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The Linux File System
By Stephen Bucaro
Linux uses a whole different file system philosophy than
Windows. Windows automatically assigns a drive letter to
every partition and drive it finds. But Linux makes every
partition and drive a subdirectory of the root (/)
partition. If you are a Windows user, you may get confused
when you try to use Linux.
No matter how many partitions, hard drives, or floppy
drives your computer has, the Linux File Manager displays
everything in a single directory tree under the root
directory indicated by a slash (/). Every partition or
drive is “mounted” onto the directory tree, and appears in
File Manager as a subdirectory.
Linux needs at least three partitions to work, the root
partition, the /boot partition, and the swap partition.
The root partition is mounted at startup. The root
directory itself doesn’t contain any files, just
subdirectories. The /boot partition contains files used to
boot the system. The swap partition is used as “virtual
When the operating system needs more memory than there is
available in the system’s RAM, it can use disk space to
emulate memory. As the system operates, data is swapped
back and forth between RAM and the swap partition. The
swap partition doesn’t have a mount point because it’s a
system file and is never accessed directly by the user.
Note: Linux, the Internet, and the rest of the computing
world use forward slashes to form directory paths. Only
Windows uses back-slashes to form directory paths. The
back-slash also represents an ASCII escape character,
resulting in all kinds of bugs in Windows programs.
In Windows you just insert a floppy disk into the drive and
it’s accessible. With Linux, before you can access devices
such as a CD ROM or a floppy drive, you have to “mount”
the drive. For example, to mount the floppy drive, insert
the disk into the drive and then select Main Menu |
Programs | System | Disk Manager. The “User Mount Tool”
utility will appear. In the “User Mount Tool” click on the
“Mount” button to the right of /dev/fd0.
Note: Linux abstracts every device attached your computer,
including the hard drive and floppy drive as a file. Files
in the /dev/ folder are equivalent to device driver files
in Windows. Linux provides device files for most common
devices, but if you install an uncommon device, you may
need a special device file.
After mounting the drive, you can access the floppy disk.
Before removing the disk, you have to “unmount” the drive.
If you find yourself frequently mounting and unmounting
drives, you can right-click on “Disk Manager” in the menu
and select “Add this launcher to panel”.
When you installed Linux, information about devices on
computer was stored in the file /etc/fstab. If the device
that you want to mount was not configured during
installation, use the LinuxConf utility to configure the
device before you mount it.
For example, if you wanted to configure a floppy drive to
access DOS floppy disks, insert a DOS floppy disk into the
drive, then log in as root and open LinuxConf – Main Menu
| Programs | System | LinuxConf. In the LinuxConf window
Config tab, click on “+” next to “File systems” to open
that branch. Under “File systems” click on “Access local
drive”. The “Local volume” windows appears.
In the “Local volume” window, click on the Add button. The
“Volume specification” window appears. In the “Partition”
text box type /dev/fd0. Then click on the drop down button
for the “Type” text box and select msdos. In the “Mount
point” text box type /mnt/floppy. Click on the “Accept”
button. Then click on the “Mount” button.
Note: To mount a partition or drive you have to use an
existing subdirectory as the mount point. By convention,
drives use the /mnt/ subdirectory as the mount point.
To copy files to and from the mounted floppy disk, drag
and drop them to and from the directory /mnt/dosfloppy
just as you would any other directory.
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