Archives 2018

Directory Structure and File Name Conventions

Article (PSA-0010)
Submitted by: Billy Joe Long, Owner
Company: PSA Computer Services
Titled: Directory Structure and File Name Conventions
Original release date: October 19, 2018

Directory Structure and File Name Conventions

When storing data we, as responsible digital citizens, need to ensure our directory structures and file names are human readable and well organized. This ensures the digital information stored within your company (or home) can be retrieved efficiently and accurately. We start this discussion by looking at a few directory structure conventions and a usage example.

As with most things in life, consistency is critical. Organize directories in a way that makes sense within the context of your home or company, and then stick to it. It should make sense to anyone who happens to be working within the directory structure. For example, I work from a home based office, so my computer contains not only personal data (pictures, documents, ect), but also business data. The root of my storage directory structure clearly describes that distinction by providing two directories: ‘Personal’ and ‘Business’. Within the ‘Personal’ directory I have organized my personal digital life, and within the ‘Business’ directory I have organized my business digital life.

Once the initial directories were in place, I began to make more distinctions about the type of data the directory contained by using descriptive names and nesting related directories, where appropriate, in a hierarchical fashion.

Here is a simple example; let’s say you have hundreds (or more) pictures collected over many years. To efficiently organize these pictures, we first, create a ‘Pictures’ directory (one probably already exists on your computer). Then organize the pictures further by creating a year directory within the ‘Pictures’ directory, eg. 2018, 2019, ect. Then within each year directory you could include month directories, eg. JAN, FEB, ect. This directory structure can be as simple or complex as necessary. Personally, I adhere to the ‘keep it simple and consistent’ policy. Next, let’s take a look at ‘File Naming Conventions’.

A file name should be distinguishable among other files. Groups of files should be easily sorted for efficient reviewing and searching. File names should also be unique. Over time files can be moved and without the existing folder structure, important descriptive information about the contents of the file could be lost. Carefully consider whether your filename would be meaningful outside of your directory structure.

Here are guidelines I use consistently for file names within my company as well as at home:

  1. If the date the file was created is important, include it in the filename. If you are going to use the date, be sure to pick a date format and stick to it consistently. I like to use the MMDDYY format (two digit month, two digit day, two digit year.)
  2. If the file is related to a project, consider using an abbreviation of the project name as part of the file name.
  3. If the file is part of a multi-organizational effort, consider using your organizations initials in the name. Be sure your initials are unique among the other involved organizations.
  4. If there will be multiple versions of the file, consider using a ‘zero padded’ numbering system as part of the name. You will need to make an educated guess as to how many versions there may be, and pad the version number appropriately. At a minimum, I pad file versions with two zeros, eg. 001, 002, ect.

Finally, here is a list of the “Do’s and Don’ts” of file naming.

  1. Don’t use spaces and punctuation, except for the hyphen and underscore.
  2. Do use underscore or “camelCase” between file name elements, eg. my_data_file.txt or myDataFile.txt . Neither approach is better – but whichever one you pick, stick to it!
  3. Don’t use spaces, tabs, semicolons or periods in your filename.
  4. Do try to keep the file name to a maximum of 25 characters in length if possible.

A well thought out directory structure coupled with an equally well thought out file naming convention makes searching and sorting information a very straightforward task. If you work at a company, be sure to check and see if they have employee guidelines to directory and file naming conventions … they really should! One day we will retire, will the guy or gal replacing us be able to find anything efficiently? It’s really up to us.

Introduction to Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Article (PSA-0009)
Submitted by: Billy Joe Long, Owner
Company: PSA Computer Services
Titled: Introduction to Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Original release date: July 17, 2018

Introduction to Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A VPN provides a secure way of connecting to a remote network over a public network (the Internet). This remote network is typically a private network, such as your workplace or home network. A “tunnel” is created through the public network to your private network at the other end. All network traffic through this tunnel is encrypted to ensure it is kept secure and private.

What can you do with VPN?

With a VPN you are able to do a number of things you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do with a standard network connection. For example:

  • Network Security & Privacy: All network traffic through your VPN connection is encrypted and therefore secure. This allows you to use public networks (motels, coffee shops, etc.) knowing your network traffic is safe and secure. Without VPN it is relatively easy for other people to view your network traffic, see what you are doing online, and possibly steal your information and login details.
  • Access Your Workplace/Home Remotely: You can connect to your workplace/home VPN and have access as if you were physically in the office/house. You can then do things like access file servers, computers, databases, email, internal webpages, and other services you might not have access to outside of your work network.
  • Access Restricted Content: By connecting to a VPN server in another location you can make it appear to websites, using geolocation, that you are physically in the correct location for access. So when you’re travelling overseas you can still view websites you would normally use at home, such as television, movie and music streaming websites.
  • Avoid Censorship: VPN allows you to bypass censorship and access websites and services which may otherwise be blocked. Some countries impose censorship on Internet access while in that country, and a VPN provides a way to still maintain access to the services you would normally use.
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    How does VPN work?

    A typical VPN consists of two components: a VPN client and a VPN server.

    A VPN client is software that allows you to connect your computer to a VPN server and establish a VPN connection. It is installed on your computer and communicates with the VPN server to create a secure link for your network traffic. The VPN Client is what you use to control the VPN connection. A VPN server is setup at the location you want to connect to, such as at a workplace or at home. A VPN server performs authentication to ensure only registered users can connect to the VPN.

    All network traffic through the tunnel created between the VPN client and the VPN server is encrypted to keep it private and secure.

    Should you use VPN?

    Even if you have no need to be able to access a private network remotely, a VPN is vital to ensure the security and privacy of your network traffic.

    Public networks, and in particular public wireless networks, provide an easy way for hackers and malicious users to listen in (“sniff”) on your network usage. This may allow them to see what web pages you are viewing, steal username and passwords, steal session information to be able to log into sites as you, and extract other private data. In addition, skilled hackers may perform a “man in the middle” attack. This allows them to not only monitor in depth your network traffic, but also alter your traffic or inject their own traffic in an attempt to fool a user into revealing important data.

    Using a VPN protects you from such attacks.

    If you are thinking about utilizing VPN services, I would encourage you to contact your IT guy (or gal) for their input. “There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors”.