Jan's Illustrated Computer Literacy 101 Logo:Jegsworks Jan's Illustrated Computer Literacy 101

Home > Jan's CompLit 101 > Computer Basics > Hands On > Files
Icon: Arrow - Previous pagePrevious    NextIcon: Arrow - Next page

Jan's Computer Basics:

Hands On: Files

Files and folders piled up around filing cabinet

Once you've gotten your program open and have done some work, you'll no doubt be interested in saving the results!

The work that you want to keep must be saved in a file. This work might be a picture that you drew with a graphics program. It could be a letter or memo. It could be a calendar or spreadsheet or database.

The way you save and organize what you've created is called File Management.

File Names

How do you choose a name for your file? There are some rules and some 'best practices'.

A file name has two parts: FILENAME and EXTENSION in the format: 

Most programs have a default extension which they will assign to files that they save unless you specifically type in something different. Most extensions used to be 3 characters long but 4 or more are also possible these days.

Examples of File Names:

Executable: Starts a program of some sort.

But they are not all files that you should double-click on to start yourself. Some are called by other programs, especially the ones with the extension dll. It is risky to run a file when you don't know for sure what it does!!

Documents: These extensions are some of the standard extensions used for documents like letters, memos, instructions, and web pages.

doc and docx are used by MS Word and WordPad. HyperText documents for the Internet use htm or html. Programs will often have their own special extensions for their documents. A file does not have to have an extension, but it helps you and your software identity what kind of file it is.

letter to fred about vacation.lwp
Your own system: What do you need to know about files? The date, the type of document, the project it's about? You can invent your own naming system. It may look like gobbledy gook to others, but it is only important that you know what your file names mean. The tricky part is making sure your programs will open these files with non-standard names.

User WarningKeep it simple: What is obvious today may make no sense next week. Generally it's best to be as simple and direct as possible.

More info on file extensions: FileInfo.com Icon: Off Site A searchable database of file extensions and how to open the files

User WarningLong file names: A file name that is longer than 8 characters plus 3 for the extension is a long file name. The last example above has a long file name that even has spaces in it. This works under Windows, ever since Win95, and also in some other operating systems but not under DOS or Windows 3.x or early UNIX versions. You could use some kind of additional software to handle such names even on those systems.
Under DOS, file names can have 1 to 8 characters in the FILENAME and 0 to 3 in the EXTENSION. This is sometimes called an 8.3 name. You sometimes see a 8.1 version of a file name in a dialog.
User WarningLong file names get cut off: The dialogs that let you open or save a file have less space for the file name than a full Explorer window. Make sure your file names show important info in the first 7 characters.

User TipTrouble with long file names: If you are having trouble opening a file with a long file name, try putting double quote marks (" ") around the name, like this: "letter to fred about vacation.lwp"

One way to help is to name the file name with no spaces like: lettertofredaboutvacation.lwp but that is hard to read. Using internal capitals helps like: letterToFredAboutVacation.lwp. Or you can use underscores or hyphens, letter_to_fred-about-vacation.lwp.

User TipCapital letters in filenames: Sometimes capitalization in filenames is ignored and sometimes not. Mymemo.txt, MyMemo.txt, mymemo.txt, MYMEMO.TXT are all different names under the UNIX and Linux operating systems but are the same under Windows since Win95. Don't rely on capitalization to distinguish one file from another. Use a different name altogether and it will be easier on everyone.

Certain characters can't be used in file names. They are reserved by the operating system for special uses.

User WarningIllegal characters in a file name: . , / \ : ; [ ] " | =

These symbols are:  period, comma, forward slash, backward slash, colon, semi-colon, left square bracket, right square bracket, double quote, pipe, equals sign.

Spaces can't be used either under DOS and Windows 3.1 and UNIX. My worst personal example was online course management software for a course I was teaching would not import files that had a space in the name. That was unexpected and took a while to figure out! Some programs will automatically change the name for you, replacing each space with the ASCII code for a space, %20, or with an underscore character. That's helpful... but only when you know that the changes were made!

Certain extensions are reserved also. They are used internally by the system.

