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I like to store data in archives like rar, specially with 10% recovery. This tends to also reduce hard drive clutter due to a large number of files having to be searched, say, during chkdsk.

One of the drawbacks is adding, deleting, and viewing files. It would be really cool if I/Windows could treat an archive(or a specially formatted archive) as a folder. As far as I'm concerned, unless I need to do otherwise, the archive would be a folder in every respect.

Is there anything out there that can do this in windows?

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Chkdsk only tries to resolve indexing issues with files, AFAIK. It works mostly on sector analysis, and that is something you can't avoid, regardless of compressing to a single file. –  Doktoro Reichard Oct 25 '13 at 14:57
    
There's multiple ways to mount images in Windows. You can mount *.wim images with the build in command Dism. You can use software like TrueCrypt, PowerIso or others to mount archives for you and probably some other ways that I'm forgetting right now. –  PeterT Oct 25 '13 at 15:17
    
Do you want Windows Explorer to present you archives like a folder? Or do you want all the applications (or a specific one you use) to work with an archive as if it's a regular folder? –  Alexey Ivanov Nov 7 '13 at 6:40

2 Answers 2

Technically it's possible, and Windows includes that support for Zip files. You can navigate into Zip file as if it's a folder. For Windows Explorer it does not make any difference.

The real difference comes when you try to open a file from a Zip-folder. It's not a folder after all, so to open a text file in Notepad from Zip-folder, the file has to be extracted to a temporary folder, and only then Notepad would be able to open it. (Notepad does not know how to decompress a file from a zip archive to access it directly.) What if you decide to modify the file and save the changes? Right, the changes go into the temporary file created by the shell extension that tries to present the zip archive as if a regular folder. You would expect the changes go into the original folder, wouldn't you? So the shell extension should take care of that too.

Actually some archivers, WinZip and WinRAR for example, do that. If you open a file from an archive, modify it, they will ask you whether you want to update the file in the archive. (And you have to close the program that opened the file. It's not always convenient in some cases, especially when a program can open several files at the same time.)

When archive is updated, the archiver usually creates a copy and then modifies it. This is done to prevent data corruption or loss: you wouldn't want to lose all your data in archive if an error occurs when it was updated with a new file. If the archive is large enough, updating it would require twice as much disk space the original archive occupies.


So technically it's possible to make a shell extension which would present all, or many, archives to user as a regular folder. But it requires a lot of work. If I'm not mistaken, there were attempts to make it. Perhaps such tools were not popular? Too hard to use, too buggy, too expensive, etc?…

Now that hard drives become larger and cheaper, there's less need to archive data to save space.

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Archiving files allows you to reduce the file system complexity which can help with many things in the OS. If you have 10M files and have to do a check disk you'll spend days scanning the system.... even if those files are not used much. If you can consolidate them then they are seen as just one file by chkdsk. Similarly if you are searching files. I deal with pro audio and many libraries have tons of small files(older libraries may have 10k files of around 1k each for synth presets). Each small file takes up a min of the cluster size. I've seen 10gb expand to 40gb because of this. –  AbstractDissonance Oct 27 '13 at 17:56
    
@AbstractDissonance Yes, I know it. But you have to pay the price for archiving and saving disk space on the file system or reducing the number of files on the file system. Archive is not the OS file system, you cannot use the file API of the OS directly to open a file in an archive. So the application you use must support working with files in archives explicitly. Some photo viewers and media players do support it. To reduce disk space usage by small files, you could format your hard drive with smaller cluster size of 1K for example. –  Alexey Ivanov Nov 7 '13 at 6:39

As far as I know this is not technically possible using any existing tools. No tools exist to do this because it doesn't make sense from a performance or usability view.

I think understanding the technical details of file compression might be useful. "File-compression programs simply get rid of the redundancy. Instead of listing a piece of information over and over again, a file-compression program lists that information once and then refers back to it whenever it appears in the original program." Saving everything in archives would require the program you are looking for to compress and uncompress archives constantly. This is slow, time consuming, and IO intensive.

The CPU and disk IO overhead of compressing and uncompressing files is far more significant than the space savings and "clutter" savings you would experience by compressing everything in an archive.

Source of quote: HowStuffWorks.com

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The overhead depends on how much compressed the archive is and the compression algorithm, to some extent. –  Doktoro Reichard Oct 25 '13 at 14:58

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