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Dated: Oct. 15, 2004
Related CategoriesComputer Beginners Guides
By Victor Laurie
Have you ever wondered what the difference between a folder and a directory is? Or did you ever try to find the folder “Control Panel” on your hard drive and wondered where it was? The answers lie in understanding a little bit about system folders.
System Folders & What Happened to Directories
After you use Windows for a while, you come to realize that some folders like My Computer do not have quite the same properties as other folders. Beginning with Windows 95, things that had previously been called "directories” were now called “folders”. (Just to confuse matters, the term “directory” was, and is, used on the Internet.) However, there was more involved than a just a name change. Along with the new name came a new type of folder. These new folders are not like what we used to call directories. In fact, they may not refer to anything that actually exists somewhere concrete like the C: drive. They may be generated in memory by a DLL or similar file from information stored in the Registry or may contain items that are not true files but are virtual objects. An example is the Recycle Bin. Although the list of its contents are actual files stored on the hard drive, the folder itself is created in memory.
These special objects are variously called virtual folders, namespace folders, shell folders, or system folders. The larger category called "folders" includes everything that we used to call a directory plus these more abstract objects. To put it another way, in Windows all directories are folders but not all folders are directories. Directory type folders have a permanent physical location on the hard drive (or other storage medium) from where they can be loaded into memory, virtual folders are created wholly or in part directly in memory. Deleting or changing the properties of virtual folders, therefore, usually means Registry namespace editing. Examples of these special folders include My Computer, Control Panel, Dial-Up Networking, Network Neighborhood, Printers, Fonts and the Recycle Bin.
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