Linux Directory Structure and Important Files Paths Explained (File Hierarchy Standard) FHS

For any person, who does not have a sound knowledge of Linux Operating System and Linux File System, dealing with the files and their location, their use may be horrible, and a newbie may really mess up.

This article is aimed to provide the information about Linux File System, some of the important files, theirusability and location.

Linux Directory Structure Diagram

A standard Linux distribution follows the directory structure as provided below with Diagram and explanation.

Linux File System Structure

Each of the above directory (which is a file, at the first place) contains important information, required for booting to device drivers, configuration files, etc. Describing briefly the purpose of each directory, we are starting hierarchically.

  1. /bin : All the executable binary programs (file) required during booting, repairing, files required to run into single-user-mode, and other important, basic commands viz., cat, du, df, tar, rpm, wc, history, etc.
  2. /boot : Holds important files during boot-up process, including Linux Kernel.
  3. /dev : Contains device files for all the hardware devices on the machine e.g., cdrom, cpu, etc
  4. /etc : Contains Application’s configuration files, startup, shutdown, start, stop script for every individual program.
  5. /home : Home directory of the users. Every time a new user is created, a directory in the name of user is created within home directory which contains other directories like Desktop, Downloads, Documents, etc.
  6. /lib : The Lib directory contains kernel modules and shared library images required to boot the system and run commands in root file system.
  7. /lost+found : This Directory is installed during installation of Linux, useful for recovering files which may be broken due to unexpected shut-down.
  8. /media : Temporary mount directory is created for removable devices viz., media/cdrom.
  9. /mnt : Temporary mount directory for mounting file system.
  10. /opt : Optional is abbreviated as opt. Contains third party application software. Viz., Java, etc.
  11. /proc : A virtual and pseudo file-system which contains information about running process with a particularProcess-id aka pid.
  12. /root : This is the home directory of root user and should never be confused with ‘/
  13. /run : This directory is the only clean solution for early-runtime-dir problem.
  14. /sbin : Contains binary executable programs, required by System Administrator, for Maintenance. Viz.,iptables, fdisk, ifconfig, swapon, reboot, etc.
  15. /srv : Service is abbreviated as ‘srv‘. This directory contains server specific and service related files.
  16. /sys : Modern Linux distributions include a /sys directory as a virtual filesystem, which stores and allows modification of the devices connected to the system.
  17. /tmp :System’s Temporary Directory, Accessible by users and root. Stores temporary files for user andsystem, till next boot.
  18. /usr : Contains executable binaries, documentation, source code, libraries for second level program.
  19. /var : Stands for variable. The contents of this file is expected to grow. This directory contains log, lock,spool, mail and temp files.

The Filesystem Hierarchy Standard (FHS) defines the structure of file systems on Linux and other UNIX-like operating systems. However, Linux file systems also contain some directories that aren’t yet defined by the standard.

/ – The Root Directory

Everything on your Linux system is located under the / directory, known as the root directory. You can think of the / directory as being similar to the C:\ directory on Windows – but this isn’t strictly true, as Linux doesn’t have drive letters. While another partition would be located at D:\ on Windows, this other partition would appear in another folder under / on Linux.

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/bin – Essential User Binaries

The /bin directory contains the essential user binaries (programs) that must be present when the system is mounted in single-user mode. Applications such as Firefox are stored in /usr/bin, while important system programs and utilities such as the bash shell are located in /bin. The /usr directory may be stored on another partition – placing these files in the /bin directory ensures the system will have these important utilities even if no other file systems are mounted. The /sbin directory is similar – it contains essential system administration binaries.

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/boot – Static Boot Files

The /boot directory contains the files needed to boot the system – for example, the GRUB boot loader’s files and your Linux kernels are stored here. The boot loader’s configuration files aren’t located here, though – they’re in /etc with the other configuration files.

/cdrom – Historical Mount Point for CD-ROMs

The /cdrom directory isn’t part of the FHS standard, but you’ll still find it on Ubuntu and other operating systems. It’s a temporary location for CD-ROMs inserted in the system. However, the standard location for temporary media is inside the /media directory.

