The root directory, which is designated by a forward slash ( / ), is the top-level directory in the hierarchy of directories (also referred to as the directory tree) on Unix-like operating systems. That is, it is the directory that contains all other directories and their subdirectories as well as all files on the system.
A home directory, also called a login directory, is a subdirectory of /home that serves as the repository for a user's personal files, directories and programs. It is also the directory that a user is first in after logging into the system. A home directory is created automatically for every ordinary user.
The name of a user's home directory is by default the same as that of the user. Thus, for example, a user with a user name of william would have a home directory also named william, and that directory would have an absolute pathname of /home/william. An absolute pathname, also called a full path, is the location of a directory or file relative to the root directory (which is represented by the forward slash at the beginning of any absolute pathname).
The only account that will by default have its home directory in a location other than /home is the root (i.e., administrative) user, whose home directory by default is /root, another standard subdirectory of the root directory. However, for security purposes, even system administrators who use the root account should have ordinary accounts with home directories in /home and should generally use those accounts except when necessary to access the root account.
A common strategy for large installations is to place /home on its own partition (i.e., a logically independent section) of a hard disk drive (HDD) or even on a separate HDD. This is because users' home directories usually contain the most important data on a system, and having them on a partition or disk separate from other parts of the system can make it easier to back them up and thereby reduce the chances of loss of data.
Created June 13, 2005.