macOS Directory Structure

There are lots of folders on your computer.  Some are solely for the smooth running of your computer (System Directories). Others, like the user directories, shouldn’t be deleted for the operation of your user.  If your user directory was deleted, then it wouldn’t affect any other user on the system.

Meta Directories

There are a couple of special directories that are used in macOS and Linux. 
These are not real directories, but point to a real directory.

PathPath Description
.Current directory 
..Parent directory
Previous directory
~User directory
Meta directory symbols

System Directories

There are lots of directories on your computer, that have a specific purpose.

Here is a list of some of the main directories.

Absolute PathPath Description
/Root of all directories
/ApplicationsGlobal Application directory
/Applications/UtilitiesGlobal Utilities directory
/binTerminal applications
/devDevices attached to computer. e.g. disks
/LibraryPlace for applications to store resources
/NetworkList of computers on the local network
/optOptional software directory. Typically this is not used on macOS
/opt/homebrewHomebrew directory on Apple Silicon Macs (M1 & M2)
/SystemApple system files
/UsersLocation macOS stores users
/Users/<user name>User directory (home directory)
/usr/localHomebrew directory on Intel Macs
/VolumesMounted drives and other volumes are put in this directory
/Volumes/<name>Mounted volume
Common directories on macOS as a absolute path

Your boot or system drive is special because it exists in /Volumes/Macintosh HD and is the root directory.  It works, because the root directory is your boot volume.  

What is in /Volumes/Macintosh HD is actually a symlink that points to /.

User Directory

You also have a set of default folders within your user or home directory.

Relative PathPath Description
~Shortcut for the user folder. e.g. /Users/<name>
~/ApplicationsUser Application directory
~/DesktopWhere items on the Desktop are stored
~/DocumentsDefault location to store user documents and files
~/DownloadsDefault location for files downloaded from the internet 
~/LibraryApplication specific files and caches
~/MoviesUser video files
~/MusicUser music files
~/PicturesUser picture files
~/PublicFiles the user wants to share
~/SitesWeb pages. Used by web sharing
Common user directories on macOS as a relative path

New Disk Layout

With Catalina, Apple changed the layout of the filesystem.  Unless you’ve been looking in Disk Utility application, you might not have even noticed.  Apple split the filesystem into two volumes.

Assuming your drive is called Macintosh HD, you will now have an additional drive called Macintosh HD - Data.  The Macintosh HD drive, now contains Operating System and has been made read-only.  The reason for this, is to stop Operating System being changed by accident or maliciously.  Your Macintosh HD - Data or your data drive, is now where all your files are stored.  

Is this going to waste space?

No, because both drives share the same free disk space.

The reason you don’t know or can’t see the two drives, is because Apple has stitched them together with firmlinks.

This new layout will only be seen in the Terminal, if connect an external drive with an installation of macOS.


Whilst building web applications, Daniel also sets up web servers from scratch because he has yet to find the perfect hosting solution. His philosophy is “Why settle, when you can build it better yourself?”

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