Why Does Windows Still Use Letters for Drives?

C System Drive: Shortcut on a Windows 10 Desktop

Windows usually assigns your system drive the letter C: and assigns different letters to other storage devices. This is unusual: macOS and Linux do not use letters. Windows can access readers without a letter, so why is it using them?

Where do the drive letters come from?

C: and D: drive letters in a command prompt window.

Like many things in Windows, such as its use backwards instead of slashesThe drive letters date back to the time of MS-DOS (actually even a little earlier). This is the reason why the Windows system drive uses the letter C: –A: and B: were reserved for floppy disk drives.

The drive letters were transferred under MS-DOS from CP / M, an older operating system. They provided a way to access logical and physical storage devices containing files. To access a file named README.TXT on the second floppy disk drive, simply type B: README.TXT.

The need for drive letters is evident on the command line. If there were no drive letters, how quickly specify paths to access files on different devices? It was the system inherited from MS-DOS and Microsoft has maintained it ever since.

Drive letters may seem less important now that we use graphical workstations and we can just click on icons, but they still matter. Even if you access your files only through graphical tools, the programs you use must reference these files with a file path in the background, and they use drive letters to do so.

RELATED: Why does Windows use backslashes and everything else uses forward slashes

The Unix alternative: Mount Points

However, drive letters are not the only solution. MacOS from Apple, Linux and others Unix-like operating systems use a different method to access different partitions and storage devices.

Rather than being accessible to the letter, a device can be made accessible via a directory path in the file system. For example, in Linux, external storage devices were traditionally mounted to rise. So, rather than accessing a DVD player under D :, you can access it at / mount / dvd.

This goes to the "root" of the file system. Linux and macOS do not have drive letters, so the basic part of the file system is not a letter. Instead, they have a root directory, which is /. The system drive is "mounted" (made available) to / instead of C: . Other drives can be mounted in arbitrary folders. If you want your home directory to be stored on another drive, you can mount it in / home. The content of the reader will then be accessible in / home.

You can access drives on Windows without letters

USB stick mounted as a folder under Windows 10.

So why can not you mount Windows drives like this, making them accessible by arbitrary paths rather than letters? Why can not you access your USB drive via C: USB for example?

Well, you can! Modern versions of Windows now allow you mount storage devices on a folder path, as well. This option is available in the Disk Management Tool. Right-click on a drive partition, select "Change Drive Letters and Access Paths," and then click "Add." You can use the "Mount to next empty NTFS folder" option to create a storage device only on a folder path. as you can on Unix-like operating systems.

To do this, however, you must mount the drive on a folder path on an NTFS volume, and this NTFS volume must be mounted on a drive letter.

Mount a drive in an empty NTFS folder under Windows 10.

So even if you do not have enough drive letters from A: to Z: you will still be able to mount additional storage devices and access them under Windows. You are not limited to 26 readers on modern versions of Windows.

You can also change the drives that use which Disk Management letters – although you can not change your C: drive to another letter. Even changing a letter like D: to E: can cause problems. For example, if you have a shortcut pointing to drive D: and the files are suddenly on E:, the shortcut will be broken.

Why does Windows always use letters?

This PC view showing C: and D drives: Windows 10

If the drive letters (like C 🙂 are an old artifact and Windows can work without them, why is it still using them?

The reason is simple and explains many Windows design decisions: compatibility with earlier versions. Early versions of Windows had to be compatible with MS-DOS software and modern versions of Windows had to be compatible with older Windows software. The drive letters continue to be reported.

After all, disorder is enough, just drive letters! Technically, it is possible to install Windows so that C: is not your system drive. You can install it on the G: drive and have the folders G: Windows, G: Users and G: Program Files. C: it does not have to be your main player, and this is officially supported by Windows. However, many Windows applications assume that you are using a C: drive and you will have problems if you do not. And if Windows applications can not imagine you do not use C: as a system drive letter, imagine how they will crash if you have no drive letter.

You might wonder why Windows always displays drive letters. After all, File Explorer can hide them and display only the words "System Drive" or "USB Drive", but File Explorer already displays simple descriptions like this, and sometimes it's useful to know the reader's letter. Many applications display paths such as D: Folder File.doc.

Of course, Microsoft could invest in compatibility software that redirects all requests from C: to another path. But rather than throwing away the drive letters and spending a lot of time fixing the problems that would result, Microsoft chooses to stick to the drive letters.

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