File storage: An explanation of the classic file system

There may be hardly any choice on your home PC, but there are different storage methods for large storage volumes – for companies, for example. In addition to the newer models like block storage and object storage, the classic file storage also has its justification for use and is still used in many scenarios. Why is file-based storage still considered modern enough and so widely used today?

What is file storage?

If you have ever saved a file on your PC, Mac or laptop, you have already experienced file storage (or file-level storage). Files are stored as a whole in a selected location on the hard disk. There are two points that make this method appealing – whether on your home PC or on corporate servers:

  • Files: All data is stored as complete files.
  • Hierarchy: Files are located in a folder structure and are accessed through a path.

In contrast to block storage, a system with file storage does not take the data of a file apart. The file is stored as a whole and called up again in this form. The hierarchy results from the multi-level directory system: Files are stored in folders, which in turn can be located in other folders – and usually are. This sometimes results in long directory paths that must be known to the computer system or a server. These paths are used for navigation, so that the files can be accessed again. The information is stored in the form of metadata.

File-level storage, other than that on built-in hard disks, is mainly used in two different variants:

  • Network Attached Storage (NAS): An autonomous storage system connected to a network and available to all participants of the network.
  • Direct Attached Storage (DAS): A storage system directly connected to a computer in the form of an external hard disk.

Different protocols can also be used for communication between the storage and computer:

  • Server Message Block (SMB) for Windows systems
  • Network File System (NFS) for Unix and Linux systems

Advantages and disadvantages of file storage

The biggest advantage of file-based storage is probably that anyone can understand the system. A hierarchical system is familiar not just from IT but in principle this method is also used in domestic file folders. In general, it is also quite easy to scale a system with file storage. If more capacity is needed, it is simple to add another storage device (e.g. a new NAS server) to the network. Multiple network users can also access the memory and make changes at the same time.

File-level storage is in principle very scalable and also inexpensive, but navigation also becomes more complex with increasing size. This makes the process of opening individual files increasingly slower.

Advantages Disadvantages
Low price Slow access times
Easy to use  
Easily scalable  

File-based storage in practice

File storage in the form of a NAS is used in companies (but also in some home networks) primarily as a simple file server. File storage is the right choice if you want to provide (structured or unstructured) files for many users. Thanks to the intuitive system, all users have equal access to the memory. This storage method is also ideal for archiving files. Since there is no need for fast access times anyway, files can be stored for a long time without any problems.

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