Mobile devices

Android File System


When you start on a project for work, one typically creates a folder and maybe even several subfolders to organize all the files pertaining to the project. Typical projects could a monthly newsletter, a promotional video or even the annual office party. When you want to use your phone for serious work like that, you soon realize that you need to know how files are managed on Android. It is not as obvious as on a PC or Mac. There are several reasons for that.

Firstly it was not foreseen that the smartphone would be used for serious work applications. Rather it would be easy and quick to use. The file system was hidden from the user. The individual apps would manage the data using non-technical terms.

Secondly, in the beginning smartphones were underpowered and had small screens to conserve battery power – they were not intended to be work computers.

The Camera

The camera is a good example. On my phone, it uses the Gallery app to store and retrieve the files.

Gallery App home screen

The default view, Pictures, lists the photo and video files by the date they were created, irrespective of where they are stored physically in the file system. So by scrolling to the appropriate date, you can quickly find the media you are looking for.

The individual files are stored in folders, appropriately referred to as Albums. There are standard albums like Camera, Screenshots, and Downloads. But you can create as many albums of your own and copy photos and videos in them as needed. So you might create an album called Seaside Vacation, or one called Newsletter Project.

In the meantime, the albums are actually folders in the file system but that is hidden from the casual phone user.

A Linux-type System

In Android the hard disk or C-drive as we had in personal computers, is now of course solid state memory chips. It is organized by partitions. There are six primary partitions that are found on Android devices. These include /boot, /system, /recovery, /data, /cache, and /misc. One cannot see these partitions with the MyFiles app.

In the area we have access to, you will typically see the following partitions:

  • Android
  • Alarms, Ringtones, Notifications
  • DCIM
  • Downloads
  • Documents
  • Pictures, Music, Movies, Video
  • Podcasts
  • etc.

It takes a little bit of detective work to find out where your files are. For example the DCIM folder- images and videos captured from your device’s camera app are saved here.

Then the Pictures, Music, Movies, Video – these are all default folders used by various apps for your media needs. Some apps will allow you to specify other locations, but most media players will search these directories by default. The Pictures folder also holds screenshots under a sub-folder of the same name.

Screenshot of file system
Screenshot of file system
Screenshot of file system
screenshot continued

Note: I have been trying to do a video of this but the Parkinson’s has been against me today. I have decided to put the video up, shakes, poor voice control and all – if nothing else it shows that I have tried. See my post discussing the challenges.