An Explanation Of The Apple Mac Folder/File System


You may of noticed that sometimes a window's Address Bar, Status Bar or Path Bar is filled with text separated by either tiny, grey or black, right-arrows     or forward slashes //. The combined text is known as the PATH NAME because it is the path (road or address) used to locate a folder or file located on your computer, network or internet website space. Here is an example of the Path Bar, which displays the Path Name of the current folder you are inside (viewing) or the Path Name of the currently selected folder or file, if any.

Fig 1.0  The Path Bar is currently displaying the Path Name of the selected file called Research_Notes.rtf

Looking at the first example (Fig 1.0 above): The path bar, which is located towards the bottom of the DOCUMENTS folder (window), is telling you that the selected file called Research_Notes.rtf is located inside the DOCUMENTS folder, which is quite obvious because you are currently looking inside (viewing the contents of) the DOCUMENTS folder. At the same time though the path bar, and more precisely the path name, is also telling you that the DOCUMENTS folder is located inside the YOINGCO (Home) folder. And that the YOINGCO folder is located inside the USERS (All User Accounts) folder which in turn is located inside the MACHINTOSH HD (root/main) folder.

Fig 1.1  The Path Bar shows the complete path (road) to the file called Research_Notes.rtf

Put another way: The MACHINTOSH HD folder is always the root (main) folder of the OS X (Sierra) operating system, just as the C: Hard Drive partition is always the root (main) folder for the Windows operating system unless it has been purposely changed to use a different letter (such as the D: Hard Drive partition). So if you look at the path bar and trace the path name itself back to its first named folder you will notice that the MACHINTOSH HD folder is the first named folder.

You can also verify this by launching the FINDER application and clicking on the MACHINTOSH HD folder. Doing so will take inside the MACHINTOSH HD folder, so you are then viewing its contents, whereby the path name then states Machintosh HD only simply because that is the current folder and only folder in the hierarchy you have open.

Fig 1.2  Clicking on the MACHINTOSH HD folder (FINDER sidebar folder link) opens that folder, shown in Path Bar.

Now that you are inside the MACHINTOSH HD folder you can see its contents - The APPLICATIONS, LIBRARY, SYSTEM and USERS sub-folders. If you now click on the USERS sub-folder, which is a folder in its own right but a sub-folder of the MACHINTOSH HD, the path name will then be: MACHINTOSH HD >> USERS. This does not mean you are inside the USERS sub-folder though. It just means you have selected the USERS sub-folder and more precisely that the path name is simply stating which folder (sub-folder) you will be going inside (entering/visiting) if you did decide to double click on the USERS sub-folder and therefore open it.

Fig 1.3  Clicking on the USERS sub-folder simply selects the sub-folder. You still need to double click on it to open it.

In this next example I have double clicked on the USERS sub-folder and then selected the YOINGCO (Home) folder whereby the path name now states: MACHINTOSH HD >> USERS >> YOINGCO. As above: This does not mean I am inside the YOINGCO folder, which is a folder in its own right but also a sub-folder of the USERS folder and a sub-sub-folder of the MACHINTOSH HD folder. It just means I am currently inside the USER sub-folder with the YOINGCO folder selected. If you look at the title of the window it will state which folder you are currently inside/viewing.

Fig 1.4  I am currently inside the USERS sub-folder with the YOINGCO folder selected only

If I now double click on the YOINGCO folder (sub-folder of USERS) to get inside it (open it / view its contents) but then do not select any other sub-folder within the YOINGCO folder, and do not double click on any other sub-folder within the YOINGCO folder, the path name will still be the same (static). It will still be stating: MACHINTOSH HD >> USERS >> YOINGCO.

Fig 1.5  Entering a folder without then selecting or opening one of its sub-folders will keep the path name static

Once I am inside the YOINGCO folder, with none of its sub-folders selected (as in Fig 1.5 above): As soon as I do select a sub-folder within the YOINGCO folder (such as the DOCUMENTS sub-folder) or double click on a sub-folder within the YOINGCO folder (such as the DOCUMENTS folder) the path name will then change to reflect this. So in this next example where I have already double clicked on the DOCUMENTS sub-folder to get inside it the path name now states: MACHINTOSH HD >> USERS >> YOINGCO >> DOCUMENTS.

