Windows 7 File System Structure

March 09, 2011 (updated 2 years ago) by Chemtable Software

Formally, a file system is a way to organize, store and name data at information storage devices. But we can say simpler: it is a format of saving information at various storage devices and, in the first place, at the computer hard disk. Windows 7 utilizes the NTFS file system which is the most commonly used system nowadays.

The core of the NTFS is the MFT (Master File Table). This is a file of a special format that is located on the MFT zone of a partition. This zone is only available to OS service applications and to specialized tools that can address the hard drive directly. The MFT is a table that lists all files with their attributes and security parameters. But that’s not all. The MFT also stores addresses of sectors where file contents are physically stored. This is very important information, without it the operating system simply wouldn’t know where the requested object is, and where it should move the reading head of the hard drive to.

So, we have learned the basics of the file system, so let’s look at Windows 7 itself now. As any other operating system it has several folders that we can call system. By default they are the same for all users of this OS. Some of them are crucial, so you better not touch them, otherwise you may experience system faults. The contents of others may be changed safely.


Undoubtedly the most important folder located on the system partition of the hard disk. It keeps all system executables, drivers, libraries and so on. That is why it is strongly not recommended to delete files from that folder. It is worth to mention, that this folder may have a different name.


The folder with a previous operating system. The folder is created if Windows 7 was installed over the existing system without the preliminary formatting of the disk. For the majority of users this folder isn’t necessary and may be safely deleted.


This folder contains user profiles. By default it is located in the root folder of the system partition. It contains a number of standard folders, and also a folder per each user account in the system. These folders contains various user subfolder including the Desktop, the Documents, the Pictures, the Favorites and so on. The contents of those folder depends on the owner of the account in full. Other subfolder are used to store information of various applications, browsers etc.: AppData, ApplicationData, Cookies, LocalSettings and others. These folders are hidden and you shouldn’t change their contents unless you are really sure what you’re doing.


This folder contains operating system boot files. It is hidden, and it is not recommended to change its contents.


One more crucial folder. Installed applications store their data, setup files and other info in that folder. Obviously, you don’t want to delete anything from it.


This folder contains an image required to log in to the system Recovery Console. It is hidden too and you can’t change its contents.


This folder is actually Windows Recycle Bin. It is this folder where the deleted files go to. The folder is hidden, but you can safely delete its contents as well as the folder itself. This will be equal to emptying the Recycle Bin or a part of it. Note that each hard drive partition has its own $Recycle.Bin folder that stores files deleted from it.