Chapter 2. The Filesystem

This standard assumes that the operating system underlying an FHS-compliant file system supports the same basic security features found in most UNIX filesystems.

It is possible to define two independent distinctions among files: shareable vs. unshareable and variable vs. static. In general, files that differ in either of these respects should be located in different directories. This makes it easy to store files with different usage characteristics on different filesystems.

"Shareable" files are those that can be stored on one host and used on others. "Unshareable" files are those that are not shareable. For example, the files in user home directories are shareable whereas device lock files are not.

"Static" files include binaries, libraries, documentation files and other files that do not change without system administrator intervention. "Variable" files are files that are not static.


Shareable files can be stored on one host and used on several others. Typically, however, not all files in the filesystem hierarchy are shareable and so each system has local storage containing at least its unshareable files. It is convenient if all the files a system requires that are stored on a foreign host can be made available by mounting one or a few directories from the foreign host.

Static and variable files should be segregated because static files, unlike variable files, can be stored on read-only media and do not need to be backed up on the same schedule as variable files.

Historical UNIX-like filesystem hierarchies contained both static and variable files under both /usr and /etc. In order to realize the advantages mentioned above, the /var hierarchy was created and all variable files were transferred from /usr to /var. Consequently /usr can now be mounted read-only (if it is a separate filesystem). Variable files have been transferred from /etc to /var over a longer period as technology has permitted.

Here is an example of a FHS-compliant system. (Other FHS-compliant layouts are possible.)