Fig 1.6  Inside the DOCUMENTS folder. Path name: MACHINTOSH HD >> USERS >> YOINGCO >> DOCUMENTS.

At this point I can now see the Research_Notes.rtf text file. If I want to open it all I have to do from here is double click on its icon. The application associated with the text file, TextEdit in this case, will then launch (run/execute) in order to display the actual text contained within the Research_Notes.rtf text file.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that as I was double clicking my way through each folder/sub-folder the sidebar within the FINDER application was actually following my root. In other words, as soon as I had entered the YOINGCO folder the FINDER sidebar also had the YOINGCO folder (folder link) highlighted and selected in blue (Fig 1.5 above). Meaning, I did not have to double click on the MACHINTOSH HD folder and then on the USERS folder (sub-folder) in order to reach and double click on the YOINGCO folder (sub-folder of USERS and sub-sub-folder of MACHINTOSH HD). I could of just clicked on the YOINGCO folder (folder link) located on the FINDER sidebar. And the same is true of the DOCUMENTS folder. I could of just clicked on the DOCUMENTS folder link located on the FINDER sidebar (Fig 1.6 above). So why did I teach you all of the above?

Answer. Because the common folders (folder links) normally shown on the FINDER sidebar, such as DOCUMENTS and PICTURES, might have been switched off via the FINDER Preferences (settings) and therefore cannot be relied upon if they are missing (switched off/disabled) of course. Another reason is because you will not always be using common FINDER folders (sidebar folder links) for navigation. If you are using a Flash Drive for example that has unique folder names, not listed within the FINDER siderbar, you will be forced to manually navigate through its folder hierarchy; either by double clicking your way through folders or by using the path bar (see Navigate Using The Path Bar, below).

Fig 1.7  Do NOT rely on common folders being linked on the FINDER sidebar - Folder Links can be switched off

As an example of the just said, with regards to a Flash Drive (Memory Stick): In this next example the flash drive I have just inserted into the computer, called ClickWiseCS, shows up as a Device (mounted disk drive) within the FINDER sidebar as you would expect. And clicking on its device name (the ClickWiseCS folder link) opens up its root folder called ClickWiseCS as you would expect. So at this point all is as expected - The ClickWiseCS root folder (flash drive main folder) has been treated in the same way as any other root folder, such as the Machintosh HD root folder.

Fig 1.8  Click on a device name (i.e. a flash drive's name) to open its root (main) folder

If I now double click on the STATIONERY sub-folder within the ClickWiseCS root folder, that STATIONERY sub-folder will NOT be listed as an item (folder link) within the FINDER sidebar. This is because only common (i.e. system) folders and sub-folders are normally shown within the FINDER sidebar. The sub-folders on my ClickWiseCS flash drive (Fig 1.8 above) were created by me and are unique to the flash drive, which means they are not common/system sub-folders that can be shown within the FINDER sidebar.

In other words; If I click on the YOINGCO (Home) folder link within the FINDER sidebar the YOINGCO folder opens to reveal the DOCUMENTS, PICTURES and DOWNLOADS sub-folders for example. All of which already have folder links within the FINDER sidebar. However. If I click on the ClickWiseCS folder link within the FINDER sidebar (Fig 1.8 above) the ClickWiseCS folder opens to reveal the STATIONERY, ACCOUNTS and INVOICES sub-folders for example, but none of these sub-folders have a folder link within the FINDER sidebar.

