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Perl Cookbook by Nathan Torkington, Tom Christiansen

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Chapter 9. Directories

Introduction

Unix has its weak points but its file system is not one of them.

Chris Torek

To fully understand directories, you need to be acquainted with the underlying mechanics. The following explanation is slanted towards the Unix filesystem, for whose system calls and behavior Perl’s directory access routines were designed, but it is applicable to some degree to most other platforms.

A filesystem consists of two parts: a set of data blocks where the contents of files and directories are kept, and an index to those blocks. Each entity in the filesystem has an entry in the index, be it a plain file, a directory, a link, or a special file like those in /dev. Each entry in the index is called an inode (short for index node). Since the index is a flat index, inodes are addressed by number.

A directory is a specially formatted file, whose inode entry marks it as a directory. A directory’s data blocks contain a set of pairs. Each pair consists of the name of something in that directory and the inode number of that thing. The data blocks for /usr/bin might contain:

Name

Inode

bc

17

du

29

nvi

8

pine

55

vi

8

Every directory is like this, even the root directory (/). To read the file /usr/bin/vi, the operating system reads the inode for /, reads its data blocks to find the entry for /usr, reads /usr ’s inode, reads its data block to find /usr/bin, reads /usr/bin’s inode, reads its data block to find /usr/bin/vi, reads /usr/bin/vi ...

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