Release 3.3 Copyright ©1995 by NeXT Computer, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.


The Interface to the File System

One of the goals of the NEXTSTEP user interface is to provide a simple, graphical interface to the UNIX operating system. This is largely the responsibility of the Workspace Manager, the application that's brought to the screen after the user logs in. More specifically, the Workspace Manager provides a graphical interface to the file system.  It's a substitute for a UNIX command interpreter (or shell) that locates files, displays folder contents, associates files with applications and icons, starts up applications, and keeps track of the user's home folder and working environment.  It lets users manage files by manipulating their iconic representations.

For command-line interaction with the operating system, users can put up a window that emulates a VT-100 terminal and runs a standard shell.  This window is provided by the Terminal application, which can be started up from the Workspace Manager.

Terminal is documented in the NEXTSTEP Development Tools and Techniques manual.  The Workspace Manager is documented in the User's Guide.

How the File System Is Organized

The NEXTSTEP file system is arranged very much like a traditional UNIX file system.  However, by default, when users view the file system in the Workspace Manager, they won't see many of the traditional UNIX folders.  Instead, they'll see only a small number of folders that organize the tools and information they most need.  Under the root (/) folder, they'll find the following folders:


Home Folders

In the list above, the folder labeled user stands for the user's home folder.  The home folders of other users may also be visible. As is traditional, home folders bear the name of the user--the name that the user logs in under.  By default, the user's name is me, and the home folder is /me.

If a machine is connected to a file server over a network, users' home folders are likely to be located somewhere on the file server.  The figure above simply illustrates the default location for a home folder and where it would be located if it were on the startup disk.  Home folders on remote machines are accessed through the Net folder described below.

When typing in a file name, users can specify their home folder as ~.  For example, ~/Apps refers to the Apps folder that's in the home folder of the current user.

NeXT Folders

Four of the top-level folders begin with a "Next" prefix--NextApps, NextAdmin, NextDeveloper, and NextLibrary.  They contain documents, resources, and applications that are bundled with the computer.

The NextApps folder contains supported applications for NEXTSTEP users.  In it are general-interest applications like Edit, Preferences, Mail, and PrintManager.

The NextAdmin folder also contains supported applications, but ones that will be used mainly by system administrators and network managers.  They're not for general users like those in NextApps.

The main purpose of the NextDeveloper folder is to provide applications and files that are necessary for developing NEXTSTEP applications.  Some of the folders that can appear in NextDeveloper include:

Apps Holds applications used by developers.  This folder might not exist on all systems.  Debuggers, profiling tools, language-specific editors, and other window-based programming tools belong here.  Like all other applications in the four "Next" folders, these applications can be run from the Workspace Manager. Command-line debuggers and profiling tools are in standard UNIX folders such as /bin and /usr/bin.
Demos Contains programs that demonstrate the capabilities of NEXTSTEP.  These aren't full applications and aren't supported by NeXT.  However, they include games and utilities that users, not just developers, might find interesting.
Examples Contains source code for example programs.  This folder might not exist on all systems.  Its folders contain source code that you can study and compile.

The NextLibrary folder contains resource files organized into several folders.  Some of the files and folders aren't on every system.  Typical folders include /NextLibrary/Documentation, which holds NEXTSTEP technical documentation, and /NextLibrary/Fonts, which holds the PostScript fonts available to all applications.

Local and Personal Folders

The four folders with a "Next" prefix can be matched by four identical folders with a "Local" prefix.  Internally, these four folders should be organized like their "Next" counterparts.  But instead of containing files supplied by NeXT, they should hold information and applications provided for all users at a local site.  Any user who logs in to a machine, or boots from it over a network, has access to its "Local" folders.  If you add a new font for all users of your network, for example, it would reside in /LocalLibrary/Fonts.

"Local" folders are created as they're needed.  They aren't included on the release disk.

Users can add unprefixed Library and Apps folders in their home folders to hold information and applications that they alone have access to.  Users who develop utilities for their own use or purchase private copies of a word processor and spreadsheet, for example, should put them in ~/Apps.


The Net folder gives the user access to file systems that are physically located on remote machines.  The immediate folders under Net name the machines where the file systems are located.  The next level of folders name the root folders of the file systems on those machines.  For example, /Net/willow/misc is where the misc file system located on the willow computer would be mounted.

Net contains folders only if the user's computer is set up to be connected to other machines over a network.

All the folders in the root (/) folder, including Net, are physically located on the disk that the user's machine was booted from. If a user boots from a local hard disk, for example, NextLibrary and all its folders will be stored on the local disk.  Remote folders are mounted only under Net.


The Workspace Manager searches for executable files by using a search path, an ordered set of folders.  The default path used by the Workspace Manager lists these six folders:


The Workspace Manager uses this path for three tasks:

To find the icons it should display for files associated with a particular application.
To find the application it should start up when the user double-clicks  a file.
To find services offered by applications.

Before using the search path to find which application to start up, the Workspace Manager first looks in the dock.  Each application icon in the dock represents a particular application residing in a particular folder on disk.  By putting an icon in the dock, the user has indicated a preference for that version of the application over any others.

If an application isn't in the dock, the Workspace Manager looks next in the current working folder, the folder containing the file the user wants to open.  Only after failing to find the application there does it turn to the path listed above.

