Filesystem Hierarchy Standard

The Filesystem Hierarchy Standard (FHS) defines the directory structure and directory contents in Linux distributions.[1] It is maintained by the Linux Foundation. The latest version is 3.0, released on 3 June 2015.[2]

Filesystem Hierarchy Standard
Year started14 February 1994 (1994-02-14)
Latest version3.0
3 June 2015 (2015-06-03)
OrganizationLinux Foundation
DomainDirectory structure
WebsiteOfficial website
Official website (Historical)

Directory structure

In the FHS, all files and directories appear under the root directory /, even if they are stored on different physical or virtual devices. Some of these directories only exist on a particular system if certain subsystems, such as the X Window System, are installed.

Most of these directories exist in all Unix-like operating systems and are generally used in much the same way; however, the descriptions here are those used specifically for the FHS, and are not considered authoritative for platforms other than Linux.

Directory Description
Primary hierarchy root and root directory of the entire file system hierarchy.
Essential command binaries that need to be available in single user mode; for all users, e.g., cat, ls, cp.
Boot loader files, e.g., kernels, initrd.
Device files, e.g., /dev/null, /dev/disk0, /dev/sda1, /dev/tty, /dev/random.
Host-specific system-wide configuration files

There has been controversy over the meaning of the name itself. In early versions of the UNIX Implementation Document from Bell labs, /etc is referred to as the etcetera directory,[3] as this directory historically held everything that did not belong elsewhere (however, the FHS restricts /etc to static configuration files and may not contain binaries).[4] Since the publication of early documentation, the directory name has been re-explained in various ways. Recent interpretations include backronyms such as "Editable Text Configuration" or "Extended Tool Chest".[5]

Configuration files for add-on packages that are stored in /opt.
Configuration files, such as catalogs, for software that processes SGML.
Configuration files for the X Window System, version 11.
Configuration files, such as catalogs, for software that processes XML.
Users' home directories, containing saved files, personal settings, etc.
Libraries essential for the binaries in /bin and /sbin.
Alternative format essential libraries. Such directories are optional, but if they exist, they have some requirements.
Mount points for removable media such as CD-ROMs (appeared in FHS-2.3 in 2004).
Temporarily mounted filesystems.
Optional application software packages.[6]
Virtual filesystem providing process and kernel information as files. In Linux, corresponds to a procfs mount. Generally automatically generated and populated by the system, on the fly.
Home directory for the root user.
Run-time variable data: Information about the running system since last boot, e.g., currently logged-in users and running daemons. Files under this directory must be either removed or truncated at the beginning of the boot process; but this is not necessary on systems that provide this directory as a temporary filesystem (tmpfs).
Essential system binaries, e.g., fsck, init, route.
Site-specific data served by this system, such as data and scripts for web servers, data offered by FTP servers, and repositories for version control systems (appeared in FHS-2.3 in 2004).
Contains information about devices, drivers, and some kernel features.[7]
Temporary files (see also /var/tmp). Often not preserved between system reboots, and may be severely size restricted.
Secondary hierarchy for read-only user data; contains the majority of (multi-)user utilities and applications.[8]
Non-essential command binaries (not needed in single user mode); for all users.
Standard include files.
Libraries for the binaries in /usr/bin and /usr/sbin.
Alternative format libraries, e.g. /usr/lib32 for 32-bit libraries on a 64-bit machine (optional).
Tertiary hierarchy for local data, specific to this host. Typically has further subdirectories, e.g., bin, lib, share.[9]
Non-essential system binaries, e.g., daemons for various network-services.
Architecture-independent (shared) data.
Source code, e.g., the kernel source code with its header files.
X Window System, Version 11, Release 6 (up to FHS-2.3, optional).
Variable files—files whose content is expected to continually change during normal operation of the system—such as logs, spool files, and temporary e-mail files.
Application cache data. Such data are locally generated as a result of time-consuming I/O or calculation. The application must be able to regenerate or restore the data. The cached files can be deleted without loss of data.
State information. Persistent data modified by programs as they run, e.g., databases, packaging system metadata, etc.
Lock files. Files keeping track of resources currently in use.
Log files. Various logs.
Mailbox files. In some distributions, these files may be located in the deprecated /var/spool/mail.
Variable data from add-on packages that are stored in /opt.
Run-time variable data. This directory contains system information data describing the system since it was booted.[10]

In FHS 3.0, /var/run is replaced by /run; a system should either continue to provide a /var/run directory, or provide a symbolic link from /var/run to /run, for backwards compatibility.[11]

Spool for tasks waiting to be processed, e.g., print queues and outgoing mail queue.
Deprecated location for users' mailboxes.[12]
Temporary files to be preserved between reboots.

