The multics file system

The design proposed in this paper is ubiquitous.

A file is simply an ordered sequence of elements, where an element could be a machine word, a character, or a bit, depending upon the implementation. A user may create, modify or delete files only through the use of the file system. At the level of the file system, a file is formatless. All formatting is done by higher-level modules or by user-supplied programs, if desired. As far as a particular user is concerned, a file has one name, and that name is symbolic. (Symbolic names may be arbitrarily long, and may have syntax of their own. For example, they may consist of several parts, some of which are relevant to the nature of the file, e.g., ALPHA FAP DEBUG.) The user may reference an element in the file by specifying the symbolic file name and the linear index of the element within the file. By using higher-level modules, a user may also be able to reference suitably defined sequences of elements directly by context.

A directory is a special file which is maintained by the file system, and which contains a list of entries. To a user, an entry appears to be a file and is accessed in terms of its symbolic entry name, which is the user’s file name. An entry name need be unique only within the directory in which it occurs. In reality, each entry is a pointer of one of two kinds. The entry may point directly to a file (which may itself be a directory) which is stored in secondary storage, or else it may point to another entry in the same or another directory. An entry which points directly to a file is called a branch, while an entry which points to another directory entry is called a link. Except for a pathological case mentioned below, a link always eventually points to a branch (although possibly via a chain of links to the branch), and thence to a file. Thus the link and the branch both effectively point to the file. (In general, a user will usually not need to know whether a given entry is a branch or a link, but he easily may find out.)