I've wondered this for some years now. As near as I can figure, if individual files were tagged with each of the components in a typical path (e.g. each of ['C:', 'Program Files', 'Mathematica'], or ['var', 'log'], etc.), you would be able to uniquely refer to files if desired, while gaining a lot of flexibility in organization and search. It seems like it could even be backwards-compatible to act transparently like a hierarchical system if you wanted.

(Presumably there would be some edge cases where order matters, but I'm guessing you could work around that pretty easily, maybe by adding a flag to enforce ordering of the tags if nothing else.)

My question is basically "Why is a hierarchy the default instead of tagging?" I'm guessing one or more of:

  • a historical reason why it was advantageous for disks to be set up that way, back during the dominance of HDDs or even magnetic tapes or what have you, or
  • I haven't thought about it deeply enough and there's no actual way in which it would be a preferable system, or
  • it already exists in some niche applications / disk formats I don't know about.
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ How would you distinguish $a/b$ from $b/a$? $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2022 at 6:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Why is a hierarchy the default instead of tagging" – Is it? There are more phones than desktops, and both iOS and Android don't use a traditional hierarchical file system. (They do, under the hood, but that is not exposed to applications or users.) There are more websites than desktops, and websites use no filesystem at all, they use a graph of linked resources. Apps like photo viewers, music players, movie players, etc. typically organize content based on metadata not on hierarchical location. And as tools like Spotlight and Cortana keep getting better, many people stop using hierarchical … $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2022 at 8:07
  • $\begingroup$ … organization and slowly gravitate towards keyword searching. At least that's the case for me and I have seen this in others as well, $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2022 at 8:08


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.