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Files on a file system can be fragmented meaning they're split into several parts that are scattered all over hard disk. This usually means that reading these files is much slower because disk heads need to seek individual parts before reading them.

There are tools to defragment files, but I wonder what they do.

  1. do they make files continuous or
  2. do they make files contiguous?

English is not my native language. That's why I'm having problems distinguishing between the two. To me the first one seems more appropriate, but who am I to judge...

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2  
For most Americans the first (maybe only) thing they associate with the word "contiguous" is the "contiguous 48 states", i.e. the states other than Alaska and Hawaii which are all connected with no intervening other countries or oceans. There are definite borders between the states, so they are contiguous, not continuous. –  Paul Richter Feb 17 '12 at 3:04
    
I'd say each file is made continuous by making its parts contiguous. You might also make several files contiguous by putting them next to each other. I don't think a single entity can be contiguous; you need two or more next to each other. But a single entity can be continuous. –  Andreas Blass Aug 24 '13 at 5:53

4 Answers 4

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Continuous implies there is no discrete distinction between members, contiguous impies that the various members of the set are next to each other.

As an example, the visible spectrum of light is a continuous set, but when most people draw a rainbow, they put several colors right next to each other in a contiguous set.

Files are stored as discrete blocks on a drive, with the physical sectors lying one up against the other, but with discrete boundaries between each packet. Since each packet has a header, there is a discrete boundary, and as such, the correct word is contiguous.

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+1 for discrete boundaries vs. continuous. –  Kris Feb 16 '12 at 12:56
1  
Thanks for the rainbow analogy. –  Robert Koritnik Feb 16 '12 at 12:58

From Wikipedia:

In the maintenance of file systems, defragmentation is a process that reduces the amount of fragmentation. It does this by physically organizing the contents of the mass storage device used to store files into the smallest number of contiguous regions (fragments).

So you can use contiguous in the sense of adjacency.

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Technically the word is contiguous.

That they happen to end up physically continuous is only an effect and not relevant.

An explanation: As you have already noted, fragmentation means parts of file are scattered across disk space. Joining these parts end to end will remove the space between the pieces, which is what causes loss of time.

contiguous means adjoining; without intervening space.

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Continuous: Continuing in time or space without interruption. working or moving, without break or irregularity. Contiguous: means neighboring, close to each other or connected in space or time. You can say having a common boundary or edge; abutting; touching.

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