A computer file is a computer resource for recording data discretely in a computer storage device. Just as words can be written to paper, so can information be written to a computer file. Files can be edited and transferred through the internet on that particular computer system.
There are different types of computer files, designed for different purposes. A file may be designed to store a picture, a written message, a video, a computer program, or a wide variety of other kinds of data. Some types of files can store several types of information at once.
By using computer programs, a person can open, read, change, save, and close a computer file. Computer files may be reopened, modified, and copied an arbitrary number of times.
Typically, files are organised in a file system, which keeps track of where the files are located on disk and enables user access.
At any instant in time, a file might have a size, normally expressed as number of bytes, that indicates how much storage is associated with the file. In most modern operating systems the size can be any non-negative whole number of bytes up to a system limit. Many older operating systems kept track only of the number of blocks or tracks occupied by a file on a physical storage device. In such systems, software employed other methods to track the exact byte count (e.g., CP/M used a special control character, Ctrl-Z, to signal the end of text files).
The general definition of a file does not require that its size have any real meaning, however, unless the data within the file happens to correspond to data within a pool of persistent storage. A special case is a zero byte file; these files can be newly created files that have not yet had any data written to them, or may serve as some kind of flag in the file system, or are accidents (the results of aborted disk operations). For example, the file to which the link /bin/ls points in a typical Unix-like system probably has a defined size that seldom changes. Compare this with /dev/null which is also a file, but as a character special file, its size is not meaningful.
In modern computer systems, files are typically accessed using names (filenames). In some operating systems, the name is associated with the file itself. In others, the file is anonymous, and is pointed to by links that have names. In the latter case, a user can identify the name of the link with the file itself, but this is a false analogue, especially where there exists more than one link to the same file.
Files (or links to files) can be located in directories. However, more generally, a directory can contain either a list of files or a list of links to files. Within this definition, it is of paramount importance that the term “file” includes directories. This permits the existence of directory hierarchies, i.e., directories containing sub-directories. A name that refers to a file within a directory must be typically unique. In other words, there must be no identical names within a directory. However, in some operating systems, a name may include a specification of type that means a directory can contain an identical name for more than one type of object such as a directory and a file.
In environments in which a file is named, a file’s name and the path to the file’s directory must uniquely identify it among all other files in the computer system—no two files can have the same name and path. Where a file is anonymous, named references to it will exist within a namespace. In most cases, any name within the namespace will refer to exactly zero or one file. However, any file may be represented within any namespace by zero, one or more names.