9/11/209:00 am Understanding the File And Folder Structure Of Your Mac Learn about the folder structure of your Mac's drive from the top level to your user folder. Find out what different folders are for and how using iCloud Drive changes things. Video Transcript: Hi, this is Gary at MacMost.com. Today let's take a look at your Mac's hard drive to understand how files and folders are organized. MacMost is brought to you thanks to a great group of more than 750 supporters. Go to MacMost.com/patreon. There you can read more about the Patreon Campaign. Join us and get exclusive content and course discounts. So you don't need to know why different folders and files are in different places on your Mac. But it can be useful to understand how your Mac works and get more out of it. So here I am with a Finder window. I'm going to go to the computer level, so the top level. I'm also going to switch to Column View. Now here at the top level we'll see our main hard drive. You'll also see any other external drives. I've got two here and an item here to access Network things. But what we're interested in here is your Macintosh hard drive. Now it may be called Macintosh HD but it doesn't have to be. It could be called Mac HD. It could be called Gary's HD. It could be called anything. But for most of us it's going to be the default Macintosh HD. This is also referred to as the Internal Drive or Main Drive of your Mac. In macOS Catalina at the top level we have four folders here. The first one that I want to point out is the System folder. This contains the macOS Operating System. In Catalina and beyond it is also Read Only. You can't actually go in here and edit the files. You can look around to see what's there. You can't do anything to alter them, at least not easily. The is a good thing because it protects your system against malware because even if you install a piece of malware it can't write to the system. So it can't change how macOS works. You also have three other folders here. One is called the Applications folder. This contains apps. Things like Pages, Numbers, Keynote, TextEdit, Mail, Safari. Any app that you install on your Mac is probably going to end up here. The reason this is at the System level is that if you have multiple user accounts on your Mac, say for you and your spouse, you can share the same apps. You don't have to install Pages and your spouse install Pages as well. Install it once in the computer and both user accounts can access Pages. So when you install new apps, say in the Mac App Store or using a third party app installer, it's going to end up here at the System level or Main level in the Applications folder. Now you also have a folder here called Library. This will contain support files for different apps. So for instance here if I look in the Audio folder here I'll see various things that are used by GarageBand, maybe LogicPro if you have that, and maybe other music and audio recording apps as well. The idea here is the Applications themselves are exactly the Applications. If you have an application and I have an application we have the same file here. But in the Library we may have different things. I may have installed extra plug-ins, content, themes, all sorts of things for different apps and they would go into the System Library folder. Now in general you never need to look at or mess around with the System, Library, or Applications folder. But the Users folder that's where your stuff is going to be. Now in the Users folder there's going to be a separate folder for every user on your Mac. For most of us only one person uses the Mac. So we only have one User account. But you could have a situation where you have multiple people using the same Mac and they should each have their own user account. Each User account could have its own iCloud Account, its own Files, Settings, and other things. In this case I have two User Accounts here. One is my main user account that I use for creating apps, maintaining websites, doing things like that. Another one, the one I'm currently using and you could see it has a little house icon to indicate it's the user account I'm currently using, that's this one and I use it to make tutorials. You also my find a Shared folder in here. That's a way for you to share files easily between user accounts. So if you go with an apartment metaphor you could think of each user account as a separate apartment. Only the person that lives there has access to it with a key, a password, and you can't get into somebody else's apartment. The System Library is like the building itself. It's structure, things like water pipes, the electricity, and things that everybody accesses. Like maybe the entry way and the workout room, the hallways, the stairs, and the elevators. The Shared folder is like a common room that anybody with an apartment can access but most people probably don't use it. Now when we go into a User folder we're going to see some common folders in here. So chances are you have these same folders. Maybe more. Most notably there's your Desktop and Documents folder. These are the two places where you can put all of your files. So when you create files using different apps or download things you can put them in the Desktop or Documents folder. The best practice is to store as much as you can in the Documents folder and create folders inside of here to organize things. Some people may only have a handful of files and just have them in their Documents folder. Other people may have hundreds or thousands of files and want to organize them into folders and subfolders and everybody's Documents folder is going to look a little different. You could also use the Desktop folder in a similar way except that the Desktop folder has a special property that anything that's in here is also going to appear on the Desktop here. It's just two ways of viewing the same files. So if you put too much stuff in your Desktop folder it's going to clutter up the Desktop. Which is why it's a good idea to put the majority of your stuff in here and keep your Desktop clean or maybe just have one or two files that are there temporarily or things you access all the time. Now the rest of these folders are here for special reasons. You are probably going to find similar files in here to what others have. For instance in your Movies folder you're probably going to find things like your iMovie Library folder if you use iMovie. You may also find other apps that use videos store things here. For instance I have the ScreenFlow app that records these tutorials puts a folder here as well. The TV app also uses a folder here. The same thing is true for Music and Pictures. In the Music folder I find another Music folder for the Music app storing my music library. But I also find a folder for GarageBand and some other apps as well. You may have different folders in here depending upon which music or audio apps you use. In the Pictures folder I have just my Photos Library. But if you have other apps that use the Pictures folder they may store their library or have folders in here as well. Now Movies, Music and Pictures folders are completely accessible by you. You can create your own folders in here if you want or never use them. For instance in the Pictures folder if you have a large Clip Art Collection you've purchased that you use