Tutorial :How can one detect changes in a directory across program executions?


I am making a protocol, client and server which provide file transfer functionality similar to FTP (among other features). One difference between my protocol and FTP is that I would like to store a copy of the remote server's directory structure in a local cache. The server will only be running on Windows (written in C++) so any applicable Win32 API calls would be appreciated (if any). When initially connected, the client requests the immediate children (both files and directories, just like "ls" or "dir" with no options), then when a user navigates into a directory, this step repeats with the new parent like you might expect.

Of course, most of the time, if the same directory of a given server is requested twice by a client, the directory's contents will be the same. Therefore I would like to cache the results of each directory listing on the client. I would like a simple way of implementing this, but it would need to take into account expiring cache entries because of file/directory access and modification time and name changes, which is the tricky part. I would ideally like something which would enable almost instant directory listings by the client, with something like a hash which takes into account not only file contents, but also changes in subdirectories' contents' filenames, data, modification and access dates, etc.

This is NOT something that could completely rely on FileSystemWatcher (or similar) objects because it would need to maintain this cache even if the program is only run occasionally. Of course these would be nice to help maintain the cache, but that's only part of the problem.

My best(?) idea so far is using FindFirstFile() and FindNextFile(), and sorting (somehow), concatenating and hashing values found in the WIN32_FIND_DATA structs (with file contents maybe), and using that as a token for expiration (just to indicate change in any of these fields). Then I would have one of these tokens for each directory. When a directory is requested, the server would hash everything and compare that to the cached hash provided by the client, and if it's different, return the normal data, otherwise an HTTP 304 equivalent. Is there a less elaborate way of doing something like this? Does "directory last modified date" take into account every one of its subdirectories' files' modification dates under all circumstances? I'm sure that the built-in Windows indexing service has something like this but ideally I wouldn't need to rely on it.

Because this service is for file sharing, something involving hashes would be especially nice so that I could automatically and efficiently find other people who are sharing a given file, but that's less of a concern then hosing the disk during the hash calculation.

I'm wondering what others who are more experienced than I am with programming would do to solve this problem (rsync and subversion have solved similar problems but not identical).


You're asking a lot of a File System Implementation of Very Little Brain (with apologies to A. A. Milne).

This is actually well-trammeled ground and you'd do well to look at the existing literature on distributed filesystems. AFS comes to mind as an example of a very well studied approach.

I doubt you'll be able to come up with something useful and accurate without doing some serious homework. Put another way, 'twould be folly to ignore all the prior art.

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