Fig 1.9  The STATIONERY sub-folder is not listed as an item (folder link) within the FINDER sidebar

The just said is important to remember because it means you cannot always use the FINDER sidebar to jump from one folder to the next. For example: When I click on the DOCUMENTS folder link within the FINDER sidebar, to look at a few documents, I can then click on the PICTURES folder link if I then want to look at some photo files. I cannot do that with my Flash Drive - I cannot be looking at something inside the STATIONERY folder and then quickly click on the BACKEDUP_EMAILS folder for example to look at an e-mail file. This is because the BACKEDUP_EMAILS folder is on another branch (folder hierarchy) of my flash drive and because the BACKEDUP_EMAILS folder has no folder link within the FINDER sidebar. So in that case I would have to manually navigate through my flash drive's folder hierarchy to get to the BACKEDUP_EMAILS folder.

Navigate Using THE PATH BAR

In this next example (Fig 1.11 below) I can use the Path Bar to navigate through the same branch (level) of folders in order to jump from one folder to another, similar to the FINDER sidebar. In Fig 1.11 I am currently inside the folder called BUSINESS, looking at the e-mail files I want to import into the e-mail application (e-mail client) called MAIL. The path bar is currently showing the path name for BUSINESS as: CLICKWISECS >> BACKEDUP_EMAILS >> NOV2012_MAILBOXES >> BUSINESS.


If I want to jump two folders backwards I could click twice on the BUSINESS folder's BACK button. Or I could just double click on the folder name BACKEDUP_EMAILS within the path bar to do the same job. In Fig 1.11 I am doing just that. As you can see in Fig 1.12 I am taken back two folders, inside the BACKEDUP_EMAILS folder.

Fig 1.11  Double click on a folder name within the path bar to get inside that folder

Fig 1.12  The path bar is now showing the path name for the BACKEDUP_EMAILS folder

If you want/need a folder within your path name moving onto the FINDER sidebar, for easy access for example, simply drag its folder icon from the path bar or window title bar into the FINDER sidebar. So in this next example I have moved (dragged) the BUSINESS folder icon from the BUSINESS folder's window title bar into the FINDER sidebar. As you drag the folder icon into the FINDER sidebar you will see a thin blue line in-between the sidebar folders you hover past (Fig 1.14) - In this example the thin blue line is in-between the APPLICATIONS folder and the DESKTOP folder simply because this is where I will be dropping (releasing the left mouse button), so that the BUSINESS folder will be in alphabetical order.

DRAG & DROP, which is what you will be doing with the folder icon, is a variant of COPY & PASTE. It allows you to DRAG (move) a folder icon in this case from one place to another using just the mouse pointer and left mouse button. Below is a very brief example as I have exampled/detailed the DRAG & DROP technique in the next section.

Fig 1.13  Click on a folder icon and keep the click (LMB) held down as you then move (drag) the folder icon

Fig 1.14  As you come into the FINDER sidebar release the click (LMB) to drop the folder icon into the sidebar

Fig 1.15  The BUSINESS folder icon has been dragged from the window title bar into the FINDER sidebar

The above exampled and explained the Path Bar in relation to the Path Name. However, as mentioned at the beginning of this section, there are other forms of Path Name out there. For example: A URL (full website address) is a form of path name. The path name - - tells you that is the actual website you are or will be visiting and that it has three folders inside it called LESSONS, WINDOWS and COMPUTER. Memory.html is the web page (file) you are or will be viewing. So its path name is: YOINGCO.COM >> LESSONS >> WINDOWS >> COMPUTER >> MEMORY.HTML.

Understanding URL PATH NAMES

With the URL - - BBC.CO.UK is the website and NATURE, LIFE and TIGER are the folders. In this case each folder has its own Index web page (main display web page) which is not displayed as Index.html for example as you would expect, but omissions like this from the URL are quite normal these days. In Fig 1.16 below I have typed the URL (full website address) into the Address Bar edit box of the Safari web browser application and pressed the ENTER keyboard key so that the Tiger main display web page (Index web page) is displayed. I have then highlighted the wording LIFE/TIGER, ready to delete it.

Fig 1.16  The path name for this BBC web page is: BBC.CO.UK >> NATURE >> LIFE >> TIGER

When I delete the wording LIFE/TIGER from the above URL I am taken (redirected) to the NATURE folder and shown its contents (main display web page / Index web page). Hopefully you can see what I have done here. I have gone backwards to the NATURE folder by deleting the end part of the URL, just as I went backwards to the BACKEDUP_EMAILS folder in Figures 1.11 and 1.12 above by double clicking on the folder name BACKEDUP_EMAILS. With URLs you have to delete the unwanted parts because unfortunately you cannot just double click on a folder name within the URL in order to be taken to it.