/dev – Device Files

Linux exposes devices as files, and the /dev directory contains a number of special files that represent devices. These are not actual files as we know them, but they appear as files – for example, /dev/sda represents the first SATA drive in the system. If you wanted to partition it, you could start a partition editor and tell it to edit /dev/sda.

This directory also contains pseudo-devices, which are virtual devices that don’t actually correspond to hardware. For example, /dev/random produces random numbers. /dev/null is a special device that produces no output and automatically discards all input – when you pipe the output of a command to /dev/null, you discard it.

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/etc – Configuration Files

The /etc directory contains configuration files, which can generally be edited by hand in a text editor. Note that the /etc/ directory contains system-wide configuration files – user-specific configuration files are located in each user’s home directory.

/home – Home Folders

The /home directory contains a home folder for each user. For example, if your user name is bob, you have a home folder located at /home/bob. This home folder contains the user’s data files and user-specific configuration files. Each user only has write access to their own home folder and must obtain elevated permissions (become the root user) to modify other files on the system.

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/lib – Essential Shared Libraries

The /lib directory contains libraries needed by the essential binaries in the /bin and /sbin folder. Libraries needed by the binaries in the /usr/bin folder are located in /usr/lib.

/lost+found – Recovered Files

Each Linux file system has a lost+found directory. If the file system crashes, a file system check will be performed at next boot. Any corrupted files found will be placed in the lost+found directory, so you can attempt to recover as much data as possible.

/media – Removable Media

The /media directory contains subdirectories where removable media devices inserted into the computer are mounted. For example, when you insert a CD into your Linux system, a directory will automatically be created inside the /media directory. You can access the contents of the CD inside this directory.

/mnt – Temporary Mount Points

Historically speaking, the /mnt directory is where system administrators mounted temporary file systems while using them. For example, if you’re mounting a Windows partition to perform some file recovery operations, you might mount it at /mnt/windows. However, you can mount other file systems anywhere on the system.

/opt – Optional Packages

The /opt directory contains subdirectories for optional software packages. It’s commonly used by proprietary software that doesn’t obey the standard file system hierarchy – for example, a proprietary program might dump its files in /opt/application when you install it.

/proc – Kernel & Process Files

The /proc directory similar to the /dev directory because it doesn’t contain standard files. It contains special files that represent system and process information.

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/root – Root Home Directory

The /root directory is the home directory of the root user. Instead of being located at /home/root, it’s located at /root. This is distinct from /, which is the system root directory.

/run – Application State Files

The /run directory is fairly new, and gives applications a standard place to store transient files they require like sockets and process IDs. These files can’t be stored in /tmp because files in /tmp may be deleted.

/sbin – System Administration Binaries

The /sbin directory is similar to the /bin directory. It contains essential binaries that are generally intended to be run by the root user for system administration.

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/selinux – SELinux Virtual File System

If your Linux distribution uses SELinux for security (Fedora and Red Hat, for example), the /selinux directory contains special files used by SELinux. It’s similar to /proc. Ubuntu doesn’t use SELinux, so the presence of this folder on Ubuntu appears to be a bug.

/srv – Service Data

The /srv directory contains “data for services provided by the system.” If you were using the Apache HTTP server to serve a website, you’d likely store your website’s files in a directory inside the /srv directory.

/tmp – Temporary Files

Applications store temporary files in the /tmp directory. These files are generally deleted whenever your system is restarted and may be deleted at any time by utilities such as tmpwatch.

/usr – User Binaries & Read-Only Data

The /usr directory contains applications and files used by users, as opposed to applications and files used by the system. For example, non-essential applications are located inside the /usr/bin directory instead of the /bin directory and non-essential system administration binaries are located in the /usr/sbin directory instead of the /sbin directory. Libraries for each are located inside the /usr/lib directory. The /usr directory also contains other directories – for example, architecture-independent files like graphics are located in /usr/share.

The /usr/local directory is where locally compiled applications install to by default – this prevents them from mucking up the rest of the system.

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/var – Variable Data Files

The /var directory is the writable counterpart to the /usr directory, which must be read-only in normal operation. Log files and everything else that would normally be written to /usr during normal operation are written to the /var directory. For example, you’ll find log files in /var/log.

