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What are file attributes in Windows?

As you know, computer's system mostly consists of files, some of them intended for a system, others for a human. To divide from one another and determine system behavior, to each file added some metadata, which known as file attributes. These attributes can have only one of two states: set and clear. The easiest way to change these attributes is to use Attribute Manager. Let's take a look what kind of attributes are in Windows.

File attributes

From the time of DOS, Microsoft Windows accepted four attributes for files and folders:

  • Archive: it indicates that the file has changed since the last backup operation. The file system of the Windows sets this attribute on any file that has changed.
  • Hidden: indicates that the file hidden. Windows File Explorer does not show hidden files by default. To make them visible you need to enable the option: "Show hidden files, folders, and drives" in the Control Panel. "Show hidden files, folders, and drives" in the Control Panel.
  • System: indicates that it is a critical system file, that is necessary for the computer to operate correctly. Microsoft Windows use it to mark important system files. Windows File Explorer does not show system files by default. To make them visible, you need to disable option: Hide protected operating system files " at the Folder Options dialogue.
  • Read-only: indicates that a file should not be modified. File system API usually does not grant write permission to the requesting application, unless the application explicitly requests it. Read-only attributes on folders typically ignored.

As new versions of Windows came out, Microsoft has introduced new file system NTFS and subsequently NTFS5, which has some new attributes:

  • Compressed: When set, Windows compresses the file. The best use of compression is for files that are repetitive, seldom written, usually accessed sequentially, and not themselves compressed. Log files are an ideal example.
  • Encrypted: When set, Windows encrypts the file to prevent unauthorized access. Encrypting File System provides secure and user-transparent encryption of any file or folder on a NTFS volume.
  • Indexed: When set, Indexing Service or Windows Search do not include the file in their indexing operation.
  • Sparse file: Indicates that the file is sparse. Sparse file attempts to use file system space more efficiently when blocks allocated to the file are mostly empty. Achieved by writing brief information representing the empty blocks to disk instead of the actual "empty" space which makes up the block, using less disk space.
  • Temporary: A file that used for temporary storage. File systems avoid writing data back to mass storage if sufficient cache memory is available, because typically, an application deletes a temporary file after the handle is closed.
  • Offline: The data of a file is not available immediately. This attribute indicates that the file data physically moved to offline storage. Attribute used by Remote Storage, which is the hierarchical storage management software.

File date time

Every file or folder has the date and time information about its creation, access and modify.

  • Creation Time: the date and time the file or directory created.
  • Last Access Time: the date and time the file or directory was last accessed. The last access time includes the last time the file or directory was written to, read from, or, in the case of executable files, run.
  • Last Write Time: the date and time the file or directory was last written to, truncated, or overwritten. This date and time are not updated when file attributes or security descriptors changed.


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