What Does a Computer File Management System Do?

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A computer's file management system allows the user to classify and organize data files, typically according to a branching hierarchy of folders and subfolders. Many also include search features and other tools that allow the operating system to manage files no matter where they lie in the file system.

In a typical file management system, folders are arranged under a main folder or directory on each drive. For instance, the folder "Pictures" can be used to store still images, with subfolders designed to hold pictures of various subjects, such as family members or landscapes. While most operating systems offer some basic guidance on creating and organizing these folders, the user may set up a directory structure as simple or complex as he likes.

The folder system is a legacy system, based on the directory and subdirectory system found in the personal computers of the 1980s. Modern operating systems often feature additional ways to catalog and classify files, such as adding all pictures to a single collection that can be searched and accessed without manually navigating to each individual folder. Some operating systems also allow users to navigate and search for files using digital agents that respond to voice commands, such as Microsoft's Cortana.