File API changes from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7

Last updated on
14 October 2016

There are three key and pervasive things that happened to the File API between Drupal 6 and Drupal 7:

  1. Any API that used to take a traditional filepath like "sites/default/files/something.txt" now must take a stream-oriented file path like "public://something.txt" or "private://something.txt".
  2. Many APIs used to take a string if they were acting on an unmanaged file, or a file object if acting on a managed file. Now those functions have been split out, so we now have file_copy() (which takes a file object) and file_unmanaged_copy() (which takes a stream-oriented filepath like "public://example.txt").
  3. file_create_path() and file_check_directory() were merged into file_prepare_directory().
  4. A smaller item: drupal_realpath() must be used in place of realpath().

Summary of managed/unmanaged File API changes

Drupal 6 Drupal 7 Description
file_copy() file_unmanaged_copy() Copy a file to a new location without saving a record in the database.
n/a file_copy() Copies a file to a new location and adds a file record to the database. Also invokes hook_file_copy() so that other modules may act on the copy action.
file_move() file_unmanaged_move() Move a file to a new location but make no changes to the database.
n/a file_move() Move a file to a new location and update the file's database entry. Also invokes hook_file_move() so that other modules may act on the move action.
file_delete() file_unmanaged_delete() Delete a file.
n/a file_delete() Delete a file and its database record. Also invokes hook_file_delete() to let other modules perform clean-up actions when file is deleted.
file_save_data() file_unmanaged_save_data() Save a string to the specified destination but makes no changes to the database.
n/a file_save_data() Save a string to the specified destination and create a database file entry.
n/a file_load() Load a file object from the database. Also invokes hook_file_load() to allow other modules to do things as the file is loaded.
n/a file_validate() Check that a file meets the criteria specified by the validators. Accepts an associative array of callback functions used to validate the file. Also calls hook_file_validate() to let other modules perform validation on the new file.
n/a file_save() Save a file object to the database. Calls either hook_file_insert() or hook_file_update(), depending on whether a $file->fid is specified.


Drupal 6.x:

file_copy($source, $paths['target'] . $base);
$paths['files'][] = $source;

Drupal 7.x:

$filepath = file_unmanaged_copy($source, $paths['target'] . $base);
$paths['files'][] = $filepath;


Drupal 6.x:


Drupal 7.x:



Drupal 6.x:

if (file_save_data($data, $dest)) {
  $language->javascript = $data_hash;
  $status = ($status == 'deleted') ? 'updated' : 'created';

Drupal 7.x:

if (file_unmanaged_save_data($data, $dest)) {
  $language->javascript = $data_hash;
  $status = ($status == 'deleted') ? 'updated' : 'created';
Drupal 6 Drupal 7 Notes
file_create_path() file_prepare_directory(FILE_CREATE_DIRECTORY)
file_check_directory() file_prepare_directory(FILE_MODIFY_PERMISSIONS) Probably most of the time people who just want to make sure a directory exists and is writable will use file_prepare_directory(FILE_CREATE_DIRECTORY | FILE_MODIFY_PERMISSIONS)

Many other functions used before Drupal 7 will no longer be necessary, as, for example, there is normally no need to check where on the filesystem the "public" file directory is -- you use use the streamwrapper notation and everything is done for you.