File Management In An Operating System

In this article I take a brief look at how the operating system(OS) deals with files.


Its a collection of data that normally is stored on a secondary storage device such as a hard disk or floppy diskette.

The operations performed on them

An OS must provide a number of operations associated with files so that users can safely store and retrieve data.

Typical operations are







In addition, operations on single data elements within a file are supported by




File Control Blocks

File control blocks (FCB), sometimes referred to as file descriptors, are data structures that hold information about a file. When an OS needs to access a file, it creates an associated file control block to manage the file.

The structure of the file control block differs between operating systems, but most file control blocks include the following parts


Location on secondary storage


Date and time or creation or last access


Each OS uses a specific convention or practice for naming them.

MS-DOS Uses eight character names, a dot, then a three-character extension that denotes the type of file. Filenames are not case-sensitive.

UNIX Filenames can be up to 254 characters long and are case-sensitive.

Windows Filenames can be up to 255 characters long and are not case-sensitive.


Types refer to classifying the content of the file, such as a program, text, executable program or data.

In Windows operating systems, the type is derived from the filename extension. Typical types and their extensions are




basic source program


c source program


system library


Word document


executable program



Windows associates applications (programs) with specific types. For example, the default application that opens to process a type.txt is the Notepad editor.

How an operating system keep track of files

The hard disk is comprised of a large number of sequentially numbered sectors. As files are created, free sectors are allocated to hold the its contents and marked as allocated.

To keep track of the sectors and whether they are allocated or free, and to which file they belong, the OS maintains a number of tables.

Root file system

When the OS is first installed, it creates a root file system on the disk that specifies how many sectors are available and how they will be allocated.

The root file system is a table of entries like a directory. In general, this is a fixed size, and once full, no more entries can be added.Each entry can be either a file or another directory table.

The Root file system entry

This is highly operating system specific, but an entry might look like,


Beginning cluster number

Length in bytes


Creation date and last modified right

permissions (an access control list)

Source by James Kigwa

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