and unmounting drives,
you can right-click on "Disk Manager" in the menu and select "Add this launcher to panel".
When you installed Linux, information about devices on computer was stored in the file
/etc/fstab. If the device that you want to mount was not configured during installation,
use the LinuxConf utility to configure the device before you mount it.
For example, if you wanted to configure a floppy drive to access DOS floppy disks, insert
a DOS floppy disk into the drive, then log in as root and open LinuxConf - Main Menu |
Programs | System | LinuxConf. In the LinuxConf window Config tab, click on "+" next to
"File systems" to open that branch. Under "File systems" click on "Access local drive".
The "Local volume" windows appears.
In the "Local volume" window, click on the Add button. The "Volume specification" window
appears. In the "Partition" text box type /dev/fd0. Then click on the drop down button
for the "Type" text box and select msdos. In the "Mount point" text box type /mnt/floppy.
Click on the "Accept" button. Then click on the "Mount" button.
Note: To mount a partition or drive you have to use an existing subdirectory as the mount
point. By convention, drives use the /mnt/ subdirectory as the mount point.
To copy files to and from the mounted floppy disk, drag and drop them to and from the
directory /mnt/dosfloppy just as you would any other directory.
More Windows Administration Information:
• What is a Linux Distribution
• Running Windows Applications on Linux
• Welcome to the world of Knoppix
• Linux Installation CDs vs. Linux "Live" CDs
• Ubuntu Quick Start
• You Can Switch to Linux!
• How Linux Works
• Installing Fedora 3 Linux
• Dual-Boot Windows and Ubuntu
• How to Switch to Ubuntu