FHS compliance

Most Linux distributions follow the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard and declare it their own policy to maintain FHS compliance.[13][14][15][16] GoboLinux[17] and NixOS[18] provide examples of intentionally non-compliant filesystem implementations.

Some distributions generally follow the standard but deviate from it in some areas. The FHS is a 'trailing standard', and so documents common practices at a point in time. Times of course change, and distribution goals and needs call for experimentation. Some common deviations include:

  • Modern Linux distributions include a /sys directory as a virtual filesystem (sysfs, comparable to /proc, which is a procfs), which stores and allows modification of the devices connected to the system,[19] whereas many traditional Unix-like operating systems use /sys as a symbolic link to the kernel source tree.[20]
  • Many modern Unix-like systems (like FreeBSD via its ports system) install third party packages into /usr/local while keeping code considered part of the operating system in /usr.
  • Some Linux distributions no longer differentiate between /lib versus /usr/lib and have /lib symlinked to /usr/lib.[21]
  • Some Linux distributions no longer differentiate between /bin versus /usr/bin and /sbin versus /usr/sbin. They may symlink /bin to /usr/bin and /sbin to /usr/sbin. Other distributions choose to consolidate all four, symlinking them to /usr/bin.[22]

Modern Linux distributions include a /run directory as a temporary filesystem (tmpfs) which stores volatile runtime data, following the FHS version 3.0. According to the FHS version 2.3, such data were stored in /var/run but this was a problem in some cases because this directory is not always available at early boot. As a result, these programs have had to resort to trickery, such as using /dev/.udev, /dev/.mdadm, /dev/.systemd or /dev/.mount directories, even though the device directory isn't intended for such data.[23] Among other advantages, this makes the system easier to use normally with the root filesystem mounted read-only. For example, below are the changes Debian made in its 2013 Wheezy release:[24]

  • /dev/.*/run/*
  • /dev/shm/run/shm
  • /dev/shm/*/run/*
  • /etc/* (writeable files) → /run/*
  • /lib/init/rw/run
  • /var/lock/run/lock
  • /var/run/run
  • /tmp/run/tmp


FHS was created as the FSSTND (short for "Filesystem Standard"[25]), largely based on similar standards for other Unix-like operating systems. Notable examples are these: the hier(7) description of file system layout,[26] which has existed since the release of Version 7 Unix (in 1979); the SunOS filesystem(7)[27] and its successor, the Solaris filesystem(5).[28][29]

Release history

Version Release Date Notes
Old version, no longer supported: 1.0 1994-02-14 FSSTND[30]
Old version, no longer supported: 1.1 1994-10-09 FSSTND[31]
Old version, no longer supported: 1.2 1995-03-28 FSSTND[32]
Old version, no longer supported: 2.0 1997-10-26 FHS 2.0 is the direct successor for FSSTND 1.2. Name of the standard was changed to Filesystem Hierarchy Standard.[33][34][35]
Old version, no longer supported: 2.1 2000-04-12 FHS[36][37][38]
Old version, no longer supported: 2.2 2001-05-23 FHS[39]
Older version, yet still supported: 2.3 2004-01-29 FHS[40]
Current stable version: 3.0 2015-05-18 FHS[41]
Old version
Older version, still supported
Latest version
Latest preview version
Future release

