Information and Communication Technology

Managing files and folders

Using files and folders for efficient information retrieval


Understanding the use of files and folders is fundamental to being able to organise store and find information that you put into a computer system.

If you have managed to use a computer system to get this far without help, you can probably deal with the basics of this topic already.

The page looks at some of the more advanced aspects of dealing with data files and folders, as well as touching on the practical aspects that you will need for the IGCSE ICT Practical Examination

Practical skills

Managing files and folders in the practical examination

Although this topic may be tested in the theory examination, it will always appear in the practical.

All of the activities will require that files be manipulated in some way. e.g.

In addition, depending on how the examination centre has set things up, it may be necessary to navigate through folders and sub-folders to find files.

You may also have to move or copy a file. E.g. from a work folder to a print folder.

It is therefore essential that students become familiar with folder and file handling processes so that they do not waste valuable time in the practical examination by being unsure of what to do.

Theoretical Stuff

Managing files and folders in question paper scenarios

Questions on files and folders in the Theory examination are likely to be retricted to simple ideas such as directory structures and access rights.

Examination boards do not specify which operating system must be used, so they cannot ask specific questions about how files and folders are managed by any particular one.

Directory structures.

Files and folders are usually presented to a user as being in a hierarchical tree structure as shown in the picture.

In this case, the top level folder, Open Office. is linked to three sub-folders, JRE, licenses, and OpenOffice.Org 3

OpenOffice.Org 3 is shown to have three sub-folders of its own, some of which have further sub-folders and so on.

Different operating systems will display the same information in different ways but the structure will be the same in each case.

It is also important to know that the structure presented to the user is is simply a convenience to help the user work with files and folders. The actual files and folders are likely to be spread over the hard disk, or other backing storage, with the operating system keeping track of where they are.

Access rights.

Most modern operating systems allow the system administrator to set access rights on individual files and folders.

For home computers, the user is often the administrator as well and can set the access rights on just about any file on the machine.

For computers in schools, businesses, and other organisations the setting of access rights is usually controlled by a network manager or other person in authority.

Rights may be given to individuals or groups of people. e.g. all users, year 10, IGCSE ICT exam group, administrators, JohnSmith

Common access rights are:


Access rights may be combined. e.g a file may have both read and write enabled.

Different groups / people can have different access rights on the same file or folder. e,g, administrators may have full control, while all users may have read and JohnSmith may have read and write.

Hidden files and folders

and system files

Most operating systems hide away some files and folders in order to prevent curious users form damaging or deleting essential parts of the operating system.

The image shows part of a directory. The folders Program Data, Recovery, and System Volume Information are hidden. The file Bootmgr is also hidden. Their hidden status is shown by having their icons displayed as faded-out.

For MS Windows, from Vista onwards, you can reveal hidden files and folders by:


For Windows XP:

Click Start, then select Control Panel.

Click Appearance and Themes, then click Folder Options.

This gets you to where you can click the View tab and proceed as described for Vista onwards above.

Unhiding all files and folders will not reveal all hidden files though. Some system files will remain out of sight. Microsoft really doesn't want you messing about with them,

To see those files as well, you will need to untick the box labelled 'Hide protected operating system files (Recommended)'

You might also want to untick 'Hide file extensions for known file types'. At IGCSE level, you should know about several common file types and it will help reinforce that knowledge if you regularly see the file extensions.

Naming files and folders

Until the mid 1990s file and folder names were restricted to a small number of characters.

e.g. in the MS DOS 8.3 system, folders could have an 8 character name such as FOLDER1A while files could have 8 characters plus a 3 character file type extension, such as DOCUMENT.TXT

More recent operating systems allow much larger names, usually 255 characters.

This large name size means that files and folders can be given complex names that may describe the contents and make it easier to locate them.

There are still some restrictions though. e.g. some characters cannot be used, such as /, which most operating systems would regard as being a command character.

When naming a file or folder you should stick to a consistent naming system. Everyone will have their own thoughts about what is important in a naming system, but some ideas are:

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