The following are the 20 different log files that are located under /var/log/ directory. Some of these log files are distribution specific. For example, you’ll see dpkg.log on Debian based systems (for example, on Ubuntu).

  1. /var/log/messages – Contains global system messages, including the messages that are logged during system startup. There are several things that are logged in /var/log/messages including mail, cron, daemon, kern, auth, etc.
  2. /var/log/dmesg – Contains kernel ring buffer information. When the system boots up, it prints number of messages on the screen that displays information about the hardware devices that the kernel detects during boot process. These messages are available in kernel ring buffer and whenever the new message comes the old message gets overwritten. You can also view the content of this file using the dmesg command.
  3. /var/log/auth.log – Contains system authorization information, including user logins and authentication machinsm that were used.
  4. /var/log/boot.log – Contains information that are logged when the system boots
  5. /var/log/daemon.log – Contains information logged by the various background daemons that runs on the system
  6. /var/log/dpkg.log – Contains information that are logged when a package is installed or removed using dpkg command
  7. /var/log/kern.log – Contains information logged by the kernel. Helpful for you to troubleshoot a custom-built kernel.
  8. /var/log/lastlog – Displays the recent login information for all the users. This is not an ascii file. You should use lastlog command to view the content of this file.
  9. /var/log/maillog /var/log/mail.log – Contains the log information from the mail server that is running on the system. For example, sendmail logs information about all the sent items to this file
  10. /var/log/user.log – Contains information about all user level logs
  11. /var/log/Xorg.x.log – Log messages from the X
  12. /var/log/alternatives.log – Information by the update-alternatives are logged into this log file. On Ubuntu, update-alternatives maintains symbolic links determining default commands.
  13. /var/log/btmp – This file contains information about failed login attemps. Use the last command to view the btmp file. For example, “last -f /var/log/btmp | more”
  14. /var/log/cups – All printer and printing related log messages
  15. /var/log/anaconda.log – When you install Linux, all installation related messages are stored in this log file
  16. /var/log/yum.log – Contains information that are logged when a package is installed using yum
  17. /var/log/cron – Whenever cron daemon (or anacron) starts a cron job, it logs the information about the cron job in this file
  18. /var/log/secure – Contains information related to authentication and authorization privileges. For example, sshd logs all the messages here, including unsuccessful login.
  19. /var/log/wtmp or /var/log/utmp – Contains login records. Using wtmp you can find out who is logged into the system. who command uses this file to display the information.
  20. /var/log/faillog – Contains user failed login attemps. Use faillog command to display the content of this file.

Apart from the above log files, /var/log directory may also contain the following sub-directories depending on the application that is running on your system.

  • /var/log/httpd/ (or) /var/log/apache2 – Contains the apache web server access_log and error_log
  • /var/log/lighttpd/ – Contains light HTTPD access_log and error_log
  • /var/log/conman/ – Log files for ConMan client. conman connects remote consoles that are managed by conmand daemon.
  • /var/log/mail/ – This subdirectory contains additional logs from your mail server. For example, sendmail stores the collected mail statistics in /var/log/mail/statistics file
  • /var/log/prelink/ – prelink program modifies shared libraries and linked binaries to speed up the startup process. /var/log/prelink/prelink.log contains the information about the .so file that was modified by the prelink.
  • /var/log/audit/ – Contains logs information stored by the Linux audit daemon (auditd).
  • /var/log/setroubleshoot/ – SELinux uses setroubleshootd (SE Trouble Shoot Daemon) to notify about issues in the security context of files, and logs those information in this log file.
  • /var/log/samba/ – Contains log information stored by samba, which is used to connect Windows to Linux.
  • /var/log/sa/ – Contains the daily sar files that are collected by the sysstat package.
  • /var/log/sssd/ – Use by system security services daemon that manage access to remote directories and authentication mechanisms.

Instead of manually trying to archive the log files, by cleaning it up after x number of days, or by deleting the logs after it reaches certain size, you can do this automatically using logrotate as we discussed earlier.

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Posted on June 15, 2015, in Linux (Ubuntu/CentOS). Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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