In the path, the Workspace Manager looks first in the Apps folder of the current user's home folder.  That's where the user's own applications would be.  It next looks in the /LocalApps folder for sitewide software, then in the /NextApps, /NextDeveloper/Apps, /NextAdmin, and /NextDeveloper/Demos folders for NeXT-supplied software.  This ordering of folders lets users customize their software to override sitewide software, and lets sitewide software override software supplied by NeXT.

Users can alter the path shown above for the Workspace Manager by setting a value for the ApplicationPaths parameter in their defaults database.  You might do this, for example, to add a /LocalAdmin or /LocalDeveloper/Apps folder to the path.

File Name Extensions

NEXTSTEP applications use file name extensions to identify types of files.  The extension consists of the last period in the file name and all characters following it.  For example, Mail uses the ".mbox" file name extension to identify its mailboxes.  Typical mailbox names are Active.mbox and Outgoing.mbox.

The Workspace Manager uses file name extensions not only to identify particular types of files, but also to associate document files with applications.  Every application that defines its own data file format appends an identifying extension to the names of its document files.

File Packages

A file package is a folder that the Workspace Manager presents to users as if it were a file.  Because users normally don't look inside a file package (unless they explicitly open it as a folder), they're not likely to alter or reorganize its contents.  "Using File Packages," later in this chapter, describes when you should use file packages.

Using Paths

If your application needs to look up data that could be in several places on the system, it should use an ordered path similar to the one used by the Workspace Manager.  For example, if an application requires a particular template file that might be supplied either by the user or by the system administrator, it should search for it first in a folder under ~/Library, and then in the same folder under /LocalLibrary.

Using File Name Extensions

Your application should use its own unique file name extensions to identify (and help the Workspace Manager identify) its documents.  Your extension (after its initial period) can include only alphabetic and numeric characters and should be at least three characters long.  (NeXT reserves all extensions of under three characters for its own use.)  For example, ".example" is an acceptable extension, but ".eg" is not, since it has only two characters after the period.

To request that an extension be registered and reserved for your use, write to:

NeXT Technical Services
Extension Registry
900 Chesapeake Drive
Redwood City, CA 94063

You can also send your request by electronic mail to ask_next@NeXT.COM or ...!next!ask_next.

The request should include the following information:

The file name extension you want to register.  List a first and a second choice.
The name of the application the request is for.
Your name and the name of your company.
Your postal address and your electronic mail address, if you have one.
Your telephone number.

You'll be informed when the extension is registered, or if it can't be for any reason.  NeXT Technical Services will make the list of registered extensions available to you so that you can choose an extension not already assigned.

Registering a file name extension reserves it for your use.  If you fail to register an extension that you intend to use, someone else may register and use it instead.

Using File Packages

An application should create a file package when it has a group of files that it needs to keep together.  For example, if your application displays information that's stored in independent text files, or if it makes use of a private utility program, or if it just loads archived objects from Interface Builder ".nib" files, you may want to keep these auxiliary files in close proximity to the application executable file.  A file package (with the ".app" file name extension) is the way to do it.

Similarly, if your application creates documents that are split into more than one file--for example, if text is in one file and artwork in another--these files can also be grouped in a file package.

File packages for documents should bear the same extension that's assigned to the application's document files.  For example, if a word processor uses a file package to store a document that has artwork, then the file package's extension should be the same as if the document had no artwork and was thus in a single file.

Opening and naming files within a document file package is entirely the application's responsibility.

Creating Unrequested Files and Folders

Applications sometimes need to create files and folders for a user, other than as the result of a Save command.

If the files are associated with a particular document, they should be grouped with that document and placed in a file package.

Otherwise, where the files are located and what they're named depends on whether the user needs to have direct access to them:

If the user never needs to get at the files or folders independently of using the application that creates them, they should be placed in a folder named ~/.AppInfo.  If an application needs to create many such files, it should put them in its own folder in ~/.AppInfo.  For example, if an application named MyApp needs to create many unrequested files, it should put them in a folder called ~/.AppInfo/MyApp.  If the ~/.AppInfo folder doesn't already exist, the application should create it.
If the user might sometimes need to get at the files or folders independently of the application that creates them (for example, template files), they should be placed under ~/Library.  You should name each file or folder so that the user can easily tell which application put it there.

The guiding principle here is that the user's home folder belongs to the user.  An application shouldn't leave anything there that belongs to it, not to the user.  When the application must create unrequested files and folders, it should put them where the user can find them but where they aren't likely to get in the user's way.

Note:  You should generally use the defaults system instead of files to store small amounts of data.  The functions supporting the defaults system are described in the NEXTSTEP General Reference manual.

Displaying File Names

File names are often displayed in a browser, where the user can see the path leading to the file.  However, sometimes it's necessary to use only text for the file's name and path.  In this case, the file's name should usually be displayed followed by two spaces, an em dash, two more spaces, and then the path.  For example:

jobRecords  --  /Net/machine/home/records

However, when there isn't much space to display the file name--as in a menu command--the path can be shortened to the minimum necessary to differentiate the file name.  The part of the path that isn't shown should be replaced with three dots.

For example, if one file called jobRecords is listed in limited space, it should be listed as:


If two files called jobRecords are listed in limited space, they might be listed as:

jobRecords  --  .../records
jobRecords  --  .../backup