File Structures and the File Manager

Web hosting is, at it’s basic core, files and folders on a computer that is connected to the internet and setup to distribute them. How that computer (typically a server) is setup to do that is covered more in LAMP Environments but this article will explain the idea of the file structure and how it relates to what you view on your domain.

When you signed up for your domain a web hosting account was created. Although you typically will interact mostly with the web interface to create subdomains, install applications, and other common tasks, you might occasionally also need to work directly with the files in your account. The File Manager in your cPanel is one way to see these files. You can also create an FTP account in cPanel and use a FTP programme to interact with these files (FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol, and it’s a way of using a desktop client to transfer files to and from your Web server space).

File Manager

Let’s take a look at the File Manager built into your cPanel to get a better understanding of the file structure that makes up your website(s).

To get started login to your Coventry.Domains account. Once logged in you’ll be at the homepage of your control panel. The easiest way to navigate the panel is using the search feature in the top right panel. Click the Search box and type “File Manager” (without the quotes). As you type, the cPanel page will begin to narrow down results, and soon the only visible options will be the File Manager. Alternatively scroll down your cPanel dashboard and look for the ‘Files’ section and click the “File Manager” icon.

Your File Manager will open in a new browser tab.

You’ll notice when the File Manager opens up that this looks very much like a folder on your computer. There are a few folders in it as well as files, and you can navigate down into those folders and see what’s inside of them. At the top level of the File Manager you also have the option of interacting with files and folders you select by moving them around or removing them. There is a larger article all about how to use the file manager at Accessing Your Files through the File Manager so we won’t talk much about how the interface works, rather we’ll cover what those folders and files actually mean and how they relate to what someone sees when they visit your website.

By default you have a variety of folders at the root of your web space (the first screen you see when you open up the file manager). Some of them are created automatically to store information about the panel and setup of certain sites. These folders are things like access-logs, etc, ssl, and tmp. You can safely ignore most of those folders because they don’t correspond to actual websites. Let’s look at which folders do and how it all works.

Your root domain, e.g. pseudonym.coventry.domains, corresponds with a folder called “public_html.” Whatever files and folders are inside of this folder are available at that root domain. If you installed WordPress here you’ll likely see a lot of WordPress-related files within it (which were probably helpfully put there by the automated installer).

Let’s say we uploaded an image called mypicture.jpg into the public_html folder. That image would now be available at pseudonym.coventry.domains/mypicture.jpg. The slash after your domain implies “this file is inside this folder”.

If we then created a folder inside the public_html folder, how would this appear? This is typically called a subfolder so let’s put a folder in public_html called “images” and put our image, mypicture.jpg, inside of that folder. What would you type in a browser to get to that file now? The location would be pseudonym.coventry.domains/images/mypicture.jpg. So subfolders are also indicated by a forward slash after a domain.

What about subdomains?

The root domain provide with your Coventry.Domains account is a subdomain of the domain name ‘coventry.domains’, e.g pseudonym.coventry.domains. Usually, if you buy your own domain name you will have a root domain that looks like ‘mydomain.com’. You can have completely separate sites called subdomains that appear as nameofsubdomain.mydomain.com. If you create a subdomain with your Coventry.Domains root domain it would appear as nameofsubdomain.pseudonym.coventry.domains (this would technically be a sub-subdomain).

But where would a subdomain sit in the file structure? When you created your subdomain the control panel asked you to give the folder a name. If I had a subdomain called photos.mydomain.com for example, I might want to name the folder “photos” (by default your control panel will call the folder by the name of the subdomain). Folders for subdomains are located inside the public_html folder. So when you go to the File Manager and navigate to public_html you’ll see folders listed for all of your subdomains and once you navigate inside one of those folders you’ll see files and folders specifically for that subdomain that appear on the web at that subdomain’s address.

File Transfer Protocol (FTP)

The File Manager in your control panel is great to view these files and folders, but it can be limiting if you want to upload an entire folder of information to your website. If you find yourself wanting to do more with the files and folders on your web space you can download an File Transfer Protocol (FTP) programme like Filezilla and connect to your website by creating an FTP account in your cPanel (also located in the Websites and Domains tab). A FTP programme will allow you to upload and download an unlimited number of files and folders quickly. You can find out more at Setting Up FTP.

This content is adapted from the Create Documentation by The University of Oklahoma’s Center for Teaching Excellence which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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