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Files ( South German and Austrian the file , Swiss German Dossier ) is a collection of documents of all kinds which, through orderly filing, are intended to support business or administrative activities in an informative and legally secure manner.

Historical pile of files
Gestapo file Georg Elser (title page)

Concept and history

The word file is the singular of the Latin acta , "the events" or rather the records about them, the files, the written material. Since acts from the root of the word also mean “what happened, what was accomplished, the act”, there are still some terms based on Anglo-Saxon that have more of an act or a law as their subject. Examples are navigation files , habeas corpus files , Mannheim files or German federal files .

The teaching of filing customer ( archival customer ) is one in the history of the auxiliary sciences of history . Among other things, she deals with the inconsistent terminology of the files. To clarify, Heinrich Otto Meisner differentiates, for example, the individual "document document" from the "file unit" or "file collective", which is formed from several documents in the processing of a case. Based on the file formations, which were often broadly defined by the older file management, the "file process" as a unit of a certain matter with the previous or subsequent files that were created in multiple or multiple processing.

As a form of written form in the administration of the public service, files have existed since the late Middle Ages , and in the 16th century they became established across Europe . There is a tendency to develop from unstructured series in which letters were only arranged according to date (e.g. early city books) to series subdivided into several subjects, further to the management of factual files. They were archived and formed extensive collections (e.g. Acta Magni Ducatus Lithuaniae in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania ). Before files were stapled in folders, loose-leaf binders and on stapling strips in the first third of the 20th century, files were firmly joined together with filament threads . This thread stitching was usually carried out on the left side, but there were also different practices in individual countries, such as with the Baden files . With the invention of the file folder by Friedrich Soennecken, file management changed profoundly in the second half of the 19th century. The forerunner of this so-called "office reform " was the economy, which was only followed by official record keeping in the 20th century.

Regionally different names are used for files and their special forms: fascicle , tuft , dossier , etc.


Filing shelf with file folders

The clerical container for the collection of documents, the file folders , the (fast) staplers and folders . They consist of a file folder (with standing folders carapace ), the main access elements (u file number, file title, if necessary runtime. Like.) Includes and a file register, cover sheet or Rotulus contains the information about the files subject, file content, relevant departments etc. . The contents of the files are classified in a file register according to various criteria and / or chronological order. For clear identification , each file is given a file number - usually a multi-digit number code. The term file number comes from public administration ; it was largely adopted by the economy. The file number contains the organization number of the department, the number code of the respective area of ​​responsibility of the department for whose fulfillment the file was created, the number of the individual file and often the year (example: 30-13 / 03 / 175.67).

Clipboard for files in a toilet.

The file is then regularly assigned to a subject unit of the file plan and provided with the associated file number and entered in the file directory . Duration, dating and a due year of blocking ("blocked until ..."), restrictions on use ( confidentiality, etc.), provenances and pre-signatures (earlier file numbers) are further important basic information .


Files can be divided into different types according to their function and content.

  • According to their function, a distinction is made in particular between main files, secondary files, parallel files, reference files or special files.

Main files contain a complete process. The keeping of an ancillary file to the personal file (often also referred to as a hand file ) is permitted according to Section 56 Paragraph 2 Clause 3 of the State Civil Service Act (LBG) if the person administering the person is not also the employment authority, but the performance of its tasks requires that certain personal file data be kept ready. The documents that are not to be included in a notary's collection of documents (e.g. correspondence with the parties involved as well as with the courts and authorities) are kept in sheet collections for each individual matter or in collective files ( subsidiary files ; Section 22 Service Regulations for Notaries Saxony-Anhalt). Reference files are to be dutifully kept by lawyers and kept for six years after the end of the mandate ( Section 50 (1) sentence 2 BRAO , Section 44 (1) sentence 2 PAO ).

  • According to the content, factual files , business files , customer files , personnel files, protocol files or process files can be distinguished.

Case files contain all records on a specific process (eg. As building renovation), business files collect all correspondence to one or more transactions in customer files , all documents relating to a specific customer to be filed. Personnel files contain information about the person and the employment relationship with an employee . Special and ancillary files to the personnel file can, in particular, collect works security documents . Protocol files contain the minutes in the form of minutes of meetings of the organs of a company or an authority. Court records contain all documents collected about a court case.


