How to Manage Files and Use the File System on Android
Android’s user-visible file system is one of its advantages over iOS. This allows you to more easily work with files, opening them in any app of your choice. But Android doesn’t include a file manager app by default.
Some manufacturers do preinstall their own file manager apps on their Android devices, so you may have one anyway. Not every Android user needs to mess with this stuff, but it’s there if you want it.
Installing a File Manager App
Some manufacturers do preinstall their own file manager apps, like the My Files app on Samsung devices. However, there’s a good chance you’ll need to install your own file manager app.
ES File Explorer is quite nice for this. It’s the most popular file management app, it’s packed full of powerful features like the ability to access network shares, and it’s free. If you’ve tried it in the past, you may have been dissapointed not seeing a Gingerbread-style interface, but it now offers a more Holo-style file manager interface. It’s far from the only good option, and you can use almost any app you like — even the one your manufacturer included with your device.
File Management Basics
You probably don’t want to spend time moving files around and arranging your device’s file system, but you can. Bear in mind that many of the folders you see when you open your file manager are created and used by apps for their cache files, so you shouldn’t remove them. However, you can free up space by removing unnecessary files stored here.
There are quite a few folders created already that you might want to use, including the following:
- DCIM: Photos you take are saved to this folder, just as they are on other digital cameras. Apps like Gallery and Photos display photos found here, but this is where the underlying image files are actually stored.
- Download: Files you download are saved here, although you’re free to move them elsewhere. You can also view these files in the Downloads app.
- Movies, Music, Pictures, Ringtones, Video: These are folders designed for storage of your personal media files. When you connect your device to a computer, they give you an obvious place to put any music, video, or other files you want to copy to your Android device.
You’re free to browse the file system from any file manager. File manager apps allow you to select and manage files — renaming, moving, or deleting them. A single tap on a file will bring up a list of installed apps that claim they support that file type. You can work with files directly, opening them in apps like you would on your computer.
Copying Files To or From a PC
The process of copying files to or from a PC is easy. Just connect your Android device to a laptop or desktop computer using the appropriate USB cable — the one included with your device for charging will work. With the Android device in its default MTP mode (PTP is also available, and USB mass storage may be available on older devices), it will appear in your Windows or Linux file manager window as a standard device. You can view and manage the files on your Android device’s internal storage, moving them back and forth as you please.
Macs don’t include MTP support, so you’ll want to install the Android File Transfer app on your Mac and use it to transfer files back and forth when you connect your device. The app will automatically open whenever you connect an Android device to your Mac.
If you have an SD card, you can remove the SD card from your Android device and insert it into an SD card slot into your computer, managing it that way. The SD card will appear as a typical connected storage device in your file manager, just as USB flash drives do.
For wireless file transfers, we like AirDroid. It allows you to connect to your Android device over Wi-Fi with just a web browser, moving files back and forth without the necessity of a cable. It will likely be a bit slower, but it can be a life-saver if you’re out and about and didn’t bring the appropriate USB cable.
Understanding the File System Layout
Android’s file system layout isn’t identical to your PC’s. Here’s how it divides its storage:
- Device Storage / Emulated SD Card: This is the pool of storage you’ll be working with and accessing. Your’e free to access and modify any files here. Think of it a bit like your user directory on Windows or home directory on Linux or Mac. As on desktop operating systems, many apps dump some data files here — not sensitive data like passwords and login credentials, but downloaded files and other cache items.
Due to a quirk in the way Android was originally designed, this is still presented as an “/sdcard” directory even on devices that don’t have an SD card slot at all. The on-device storage is presented to apps as if it were an SD card where they can dump their data for compataiblity reasons.
- Actual SD Card: Many Android devices also have SD card slots. You can plug the SD card into your computer or another device, load files onto it, and then plug it into your device. Or, you can save photos and other files onto the SD card on your device, plug it into your computer, and move files off of it. Even files with actual SD cards will have internal storage that functions as an emulated SD card, so the layout may be a bit more confusing if you have a device with SD card. You’ll find both types of storage in different folders under the /storage directory.
- Device Root / System File System: Your Android device also has a special system filesystem where its operating system files, installed applications, and sensitive application data are stored. You and the apps you use can’t modify this file system for security reasons. This also ensures apps can’t read another app’s sensitive data — picture a malicious application attempting to read the saved credentials from an online-banking app. This limitation can be bypassed with root access, allowing you to write to and modify system files as you please. You probably don’t need to do that, of course.
Google’s “stock” Android doesn’t ship with a file management app because it isn’t considered strictly necessary. Files you download are available for use directly in the Downloads app. Photos you take appear in the Photos or Gallery apps. Even media files you copy to your device — music, videos, and pictures — are automatically indexed by a process called “Mediaserver.” This process scans your internal storage or SD card for media files and notes their location, building up a library of media files that media players and other applications can use. However, while a user-visible file system isn’t necessarily for everyone, it’s still there for people who want it.
Posted on November 24, 2014, in The world as i see it as a camper and who loves his country and tagged android, apple, cell phone apps, cell phones, computers, how to's, internet, iphone, money, phone apps, safety. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.