[xplorer˛] — Filesystem attributes
home » blog » 2 August 2009

Each document you store on your hard disk has a name and some properties called file attributes that change as you use the file. For example the date and time that you saved some revision of the file is kept in the last modified property, which you can see when you browse the file in detailed view in xplorer˛ or windows explorer. All types of documents have such file attributes, which relate to the file management maintenance, regardless of the content of the document.

Some attributes are inherited from the MSDOS era and are shown in the attributes column in detailed view mode. If you ever wondered what -HSA----- attributes next to a file mean, these are DOS attributes declaring the file as Hidden, System and Archive. These old style attributes are still supported in modern versions of windows filesystem but with reduced importance. Here is what they mean:

  • R - read only. The file is marked as read-only, so you get a warning message if you try to delete or modify it.
  • H - hidden. The file is normally hidden from the user, unless "show hidden files and folders" property is ticked in folder options (control panel)
  • S - system. Characterises a system file like desktop.ini. Warnings are issued if you try to remove or modify it.
  • A - archive. File has been archived (backed up) and wasn't changed since the time of the last backup. Nowadays we rely on the modification date to extract this information.

These DOS attributes can be changed from a file's property page but windows won't allow you to change a few, e.g. the Archive or System attribute. For full control use xplorer˛ and its Actions > Change attributes menu command (see pic on the right), which lets you change all attributes including the file dates (touch function). You can also change the attributes of many files at once, just select them and press <Shift+F12>. To change attributes spanning files in subfolders, first create a flat view of some root folder using File > Browse flat, then select all files in the ensuing scrap container and again press <Shift+F12>.

xplorer˛ has its own setting for showing hidden files and folders that is separate from your setting in windows folder options. You can enable hidden files in xplorer˛ ticking the box "show hidden files and folders" with Tools > Options menu command (General page). If you enable this option and find that you still cannot see some system files and DLLs then you must clear the "Hide protected operating system files" from folder options in control panel, see the picture on the right. Then you will see the true contents of your hard disk. Just don't start deleting those system DLLs because you will regret it!

In this category I mention in passing the View > Raw contents menu command which bypasses explorer completely and shows MSDOS level folder contents. For most folders it won't make any difference except special folders like the recycle bin.

Whereas these RHSA attributes are a bit last century, there are more modern file attributes that signify advanced NTFS features. They are also shown in attributes column and we have talked about them in the past, e.g. C - compressed files which take up less space on the hard disk, E - encrypted files that can only be read by the owner, and J - reparse points that underwrite folder junctions and symbolic links.

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