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Thunar - The UNIX File System

While the Thunar file manager does a good job at abstracting the details of the underlying file system so the user does not need to care about them, it is sometimes useful to understand the basic concepts to get the whole picture. This section tries to give a brief introduction to the concepts of the UNIX file system, which is used today by all incarnations of UNIX, including Linux.

Folders and Paths

In a UNIX file system, all folders are arranged in a simple inverted tree structure descending and branching down from a single top-level folder which is called the root directory (the term directory is often used instead of folder) and displayed as File System in Thunar. This means that you can get from any folder to any other by going up the tree until you reach a common point, then down the tree through the appropriate sub-folders until you reach your target.

The position of any file or folder in the tree can be described by its path. The path is the list of folders you would have to descend through to get to the target folder or file, starting from the top-level folder. For example /home/luke is the subfolder luke of the subfolder home of the top-level folder, and /home/luke/myfile.txt is the file myfile.txt in that sub-folder. The leading / in these paths represents the top-level folder.

Every user has his or her own folder to hold personal files and settings. This folder is called the home directory and is displayed in Thunar as a special icon with the user's login name. The folder is similar to the My Files folder in Windows. The home directories of the various users in a system are usually located below the /home folder. For example /home/luke would be the home directory of the user with the login name luke, while /home/jane would be the home directory for the user with the login name jane.

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File Types

You may have already heard that everything in UNIX is a file. This is true for most objects present in UNIX systems today. In fact, even devices are represented as special files. While this may not make sense at first sight, it is one of the strengths of UNIX and its derivatives and has helped it to maintain a simple core over the years where other operating systems had to introduce new concepts for every new technology.

These are the four most important types of files in the UNIX file system:

Ordinary Files
An ordinary file may contain text, a program or other data. This includes image files, audio files, office documents and video files. The term file is often used to refer to an ordinary file.
Folder Files
Folders are also files in the UNIX file system. To be exact, a folder is a special file which contains a mapping of file names to file references for every file contained within this folder.
Symbolic Link Files
A Symbolic link (often called a symlink) is a special file that contains a path to another file in the file system. Symbolic link files therefore do not contain any useful information themselves, but just refer to other files.
Device Files
As mentioned earlier, (most) devices are also accessed through the file system. These special device files are usually located in the /dev folder. For example the special file /dev/hda represents the first IDE disk on a Linux system.

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Gnome Virtual File System (GVFS)

Some thunar features, like support for trash, removable media, folder specific settings, file highlight and remote file systems only can be used if the gvfs packages provided by your distribution are installed

E.g. For Debian and its derivatives, the packages “gvfs-backends” and “gvfs-fuse” are required.

Dependent on which gvfs-backends you want to use, further packages will need to be installed.

Gvfs allows mounting new drives without the need to be root. You can e.g. use the GUI Tool gigolo to do so.

Best check the gvfs-backends documentation for details.

Remote File Systems

In addition to the local filesystem thunar is able to display content of remote filesystems via different remote protocols.

Here are some example locations to enter into the location selector. Please check the gvfs documentation for a complete list.

Access via Secure file transfer program
Access to Windows file systems via Samba
Access to Apple file systems via Apple Filing Protocol
If you want to permanently store passphrases of remote filesystem locations, you have to install the GNOME Keyring package provided by your linux distribution.

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