Course files

Revision as of 09:23, 21 September 2010 by Martin Dougiamas (talk | contribs) (Roadmap for future improvements)

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Note: You are currently viewing documentation for Moodle 2.3. Up-to-date documentation for the latest stable version is available here: Course files.

This page talks about the legacy "Course files" area in Moodle 2, and related topics.

It's useful for any teacher who wants to know how to add files to a Moodle 2.0 course (especially if you previously used Moodle 1.9 or earlier).

Files in Moodle 1.9

In versions of Moodle before 2.0 all the files uploaded into Moodle were stored in a physical directory on disk known as the 'Course Files' area.

This is where a teacher might upload files to be part of the course content, but this area also included everything students uploaded, such as assignments and forum attachments. These "activity files" were stored in a special folder called "moddata" in a certain structure that helped modules keep track of their own files.

Typical Moodle 1.x workflows

The course files area was accessed in two ways through the Moodle interface by teachers.

  1. Through the "Files" link in the Course Administration block, or
  2. When a file was required in other places, such as a resource, or attachment.

When publishing a file as a resource, say a PDF file, a teacher might:

  1. Upload it to their course files area along with all the other files they intend to use in the course
  2. Add a resource to the course
  3. Select the PDF from the course files

Students did not have direct access to read the course files area, all they could do is upload files from their desktop computer straight into activities.

A less typical workflow

  1. Use FTP to push files straight into the course files area
  2. Add resources to the course using these files
  3. Update the resources later by updating the files directly via FTP

This meant expert users could update course content with files or HTML mini-sites without having to touch the web interface.

Problems with the Moodle 1.x model

  • If the original file is deleted or renamed from Course Files then it breaks everywhere it was being shown
  • Storing files on disk meant names were restricted (eg Japanese names would break on some operating systems)
  • All Course Files had to be readable by students (if they knew the URL) because Moodle had no way of telling what context you were viewing a file in (eg the same file might be in a HTML text in a forum and also in a resource). This meant that files stored here were not as secret as teachers thought they were.
  • You could not re-use an upload in multiple courses, you had to upload it to each course over and over
  • Backups had to include ALL course files, just in case they were required, even if the backup only contained one activity
  • Media might appear to teachers sometimes and look fine, but others would not see it (eg course descriptions)
  • When copying (importing) activities from one course to another it was impossible to tell all the media that should be imported with it

Files in Moodle 2.0

In Moodle 2.0 the files work a lot more like Web 2.0 systems (eg Facebook or Google Docs).

Each activity and each text has its own file area, and files are associated directly with the place it is used. For example, a file attached to a forum post is stored "with" the forum post, and becomes subject to exactly the same access restrictions.

The Files system is intimately connected with the Repository system, and a File Picker which makes it easy to browse external and internal repositories for files, and then copy them into Moodle. Certain repositories also allow you to link directly to their media files. Repositories in general are the way of the future for content - most Web 2.0 systems are really repositories of data with various management interfaces.

A Private Files area is provided for each user to store a collection of files for their own use. This is useful for students as well as teachers, and makes it easy to re-use media across the Moodle site. Only you can access your own private files.

The Course Files area is deprecated and off by default (see Moodle 1.x Problems described above). During an upgrade from 1.9 all Course Files are migrated into new file areas and the Course Files area is hidden from view. See the discussion below about what happens if you want to continue using it.

Internally, files are actually stored in a "file pool" of blobs on disk with numbers for names. All the actual names and metadata is now stored in a database.

Typical Moodle 2.0 workflow

Edit a text or activity Start inserting some media or a file Use the filepicker to easily select the file from any local or remote repository The file is copied to Moodle and stored securely with the text or activity

More advanced Moodle 2.0 workflow

Edit a text or url module Start inserting some media or a file Use the filepicker to easily select the file from any local or remote repository and select "link" The file URL is embedded into the text and when viewed, the media comes directly from the open repository.

Why is it better?


If the forum post with embedded media files (eg images) is copied to another course, then the files move with it. Anyone in the new course will also see the media files. This makes activities more portable and re-usable.

If two activities use the same file and one is deleted, then the other one is not affected.

There should be less errors where everything looks fine to teachers and is broken for students.


Access to files is governed the same way as the items that they attached to, which is what people expect. All files are now controlled by the settings in the usual Moodle interface, including roles and permissions.


It is now fast and easy to re-use files across Moodle. Using the File picker you can choose a file you recently used, or one from any course you have access to.


Backups of activities are now small, accurate and easier to handle, because we know exactly what files to include. This is important for things like Community hubs, where sharing of courses and parts of courses will become more common, and sharing every file you have in a course is often not acceptable.


We are no longer restricted by the operating system, we can use files with any names we like.

How to duplicate Moodle 1.x functionality

FTP files into Moodle

Change a file once, have it update in many places

Roadmap for future improvements

Based on recent feedback, there are plans to improve the model in 2.0 with new features.

Synch files

Instead of having to choose between linking to Course File or copying it to the current filearea, we could add the option to 'Always use the latest version' of the file. This would re-copy the file to the destination whenever the source file changed. Initially this would be implemented just for the internal repositories but could also be used later for some external repositories as well (those not requiring the Moodle site to authenticate as the user).

This solution has the potential to maintain the benefits of the 1.0 model without compromising the 2.0 model.

However this feature is complex to implement because:

  • We need to cope with changing permissions in source and destination.
  • We need to cope with cases like Assignment submissions (students shouldn't be able to update files after the due date, for example)
  • We need some GUI solution to synch whole folders at once such as a HTML mini-site.
  • We need some in-GUI solution to report what the source file is for any given destination file.

Linking ability to Filesystem repository

The Filesystem repository currently does not allow linking to files. This is because the files are in a directory inside moodledata and are not exposed by any direct URL from the web.

To serve them to the web we'd have to have some script like /repository/filesystem/file.php to serve them as links, which would allow relative links like HTML mini-sites to work.

The problem with this is that we are back to the same issues as 1.9 course files (or even worse), with no access control on the files at all. Some people may not care about this, but the solution needs to make this very clear to users.

See also