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installation | home directories | users | subdirectories | finder and explorer | hidden files | temporary files | trash | public | local


Dot files which are used on Darwin and Linux.

Also notes on how the home directory is organized.


Requires Ruby and Emacs. To install the dot files:

$ make

Home Directories

Early versions of Unix put user home directories in /usr. In Linux and BSD the user home directories are in /home.

A Unix user's home directory is specified in /etc/passwd. When the user logs in, the home directory in /etc/passwd is used to set the working directory and the environment variable HOME. The C shell introduced tilde expansion as a shortcut for the home directory in paths.

Mac OS X puts home directories in /Users. It sets the HOME environment variable, but does not store user information in /etc/passwd. Instead the information is stored in a Directory Service which can be queried with the dscl command:

dscl . -read /Users/$USER NFSHomeDirectory

Windows calls the home directory the user profile folder.

DOS did not have a home directory and Windows 95 had a single C:\My Documents directory at the file system root. Windows NT was the first multiuser version of Windows. It put user profile folders in C:\WINNT\Profiles. Windows XP put them in C:\Documents and Settings. Since Windows Vista they have been in C:\Users.

Windows sets the environment variable %USERPROFILE% to the path of the current user profile folder.


The name of home directory is the login name of the user. A user (login name, password, maybe a full name) must be specified when the operating system is installed.

To change the name, it is probably best to create a new account, copy over files, and delete the old account. On Windows a login name can be changed, but this does not change the home directory name.

On Mac OS X user accounts are managed at System Preferences | Users & Groups. To set the Mac avatar, go to System Preferences | Users & Groups and click on the image. To use an image that is not one of the defaults, drag it from the Finder to the System Preferences pane.

On Windows to add a new account go to Control Panel | User Accounts | Manage another account. To set the Windows avatar, go to Control Panel | User Accounts | Change your picture.

On Linux the adduser command creates a user. In GNOME the avatar can be set at Settings | Users. Click the image to the left of the user's full name.


Subdirectories in the home directory should be capitalized and regular files in the home directory should be hidden.

The Mac filesystem (HFS+), incidentally, is not case sensitive, but it remembers the case that was used when a file is created and uses it for display.

To make it easier to work at the command line, avoid file names which contain spaces.

Tab completion works well when the contents of a directory are uniquely specified by a short prefix. Two letter prefixes are often possible, though the desktop operating systems create directories, namely Documents and Downloads, which require three letters to uniquely specify.

Windows creates home subdirectories which break both the no-space rule and the unique-two-letter-prefix rule, e.g. My Documents, My Music, My Pictures, My Videos. One can rename these directories. Since they are Special Folders, one should also update the registry for the benefit of applications using the Special Folder API to get the paths. The registry key is:

HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\User Shell Folders

Also, the Explorer keeps separate names for these files, so one must change the file names both at the command line and in Explorer.

windows home subdirectories to rename:

My Documents  ->  Documents
My Music      ->  Music
My Pictures   ->  Pictures
My Videos     ->  Videos
Saved Games   ->  Games

standard home subdirectories:

subdirectory os description
Desktop all Files here appear as icons on the desktop.
Documents all Some applications keep their files here; including ~/Documents/IntelliJ, ~/Documents/Excel, and ~/Documents/Notebooks for iPython; editor files go in ~/Dropbox/Documents
Downloads all Configure browsers to download files here without asking.
Dropbox host Synchronization and cloud backup.
Games win Minesweeper and Solitaire store games in Saved Games\Microsoft Games
Library mac Put AppleScript in ~/Library/Scripts.
Movies mac Stream video and keep this empty.
Music all E.g. iTunes and Amazon Cloud Player.
Pictures all Image editor files; Visio and Omnigraffle; PDFs created by R.
Public linux/mac A directory to make available on the local network. Windows has a directory at C:\Users\Public.
Templates win/linux If you create a template in Word it will be stored here.
Videos win/linux Stream video and keep this empty.

windows specific home subdirectories

subdirectory os description
AppData win Hidden; I like to unhide it; items pinned to the Start Menu are shortcuts at AppData/Roaming/Microsoft/Internet Explorer/Quick Launch/User Pinned/StartMenu
Application Data win Hidden; link to AppData\Roaming.
Contacts win Used by Outlook?
Cookies win Hidden; link to AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Cookies.
Favorites win Browser bookmarks; probably not used by Firefox or Chrome.
Links win The Favorites section of the Explorer sidebar.
Local Settings win Hidden; link to AppData\Local.
NetHood win Hidden; link to AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Network Shortcuts
PrintHood win Hidden; link to AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Printer Shortcuts
Recent win Hidden; full of Windows Shell shortcuts (.lnk suffix). Implements the Recent Places folder.
SendTo win Hidden; link to AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\SendTo. There is is Send to item in the Explorer context menu. More target applications can be added by putting shortcuts in the folder. The applications must be launchable from the command line and accept a file path as an argument.
Searches win If in Windows Search you click on See more results, you'll get a window of results. The window has a Save search option which will create an XML file in this directory.
Start Menu win Hidden; link to AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu. Start Menu\Programs is one way to add programs to the All Programs section of the Start Menu; put a shortcut in Start Menu\Programs\Startup to launch an application at login.

personal home subdirectories:

subdirectory os description
Articles all PDFs; link to ~/Dropbox/Articles.
<Company> all Work
<Company>/Doc all Work Spreadsheets, Slideshows
<Company>/HR all Documents from HR
<Company>/Pic all Work Pngs, Jpgs, Svg, Omnigraffle files
<Company>/Src all Work Source code
<Company>/Web all Work HTML, generated from Markdown with a Makefile
Local all Place to install headers and libraries
Local/bin all Put first in PATH; a place to install executables without admin privilege.
Local/env all virtualenv environments.
Local/etc all ~/Etc/UnicodeData.txt
Local/man all Put first in MANPATH; a place to install man pages w/o admin privilege
Local/src all Tarballs, git repos, ISOs for virtual machines, Java SDKs.
Lang all Subdirectories by programming language; code under version control is in Src.
Shared all Share with guest virtual machines.
Trash all Symlink to Trash or Recyle Bin.