See also


  1. "FilesystemHierarchyStandard - Debian Wiki". Retrieved 6 July 2016.
  2. "FHS 3.0 Released". 3 June 2015.
  3. J. DeFelicc (17 March 1972). "E.0". Preliminary Release of UNIX Implementation Document (PDF). p. 8. IMO.1-1.
  4. "/etc : Host-specific system configuration". Filesystem Hierarchy Standard. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  5. Define - /etc?, Posted by Cliff, 3 March 2007 - Slashdot
  6. "/opt : Add-on application software packages". Filesystem Hierarchy Standard. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  7. "/sys : Kernel and system information virtual filesystem". Filesystem Hierarchy Standard. Retrieved 4 June 2017.
  8. Should be shareable and read-only, cf.
  9. Historically and strictly according to the standard, /usr/local is for data that must be stored on the local host (as opposed to /usr, which may be mounted across a network). Most of the time /usr/local is used for installing software/data that are not part of the standard operating system distribution (in such case, /usr would only contain software/data that are part of the standard operating system distribution). It is possible that the FHS standard may in the future be changed to reflect this de facto convention.
  10. "Filesystem Hierarchy Standard". FHS 2.3. Section /var/run : Run-time variable data.
  11. "5.13. /var/run : Run-time variable data". FHS 3.0.
  12. "File System Standard" (PDF). Linux Foundation. p. 5.11.1.
  13. Red Hat reference guide on file system structure
  14. SuSE Linux Enterprise Server Administration, Novell authorized courseware, by Jason W. Eckert, Novell; Course Technology, 2006; ISBN 1-4188-3731-8, ISBN 978-1-4188-3731-0
  15. Debian policy on FHS compliance
  16. Ubuntu Linux File system Tree Overview - Community Ubuntu Documentation
  17. Hisham Muhammad (9 May 2003). "The Unix tree rethought: an introduction to GoboLinux". Retrieved 4 October 2016.
  18. Dolstra, E.; Löh, A. (September 2008). NixOS: A Purely Functional Linux Distribution (PDF). ICFP 2008: 13th ACM SIGPLAN International Conference on Functional Programming. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. pp. 367–378.
  19. "5.3 About the /sys Virtual File System". Oracle. Archived from the original on 8 July 2016. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  20. Lehey, Greg (May 2003). The Complete FreeBSD: Documentation from the Source (Fourth ed.). O'Reilly Media, Incorporated. pp. 188, 609. ISBN 9780596005160. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  21. Allan McRae. "Arch Linux - News: The /lib directory becomes a symlink". Archived from the original on 9 September 2014. Retrieved 14 December 2019.
  22. Allan McRae. "Arch Linux - News: Binaries move to /usr/bin requiring update intervention". Archived from the original on 10 September 2014. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  23. Lennart Poettering (30 March 2011). "What's this /run directory doing on my system and where does it come from?". (Mailing list).
  24. "ReleaseGoalsRunDirectory". Debian Wiki.
  25. "FSSTND FAQ page". Retrieved 10 May 2016.
  26. hier(7)  FreeBSD Miscellaneous Information Manual
  27. SunOS 4.1.3 manual page for filesystem(7), dated 10 January 1988 (from the FreeBSD Man Pages library)
  28. filesystem(5)  Solaris 10 Standards, Environments and Macros Reference Manual
  29. "filesystem man page - Solaris 10 11/06 Man Pages". Retrieved 15 October 2011.
  30. "Index of /pub/Linux/docs/fsstnd/old/fsstnd-1.0/". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  31. "Index of /pub/Linux/docs/fsstnd/old/fsstnd-1.1/". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  32. "Index of /pub/Linux/docs/fsstnd/old/". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  33. "FHS 2.0 Announcement". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  34. Quinlan, Daniel (14 March 2012) [1997], "FHS 2.0 Announcement", BSD, Linux, Unix and The Internet - Research by Kenneth R. Saborio, San Jose, Costa Rica: Kenneth R. Saborio, archived from the original on 5 March 2016, retrieved 18 February 2016
  35. "Index of /pub/Linux/docs/fsstnd/". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  36. "FHS 2.1 Announcement". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  37. "FHS 2.1 is released". 13 April 2000. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  38. Quinlan, Daniel (12 April 2000). "Filesystem Hierarchy Standard — Version 2.1, Filesystem Hierarchy Standard Group" (PDF). Acadia Linux Tutorials. Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada: Jodrey School of Computer Science, Acadia University. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  39. Russell, Rusty; Quinlan, Daniel, eds. (23 May 2001). "Filesystem Hierarchy Standard — Version 2.2 final Filesystem Hierarchy Standard Group" (PDF). Filesystem Hierarchy Standard. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  40. Russell, Rusty; Quinlan, Daniel; Yeoh, Christopher, eds. (28 January 2004). "Filesystem Hierarchy Standard - Filesystem Hierarchy Standard Group" (PDF). Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  41. Yeoh, Christopher; Russell, Rusty; Quinlan, Daniel, eds. (19 March 2015). "Filesystem Hierarchy Standard" (PDF). The Linux Foundation. Retrieved 20 May 2015.

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