Android File and Directory Structure Explained

Updated: September 5, 2016

Android-file-systemMost people are familiar with the file layout on Windows and are happy navigating the Windows file System.

Windows uses a drive letter for each physical drive/partition.e.g. C: drive

Note: A Physical drive will have at least 1 partition but can have more than one. This is true for both Windows and Android.

If you insert a USB drive into your windows machine in shows up as a disk with an assigned drive letter.


Although windows shows a disk icon the disks could be partitions of a single physical disk.

Each disk partition has a root directory which contains files and folders (directories).

The root of the C drive is C:\ and of the F drive is F:\ etc

Android uses the Linux file system structure which has a single root.

Physical disks and partitions appear under the root as a directory (folder) , and do not have a drive letter as in Windows.

Android doesn’t appear to come with a default file manager, and so you will need to install a file manager App like ES file manager, to locate and manage files and directories.

If you take a look at your android file system  you will see something like this:


Note: Image is only a partial screen shot using ES file manager

What you are seeing looks like a list of folders/directories, but all of them are actually partitions.

The file manager doesn’t differentiate between a partition and a directory.

Most of the partitions are not normally visible on your android tablet as they are protected by the operating system, and you don’t need access to them.

You will also see a folder called sdcard which again is actually a partition.


The sdcard partition is the main storage area for user data and files. It also contains App settings and data.

The sdcard partition exists even though you may not have an external sd card.

It is the internal partition.

If you open the sdcard directory you will see something like this:


Note: partial listing only

These files and directories contain your pictures,films,downloads etc as well as App data and settings.

You can view these files from your PC by connecting your device to a PC using a USB cable.

You can also transfer files between your device and a PC using this method.

Android File  Associations

Just as with other operating systems like Windows, Android will use an App to open a particular file type (extension).

For example if you try to open a pdf file it will normally use Adobe reader  (if installed) to open the file.

To open a file you will normally need to located the file using a file manager.

Just press the file to open it.

If the file type doesn’t already have an App associated with it you should be prompted to choose between the available Apps.


The option to always use that App  sets it as the default App.

If you set it as the default App you will not be prompted again unless you remove the association

To remove an association you need to remove it from the App itself.

So if the pdf files open with adobe reader and you want to change that:

  1. Go to Settings>Apps>Select Adobe reader,
  2. Then go to the Launch by default section
  3. and Clear defaults


The next time you try to open a pdf file you will be promoted to choose an App.

Android File Managers

If you search the Google play store you will find many file managers.

Which App is the most suitable depends on what you want to do. You should bear in mind that more features/functionality isn’t always better.

File managers like ESF  have lots of functionality including:

  • Built in FTP client
  • Task Manager
  • Cloud storage client
  • etc

However  for many this is a bit of an overkill, and so you might consider installing one of the simpler file managers like file manager and Astro file manager.

See my tutorial using the Astro file manager.

File Downloads

When you download a file using Google chrome or another browser App it is stored in the download directory.

You can access the directory contents through a shortcut in the Apps folder (if provided).


You can also use a file manager to locate it the folder called download. It is under your primary storage (called sdcard)


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