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Files Present and Their Locations

Now that you can navigate the directory tree, let's take a guided tour of the files and directories you created when you installed Debian. If you're curious, cd to each directory and type ls to see its contents. If the listing doesn't fit on the screen, try ls | less, where | is the ``pipe'' character, generally found on the same key with backslash.

As already mentioned, this is the root directory, which contains every other directory.
But don't get /confused with /root! /root is the home directory of the root user, or superuser. It's a directory called /root, but it isn't the root directory /.
This is where all normal users - that is, all users except root - have their home directories. Each home directory is named after the user who owns it, for example, /home/jane. If you're using a large system at a school or business, your system administrator may create additional directories to contain home directories: /home1 and /home2 for example. On some other systems, you'll see an additional level of subdirectories: /home/students/username, /home/staff/username, etc.

Your home directory is where you put all your personal work, e-mail and other documents, and personal configuration preferences. It's your home on the system.
This directory contains ``binaries,'' executable files that are essential to the operation of the system. Examples are the shell (bash) and file commands such as cp.
This directory contains ``system binaries,'' utilities that the root user or system administrator might want to use, but that you probably won't want to use in your day-to-day activities.
/usr contains most of the files you'll be interested in. It has many subdirectories. /usr/bin and /usr/sbin are pretty much like /bin and /sbin, except that the directories in /usr are not considered ``essential to the operation of the system.''

While not essential to getting the computer working, /usr does contain the applications you'll use to get real work done. Also in /usr, you'll find the /usr/man, /usr/info, and /usr/doc directories. These contain manual pages, info pages, and other documentation, respectively. And don't forget /usr/games!
The Debian system doesn't install anything in this directory. You should use it if you want to install software that you compile yourself or any software not contained in a Debian package. You can also install software in your home directory if you'll be the only one using it.
/etc contains all the system-wide configuration files. Whenever you want to change something that affects all users of your computer - such as how you connect to the Internet or what kind of video card you have - you'll probably have to log on as root and change a file in /etc.
Here you'll find temporary files, most of them created by the system. This directory is generally erased on a regular basis or every time you reboot the system. You can create files here if you want, just be aware that they might get deleted automatically.
/var contains ``variable'' files that the system changes automatically. For example, incoming mail is stored here. The system keeps a log of its actions here. There are a number of other automatically generated files here as well. You'll mostly be interested in the contents of /var/log, where you can find error messages that can help you figure out what you're system's up to if something goes wrong.
Clearly there are many more directories on the system - far too many to describe every one.

For changing things, you'll usually want to confine yourself to your home directory and /etc. On a Debian system, there's rarely an occasion to change anything else, because everything else is automatically installed for you.

/etc is used to configure the system as a whole. You'll use your own home directory, a subdirectory of /home, for configuring your own preferences and storing your personal data. The idea is that on a day-to-day basis, you confine yourself to /home/yourname, so there's no way you can break anything. Occasionally you log in as root to change something in a system-wide directory, but only when it's absolutely necessary. Of course, if you're using Debian at a school or business and someone else is the system administrator, you won't have root access and will be able to change only your home directory and any other directory that you own. This limits what you can do with the system.

John Goerzen / Ossama Othman

  Published under the terms of the GNU General Public License Design by Interspire