User WarningIllegal extensions: CON, AUC, COM1, COM2, COM3, COM4, LPT1, LPT2, LPT3, PRN, or NUL

More hints on naming files:

User Tip Including dates: If you do a weekly sales report, you could use the month and week number like Sept310.rpt for the third week of September in 2010. Someone new to the office might not understand this though. If you can use long file names, you could be clearer with 3rd Week Sales-Sept 10.rpt.

User TipAlphabetizing matters: Think about how your file names will be alphabetized also. You might want to adjust what comes first in the name to get files grouped neatly together that are similar but of different dates. For the September third week sales report, using S1009w3.rpt or Sales1009week3.rpt would automatically put all the Sales reports together alphabetically by year and month and in order by week.

User TipComputer alphabetize numbers differently: All the numbers starting with "1" will be put together so "1", "10", and "1000" will all come before "2". This is not the order we learned in elementary school!

Save a File

Now that we've thrashed out how to name a file, it's high time we talked about how to save it.

If you are working in a classroom lab or other shared computer, you'll need to save your files to a removable disk. If you save to the class computer's hard drive, another student or the teacher or network technician might erase your files before you get to use that computer again. That computer might even have to go in for an update or repair and be replaced before you return to class! Your network may give you space for saving files if you have your own logon name and password. Ask! Otherwise, your files won't be available to you if you have to use a different computer. <sigh!>

Saving to the hard drive is the same as to a removable disk except for inserting and removing the disk.

Steps to Save

  1. Insert your removable disk.
    The media you are using must be formatted before it can be used. New removable disks come formatted from the factory. This was not always true for floppy disks. It is usually a bad idea to format a flash drive.

    User Warning Error messages are not always correct! Sometimes the computer will tell you that the disk has not been formatted and ask "Do you want to format it now?" Be careful! Try the device in another port on the computer or on a different computer before you format it. When flash drives are removed incorrectly, the computer may not recognize a new device on that port at all. Do not reformat the disk unless you are sure you won't be losing anything important. The problem might be with the computer and not with your device at all. Don't forget that reformatting will erase all the data.

  2. Dialog: Save As (Word pad in Win7)Click the Save button Save button icon or File > Save or File > Save As command from the program's menu.
  3. Name the file.

    If the file is new or you chose Save As, you'll get a dialog box where you enter the file's name.

  4. Choose a directory/folder.
    (more on directories/folders in the next section.)

    User TipFor removable USB disks: Your flash drive may not show in the Save in: drop list at first, if you have just inserted it. Nothing is broken! Choose My Computer or Computer from the drop list and all drives will show in the white area below, including your flash drive. After you have accessed the USB disk by opening a file or saving a file to it, then the USB drive will show in the drop list.

  5. Choose a file type.

    For example, in WordPad, as pictured here, you can save a file in Rich Text Format (extension = rtf), as Office Open XML document (extension = docx), as OpenDocument Text ( extension = odt), as a plain text document (extension = txt), or as a MS-DOS text document (extension = txt). A graphics program like PaintShopPro or Adobe Photoshop might offer 30 or more different file formats. Choose carefully!

  6. Dialog; Save As - Save buttonClick the Save button.
  7. Wait until the computer is finished writing the file before removing a storage disk.

    You may or may not get a message that the computer is "done".

  8. Remove the disk correctly when you are finished work for the day.

User TipFor removable USB disks: The light may stay on after writing is done. Look in the notification tray at the bottom right of your task bar for an icon called Safely Remove Hardware: Icon: Safely Remove Hardware Icon: Safely Remove Hardware (Win7) Icon: Safely Remove Hardware (Win10).

User WarningFor removable USB disks: If you remove a flash drive incorrectly, the computer may no longer recognize any device in the port it was using. You will have to reboot the computer to fix this.

User WarningTo make a copy of a file: When you modify a file and just save it, you overwrite the previous version. If you want to keep the old version, too, save the file with a new name or in a different folder. However, having different documents around with the same name, even if they are in different folders, can be quite confusing.
User TipSaving with same name as another file? If you try to save a file to a folder that already has a file with that name, most programs will ask if that is what you really want to do. Read the message carefully to be sure that you are overwriting the correct file. Test your software to make sure that you will get a warning! Some programs allow you turn off this feature and a few just assume you know what you are doing!

Once you've decided on a file name you must deal with the question of where to put it! So the next topic is Directories / Folders.