for work you may want to put that in here. It may make sense to store them in the Pictures folder. In Movies if say you've downloaded a bunch of videos or you've created a bunch of videos and you want a good place to put them and you don't want to put them in your documents folder you could put them here. It's up to you. You could put them in these folders or you could put them in your documents folder. If you think of this like an apartment your Movies folder could be say like your kitchen and videos could be like your food. It kind of makes sense to put the food in the kitchen but nobody is going to stop your if you want to put say a bag of chips in the living room instead of in the kitchen. Now you may also see a Public folder. A Public folder is a folder that not only you could access but other users on your Mac could access as well. Most of us may not use this but if you do put something in here a second user could actually see that file. The Drop Box folder in there somebody could actually put something in that file. So many people on your computer could access these. There's also the Downloads folder. The Downloads folder is a default place for apps like Safari and other browsers and Mail to save files. Other apps that you get that download files may also use the Downloads folder as a default location. There's nothing to prevent you from downloading a file and saving it to your Documents folder, for instance. The Downloads folder is a convenient location for those things to go. A lot of times we download something and only need it temporarily like an installer for an app. You run the installer and it installs the app and now you want to get rid of the installer. So it's just sitting there in your Downloads folder giving you a place to then go to, find it, and then delete it. Other times you may download say an image and just want to view it but you don't necessarily want to store it anywhere. It goes to the Downloads folder temporarily. We can then move it to our Documents folder, move it to the Pictures folder, or throw it away. Another location for your files would be iCloud Drive. If you're using iCloud Drive you can do Go and then choose iCloud Drive. This looks like a completely separate location where you have various folders for things. So, for instance, there may be apps that create folders for convenience storage for things like a Pages or Numbers folder. You may also see a Desktop and Documents folder in here. In fact if you go to System Preferences and then your Apple ID and then iCloud, iCloud Drive Options, and turn on Desktop and Documents folders now you'll find in your Home folder that Desktop and Document folders aren't there anymore. They've now moved to iCloud. You still use them for the same things. If I choose Go and then iCloud Drive I can see here's my Desktop folder, my Documents folder. They work the same way. They're just located in iCloud now which means that I'll be able to see the same Desktop and Documents folders on all of my devices. Now one folder I haven't mentioned is your Home Library folder. You don't see it here. In your Home folder you don't see a Library folder. But if you choose Go and then hold the Option key down Library appears. I can select it. Now you can see it was there but it was just hidden. The Library folder in your Home folder is like the System Library folder except that it contains support files for applications that are specific to you as a user. So for instance in here you'll see Preferences and these are little preference files for your applications. So for instance if you've gone into an app and changed one of the preferences there that's for you in your user account. Somebody else with a user account on your Mac, they would have their own set of preferences. They would all be stored in their own Library folder in their Home folder. All the other things in here also pertain to you as a user. So storage for Settings, storage for Data for different apps that are all here in the Library folder. The reason it is hidden is because there's really nothing in here for you to control directly. The apps themselves are in charge of accessing and modifying all the things in the Library folder. There's really not much for a regular user to do in here. That's why it is hidden. One last thing I want to point out is if you're using iCloud Drive and have your Desktop and Documents folder stored there Movies, Music, and Pictures folders are still stored locally. So, for instance, your iMovie Library here is stored locally and not on iCloud Drive which means it is only available on your Mac. That makes sense for these folders because Music, Movies, and Picture folders tend to store large files that are difficult to keep online. They take a long time to upload, a long time to download, and take up a lot of space in iCloud. So that's one of the reasons you might want to use these folders to store large libraries of audio files, videos, and images is because they would be local to your hard drive and not taking up space in iCloud Drive. So that's a look at the basic folder structure on your Mac. Hopefully it gives you some idea of how your Mac works and how you should store your files. Related Subjects: Finder (287 videos) Related Video Tutorials: No related posts. Comments: 8 Responses to “Understanding the File And Folder Structure Of Your Mac” Karen 3 years ago The iPhotos library is not stored in iCloud Drive but on my Mac's hard drive per your statement: images is because they would be local to your hard drive and not taking up space in iCloud Drive. Please clarify. Are they taking up space on my hard drive? I pay for 200 GB on the Cloud thinking that's where the photos are (and desktop/document files). Victor Forbes 3 years ago This was extremely helpful - even though I've been a Mac user for 30+ years. One question - will Time Machine backup desktop and document folders that are on iCloud? Gary Rosenzweig 3 years ago Karen: You can have your Photos library in iCloud, yes. Or not. It is your choice. Gary Rosenzweig 3 years ago Victor: If you have the "Optimize" feature turned off, then all of your iCloud files are also stored locally at all times. So then Time Machine would work as expected. Gene 3 years ago Very timely topic. One of my "fall objectives" is to understand and clean up my hard drive. I have 3 "iCloud" archive folders. Archive, and Archives 1 and 2. What triggers their generation? Can I get rid of them? I am almost positive my current iCloud Drive is up to date. Gary Rosenzweig 3 years ago Gene: Those usually appear if you turn off iCloud Drive or iCloud Drive Desktop and Documents even if you then just turn it on again. Then archives are created to hold the files. Make very very sure you don't need anything in there before you delete them. Paul Einarsen 3 years ago So if I choose to Optimize my Desktop and Documents folders I can only access them when I have an internet connection? Gary Rosenzweig 3 years ago Paul: Sometimes. Frequently-accessed and recently-accessed files will still be "cached" local. It isn't that NONE of your files are kept local, it is just SOME of them are. If you have a file you want to access and know you will be offline, you can always Control+click it and choose Download Now (or just open the file) before you go offline. Comments Closed.