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Types of Filesystem, differences and dealing with them using Perl

If you are looking to write code in Perl which will work on multiple platforms then you must have the knowledge of filesystem of each platform. Filesystems are categoriesed in 3 parts.

1. Filesystem of Unix

FFS (Berkeley Fast File System) is the ancestor of all current filesystems of Unix variants. The filesystem has been extended by different vendors according to their needs. Like for better security they have been extended to provide support for POSIX ACL (access control list).

In Unix filesystem the root is denoted by / (forward slash). The path of any directory in Unix filesystem starts from / and goes deeper in the system. The directory names or file names in Unix filesystem are case-sensitive.

Path Example: /root/home/user/Desktop/file.txt

2. Filesystem of Windows

Operating systems which are based on Windows supports 3 filesystems: FAT (File Allocation Table), NTFS (NT FileSystem), FAT32 (Advance version of FAT).

FAT filesystem is not case-sensitive. It uses \\ (backward slash) as path separator. In the FAT systems the direcotries and files contains some flags, these flags are known as attributes like “Read Only”. NTFS supports unicode feature.

Path Example: C:\\home\\user\\Desktop\\file.txt

3. Filesystem of Mac OS

Classic Mac OS used HFS (Hierarchical File System). The version 8.1 of Mac OS uses HFS+ which is an advance version of HFS. The current filesystem looks similar to Unix filesystem. The method of showing paths is same in both OS. The difference between these is that Unix file system is case-sensitive whereas HFS+ is not case-sensitive.


OS and FileSystem Path Separator Filename length Absolute path format Relative path format Unique features
Unix (Berkeley FFS and others) / OS-dependent number of chars /dir/file dir/file OS-variant dependent additions
Mac OS (HFS+) / 255 Unicode chars /dir/file dir/file Mac OS legacy support, BSD extended attributes
Windows based OS (NTFS) \\ 255 Unicode chars Drive:\\dir\\file dir\\file File encryption and compression
DOS (basic FAT) \\ 8.3 Drive:\\dir\\file dir\\file Attributes


Using Perl to deal with different Filesystems

By now we know all the filesystems differ from each other and to deal with these in Perl we use File::Spec module. This module is used to hide the differences between these filesystems. Let us learn how we use this module. We will use the catfile method to get the path of the file.


use File::Spec;
my $path= File::Spec->catfile(qw{home user Desktop file.txt});

In this way the scalar variable $path get sets to home\user\desktop\file.txt in a Windows operating system. and in Unix based system it gets set to home/user/Desktop/file.txt. The File::Spec module also contains methods like curdir and updir to get the current directory (.) and up-directory (..).

You may also use the moudle Path::Class which is an another good wrapper. You will have to install it before using.

Below is an example of how it works:

use Path::Class;
my $file = file (qw{home user Desktop file.txt});
my $dir = file (qw{home user Desktop});

The $file and $dir are scalar variable which contains the path to the file.txt file and Desktop directory respectively.

Here’s the path

print $file;
print $dir;

The output will depend on operating system. If it is Unix then it will yield

home/user/desktop/file.txt and home//user//desktop

and in Windows based systems it will give

home\\user\\desktop\\file.txt and home\\user\\desktop

Here $file and $dir are objects which have several methods which can be applied on them for some use. Like absoulte method gives the absolute path and slurp method slurps through the file’s contents.

my $abspath = $file->absolute;
my $content = $file->slurp;
$file->remove(); #delete the file

When you want to write a code for a particular system and you want to make this system understand the path of other operating system then you may use foreign_file() and foreign_dir() methods. These will return the path based the argument which you have to specify explicitly.

use Path::Class qw(foreign_file foreign_dir);
my $foreignfile = foreign_file('Win32', qw{home user Desktop file.txt});
my $foreigndir = foreign_dir('Win32', qw{home user});

Now $foreignfile will contain home\\user\\desktop\\file.txt even if the code is run from a Unix based system. This approach is very handy and useful. In the next article we will continue and expand our discussion.

2 thoughts on “Types of Filesystem, differences and dealing with them using Perl

  1. Geordie and Data nurse a space bird back to health

    I just, what?

    Windows (2000+) will convert unix style path separators seamlessly, so this module doesn’t appear useful at all. Just use unix style path seperators, always.

    • Chankey Pathak

      Isn’t it better to do it explicitly than depending on the implicit conversion which may do something wrong which you are not aware of? It is not good to rely on the architecture to do the things for you. You should define things explicitly, in that case you can be sure that your code will do the things which you have ordered it to do.

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