To set up the home directory:

mkdir Local Lang
cd Local
mkdir bin env etc man src

On Mac OS X:

rm -rf Pictures
ln -s Dropbox/Articles Articles
ln -s Dropbox/Pictures Pictures/Pictures

On Windows create two links: a symlink and an Explorer shortcut.

Finder and Explorer

Drag directories to the Finder sidebar to add them.

Drag directories to the Explorer sidebar to add them.

The Favorites section of the Explorer sidebar is implemented with shortcuts in the ~/Links directory. Because shortcuts can have a different name from their target, the shortcut to the home directory can be Home instead of the current user name.

To add directories to the Ubuntu file system browser, open the directory, click on the cog icon in the upper right, and select Bookmark this Location.

Hidden Files

Unix hidden files have names which start with a period. The file globbing characters * and ? do not match an initial period. Use ls -a to see hidden files in a listing.

On Mac, the Finder does not display these files. Other files can be hidden from the Finder:

SetFile -a V foo.txt

To expose a file to the Finder:

SetFile -a v foo.txt

On Windows, files can be hidden from the Explorer by checking Properties | General | Hidden.

Files can be hidden from the Explorer at the command line using ATTRIB +H. To expose a hidden file to Explorer at the command line use ATTRIB -H.

To make all hidden files visible in the Explorer go to:

Organize | Folder and search options | View | Hidden files and folders

and select Show hidden files, folders, and drives.

Windows files which are hidden by attribute are always visible at the command line. The files in the Windows home directory of the form NTUSER.DAT* are hard to miss because of their long names. They are caches of the registry.

If Unix tools are installed by MinGW, these observe the convention that files that start with a period are hidden.

Conversely Unix dot files are visible in Explorer, which is unaesthetic. They can be manually hidden with this command:

ATTRIB +H /S /D C:\.*

Temporary Files

POSIX systems are supposed to set the $TMPDIR environment variable. Mac OS X sets $TMPDIR to a path in /var/folders. Mac OS X checks for and deletes files that are older than 3 days in /tmp on a daily schedule. See /etc/periodic/daily/110.clean-tmps and /etc/defaults/periodic.conf. Older files may survive because of open file handles. How are files in /var/folders cleaned up?

Linux does not set $TMPDIR in my experience. The Filesystem Hierarchy Standard guarantees that /tmp will exist, howver. Ubuntu is usually configured to empty /tmp on boot. See /etc/init/mounted-tmp.conf.

Windows sets the %TEMP% environment variable to the location of the temporary file directory. Windows never cleans out this directory.


The Mac OS X Trash folder is ~/.Trash. Files are sent to the Mac OS X trash by selecting them in the Finder and typing ⌘Delete. When the Finder is active, ⇧⌘Delete empties the Trash.

The Ubuntu Trash folder is ~/.local/share/Trash. It is not created until something is moved to the trash using Nautilus.

The Windows Recycle Bin is at C:\$Recycle.Bin. Actually, each NTFS file system has a Recycle Bin. The Recycle Bin on the Desktop is a union.

Files are sent to the Recyle Bin by right clicking in the Explorer and selecting Delete or selecting the file and pressing the delete key (fn delete in Bootcamp). Right click the Recycle Bin in Explorer to empty it.

Command line tools such as rm and del on all operating systems remove files without putting them in the Trash directory or Recycle Bin folder.


On Mac OS X to expose a directory on the local network, go to:

System Preferences | Sharing | File Sharing

This is good enough for sharing with Macs. There is an option for enabling SMB so that Windows can access the directory, but it requires storing the Windows account password on the Mac.

The name of a Mac is generated from the initial account. It can be changed at System Preferences... | Sharing. Macs use fully qualified DNS names of the form <MAC-NAME>.local. Such a DNS name is only visible if both computers are on the same network. Lookups are performed by broadcasting. Each machine is the DNS server for its own name.

Windows has a directory at C:\Users\Public which can be made public. Navigate to it in the Explorer and select Share with | Advanced sharing settings | Public to get a list of checkboxes. If the choices are permissive enough, a Mac will on the local network will automatically detect and be able to access the files. I believe other parts of the file system on a Windows machine can also be made public.

Windows requests a computer name during installation. It can be changed later at

Control Panel | System | Computer name, domain, and workgroup settings


The ~/Local directory is an aid when building source code without root privilege. If the source code depends on headers and libraries that aren't installed, download them, build them, and install them in ~/Local.

To make autoconf aware of ~/Local, create the file ${HOME}/Local/shared/config.site with these contents:


Then configure the source code with:

./configure --prefix=$HOME/Local

To use locally installed command-line tools and man pages:

export PATH=~/Local/bin:$PATH
export MANPATH=~/Local/man:$(MANPATH= manpath)