Skytopia > Projects > Technology/science articles > Towards A Single Folder Filesystem (30/07/2004)

Towards A Single Folder Filesystem

If we are going to have folders, it's a shame we can't navigate by single clicking instead of double clicking (renaming and moving folders could be done via the use of the RMB or Ctrl click). Also, why is the bottom right corner so small when we need to resize the window? (it's okay when there's a left/right slider, but it should the larger at all times).
  • Intro
  • The metadata solution
  • Filters
  • "I forgot where I put it..."
  • Potential problems
  • FAQ
  • Advantages and disadvantages
  • Links

    We've all experienced the problem - having to search through countless directories and sub-directories to find the file you're after. In fact, after just a decade of using your computer, you might have wasted hundreds of hours searching, organizing, and simply navigating the various folders of your hard drive. This problem is compounded if you tend to store dozens of gigabytes of data, or hundreds of thousands of files.

    To make things worse, how often have you wondered where to save a certain kind of file? Very often, you'll find files which happily belong in two or more folders. For example, take music. Say you have lots of MP3s that you'd like to sort into folders. You might make folders based by group, composer, or the year the song was made. Or maybe you'd like to create folders categorised by quality.

    The thing is; in the current folder hierarchy paradigm, you can't have all these categorisations. You have to pick one kind of grouping and stick with it. Sure, you can make two categorisation types (say by group and by data), but then the file will need to be copied to both directories - wasting disk space. Okay, the space issue can be partially solved if the filesystem is 'intelligent' and recognises that the file is identical and stored twice in different places. But there are still problems with this approach. Firstly, if you delete one of the two files, does the other get deleted? In some cases you would want both to be gone, but in others you might only want just one of them to be removed. Secondly, it means tediously copying the same file to any other categorisations you might have. These other folders could be located in a completely different directory branch on the hard drive.

    Clearly, the current way of doing things is far from perfect.

    The metadata solution


    I forgot where I put it...

    Potential problems


    Usually, the file system would encourage you to give files metadata at the point they were created. But without this data, recently downloaded/created files are shown separately in a 'limbo' area. They remain there until they have been given keyword and/or description/title metadata.

    Yes - you don't need to type in the same key words over and over again for a bunch of files. You have two options - either keep the files in the aforementioned 'limbo' folder, and then select them all, and give them all the same metadata at once. At this point, they join the millions of other files in the main jumbo folder.
    Or you could use something similar to a dropdown menu or RMB menu where you can select from a list of keyword sets - sets which you have recently used. Like before, each one joins the jumbo folder as metadata is assigned. Yes. In the long run, it's the best way to go. I'm not sure whether it can completely replace the use of directories without some initial problems however.


  • Will take a while to transfer everything over from our current hierarchy filesystem.
  • Identical file names may be a problem unless some standards are implemented.


  • No more cutting, pasting, or moving ever again.
  • Massive reduction on the time taken to locate a file.
  • No more hunting throughout directories when saving a file either.
  • Powerful filter and metadata model allows flexible sorting and viewing of files.

    Have any comments you'd like to make about this article? Visit the forum to air your views.


  • A nice short read to say why metadata filesystems are good.
  • DBFS - Database File System. Proof of concept file system for KDE/Gnome.
  • Call for a MetaData-Enabled Filesystem
  • Storage project
  • Database File System - Another name for a metadata filesystem is the 'database filesystem'. DBFS is an implementation for KDE. Here's a slashdot thread on it.
  • Explanation of Database File Systems
  • - A thesis on the subject, with some good links in the bibliography.

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