I am working on an application which should display multiple files with each file being dependent on one or more files. There are 2 levels of nesting (fileA -> fileB -> fileC) and there can be 25 files per level. More files can have same dependency (fileA->fileB, fileD->fileB). I was thinking to do something similar to folder/subfolder structure,but the problem is that I have to show the files with the duplicated dependencies being listed only once. Anyone met this before or has some suggestions?

  • Welcome to the site, @Michelle. Can you clarify why the folder/subfolder approach doesn't work? Are there dependency loops? (It seems like in your example A and D are both analogous to subfolders of B.) Apr 7, 2016 at 21:38
  • Thank you. Because client said that in the entire listing each file should appear only once, so I cannot visual show fileB dependent on both fileA and fileD.
    – Michelle
    Apr 7, 2016 at 21:49

1 Answer 1


The folder/subfolder structure is very intuitive, because people work already like that in their file browser, and it maps also very well to the concrete worlds of paper files.

Showing the file only once seems however a terrible loss of information that might mislead the user:

  • he might want to discard a document because he thinks it's not used elsewhere
  • he might discard folders because he thinks they are empty and useless
  • search functions might appear inconsistent with the display.

I'd therefore suggest to display every occurrence of the file, making however clear that it exists several times, for example:

  • showing the first occurrence as expected by your customer, and showing the remaining ones in a way to make redundancy clear (e.g. ASCII display: between brackets, GUI display: grayed out).
  • showing all occurrences but with a marker showing it exists several times
  • ideally for GUI interface, the user would be able to locate/move to other occurrences of the same file, for example by right-clicking on the file

However a question should be ellicited with the user: does he focus on the hierarchical structure ? Or is he interested in a flat list of documents ? In the latter case, you could opt for an inverted presentation: a list of files sorted bottom up, with right to the file column for the folder (one in most cases, but with an expansion block that may allow to display additional folders.

  • Yes, the interest is on the hierarchical structure. I will apply your suggestion to use a marker to point duplicate references with a link to the files. Thank you.
    – Michelle
    Apr 8, 2016 at 12:37

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