Updated: 05/21/2018 by Computer Hope

Screenshot: Tree directory structure, displayed by the MS-DOS tree command.A directory is a location for storing files on your computer. Directories are found in a hierarchical file system, such as Linux, MS-DOS, OS/2, and Unix.

In the picture to the right is an example of the tree command output that shows all the local and subdirectories (e.g., the "big" directory in the cdn directory). When looking at this overview, the C: drive is considered the current directory and root directory because there is nothing beneath it and you can't go back any further. If you are using an operating system with multiple user accounts the directory may also be referred to as a home directory.

Tip: In a GUI such as Microsoft Windows, directories are referred to as folders. However, a directory and folder are synonymous.

Overview of a directory and path

Below is an example of what a directory path would look like in MS-DOS.

Windows command line path

In the above example, C: is the drive letter and the current directory is System32, which is a subdirectory of the Windows directory.

Overview of a Linux directory path

Below is an example of what a directory path may look like in a Linux or Unix variant.


In the above example, the current directory is bin, and it is a subdirectory of the usr directory. The beginning forward slash is the root directory.

How do I list or view directories?

To see directories and files in the current MS-DOS directory, use the dir command. In Linux to view directories and files in the current directory, you'd use the ls command.

  • See the dir command page for further information and examples on this command.
  • See the ls command page for information and examples on this command.

Tip: Both of the above commands also have switches that can be added to them to only view directories and not directories and files.

How to change a directory

To change a directory in MS-DOS, Linux, Unix, and most other command line operating systems, use the "cd" command.

How to make a directory

To make a directory in MS-DOS, Linux, Unix, and most other command line operating systems, use the "mkdir" command.

How to delete a directory

To remove a directory in MS-DOS, use the "rmdir" command. In Linux and Unix, use the "rm -r" command.

What is the purpose of a directory?

A directory is used to store, organize, and separate files and directories on a computer. For example, you could have a directory to store all of your pictures and another directory to store all your documents. By storing specific types of files in a folder, you could quickly get to the type of file you wanted to view. In other words, if you wanted to find a picture, you could open the pictures directory and find it a lot faster than you could if all your files were stored in the same directory.

Directories are also used as a place to store programs. For example, when you install a program on a computer all of its files are stored in a directory that could contain dozens or hundreds of files related to that program. By storing a program in its own directory, it helps prevent files with the same name from getting overwritten, modified, or deleted by other programs.

What type of files can be stored in a directory?

A directory can contain one or more files of any type and can even store other directories with their own files.

Invalid directory characters

Below is a listing of reserved characters that cannot be used when creating a file or directory on most operating systems. When creating directories, if any of these characters are used, you'll receive an error or encounter other problems.

\ / : * ? " < > |

Does a directory have an extension?

No. A directory does not have an extension like a file.

Absolute path, Change directory, Current directory, File, Folder, Hierarchical file system, Home directory, Mkdir, MRUD, Network directory, Operating system terms, Parent, Path, PWD, Root directory, Shared directory, Subdirectory, Wd