Fig 1.17  You can delete words from a URL to see if other folders within it display additional web pages and so on

Although you can navigate from one folder to another or from one web page to another with URLs, by deleting certain wordings from them, you normally just click on another URL (website link / web page link) entirely in order to visit another web page or website.

If you had a URL like - - you could change (substitute) the word TENNIS for the word FOOTBALL for example to take you away from the Tennis Players web page and into the Football Players web page. Or you could delete TENNIS/PLAYERS and replace it with RUGBY for example. Or you could just go back to the main SPORT folder by deleting TENNIS/PLAYERS. As said though, you would normally click on a link that stated TENNIS, RUGBY or SPORT for example.

Sometimes it is necessary to edit URLs, for whatever reason(s), but it can sometimes be a hit and miss affair. Depending on the URL you are using, and want to edit, the sub-folders mentioned within it might not exist. So with the BBC example; Does the RUGBY folder exist? Does the FOOTBALL folder exist? You wouldn't know until you tried editing the URL as just explained.

If you are in an office environment with a private network whereby your co-worker John has called in sick leaving you to manage the files on the network; Are you sure the files are stored at this URL - file:///Network/Files/Account/John - or are they stored elsewhere whereby you have to guess? The files are so important you have to look around the network. So you might change the URL to - file:///Network/Files/Account/Office or file:///Network/Files/Account/Yoingco. Printers are another example. Sometimes you need to change their Shared Network URL so that everyone in the office can use the printer.


In some cases you will be searching for a file within your whole system (i.e. computer, flash drive and/or network) using the SEARCH function of OS X(Mountain Lion) whereby the search results find multiple instances of the same file but in different places (i.e. on multiple devices). If you then click on one of the found files within the search results folder, with the path bar showing on that folder's window, all you need to do is look at the path name to know where that file can be located. However, what do you do if the path bar is switched off? Answer. You can right-click on that file and selects its GET INFO menu-item (Fig 1.18). Doing so will reveal its path name in the Get Info window that appears (Fig 1.19).

In this final example I have searched for a file called Angela.mbox whereby the SEARCH function has found many files called Angela.mbox. Even though I could click on each file to display its path name on the path bar, and to know I have the file I am looking for, in this example I have Right-Clicked on a file so that I can utilize its information on the Get Info window that appears (Fig 1.19). The Get Info window reveals a lot more information about the file as well as its path name. That's the advantage of using GET INFO. In Fig 1.19 I have highlighted the path name in blue for you, so that you can see what I am talking about!

Fig 1.18  Right Click on a file that was found by the SEARCH function and then select its GET INFO menu-item

Fig 1.19  GET INFO exposes the Path Name of the selected file as well as its File Size, Last Modified date and so on.

If you don't already know how to re-display the folder Path Bar, perhaps because it has never been switched off (hidden), simply open the FINDER application (i.e. open the DOCUMENTS folder) and then click on the VIEW menu of FINDER application. From there, select its SHOW PATH BAR menu-item to re-display the path bar.

Fig 1.20  Display the Path Bar: Open a folder, click on its VIEW menu and then on its SHOW PATH BAR menu-item.

Hopefully you can see the importance of the path name. It is not the path bar that is important because even though it serves a purpose it may be hidden. And it is not the path name itself that is important even though it shows you where a file or folder resides. NO! The importance of the path name is how you can interpret and use it.

In other words, how you can see where a file resides for example but also how you then know the path includes other folders and networked devices for example. So if you know the path name is a printer's path name you then know a file cannot reside at that place (physically on the printer itself). Equally, if a file is on a network whereby you have no authorized access to that network you will know you cannot access that file and therefore would not waste your time trying. Identifying what a path name is used for, what it does and where it takes you is what is important.