In a commercially run companies organizing the responsible record keeping and management as organizational task of the management , by operating procedures must be regulated. That is why file management is regulated very heterogeneously in the economy. In public administration, on the other hand, there are very homogeneous regulations for document management . This can be explained in two areas for which there are legal regulations.

  • The keeping and registration of files in courts and public prosecutors is regulated in the file regulation (AktO) of November 28, 1934 (in force since January 1, 1935), which has been adopted by the federal states for the ordinary courts and public prosecutor's offices. In § 3 AktO Bremen it is stipulated that documents with the same matter, sorted according to the date of receipt, are to be "combined into files". An attachment as a “fixed file” or as a collection of pages results from Section 3 (2) AktO. As a rule, fixed files should not contain more than 250 pages (Section 3 (3) AktO), collections of pages may only consist of 2 documents (Section 3 (4) AktO). Each file is given a file number that also represents the transaction number (Section 4 (1)).
  • The administration of justice is subject to the general file ruling of December 4, 1952, which was also adopted by the federal states as a general file ruling. According to this, there is a general file plan, which is intended to achieve the uniform management of the general files in all judicial authorities and thus at the same time to simplify and accelerate the course of business (§ 3 GenAktVfg). Here, too, the file number is a useful number that - used in the transaction number of a document (Section 7 GenAktVfg) - indicates the content of the document (Section 6 (2) GenAktVfg).


The joining of several documents in a file folder is called formation in the archive language. The documents can - depending on necessity and meaningfulness - be sorted logically, i.e. according to an internal factual context, or chronologically, for example according to the date of issue or receipt. If the current document is on top, one speaks of a commercial stitching ; if the order is reversed, from an official booklet . The first and (provisionally) last date are noted as the duration of the file. The consecutive numbering of the pages is called pagination or a quadrangle . In addition to the hand files of the clerks, there are files in the registry and files as archive material . There are also auxiliary files and personal files for the main file.


The guideline for filing is practical need. Organizing is always more important than registering; The unit of use is the file. In order to accommodate this, special case files (modern term; formerly supplementary, subsidiary files , called Adhibenda ) have always been created :

  • Derived individual case files are removed from the main file and are recorded and stored with it (i.e. not as a completely new file),
  • Special, B files (old names) outsource individual cases,
  • Attachment volumes , material collections and other secondary files outsource, for which there is probably little need.

The processing order "zd A." ( to the files ) on a document means the addition of a document to the file. The processing order “Wv. (Calendar date) “( resubmission ) means the fixed deadline for resubmission without renewed request.

Files can be hung in a suspension file or stored on a shelf . The file components can be bound, stapled or stored loosely.

Dispatch of files

If a file is sent to a lawyer by way of inspection, for example , a retentive must be created to document the whereabouts of the file.

Electronic file

The physical files that previously consisted of paper documents are or will be largely superfluous due to increasing digitization. The electronic file (or e-file) is a virtual collection of files and documents (including the analog media converted ) to a single electronic medium ( file folder ) are summarized. This can also contain, in particular, graphic files , image files , film and sound files. The aim of the e-file is to save all documents relevant to the file in digital form while maintaining the physical classification systems and to make them accessible to authorized persons at any time. In addition, it must also contain meta-information as well as the processing and protocol information that depicts the course of business (such as notes on the course of business, rulings, route information, signatures and co-signings). Various, conceptually different Enterprise Content Management (ECM) or Document Management (DMS) systems are offered for this purpose. It has its limits where originals with original signatures are to be kept. Qualified electronic signatures can ensure that signers are identified and the integrity of the signed electronic information is checked. The same legal requirements apply to handling electronic files as to conventional paper files. The introduction of electronic files entails profound change processes. Clerks sometimes experience the introduction as a loss and complain that they can now only see processes sequentially and less in their context (Noppeney 2005).

Electronic filing is already common practice in large parts of public administration. It has been introduced in particular in mass traffic such as commercial registers or land registry offices . This required changes to the law that legitimized the e-files (e.g. Section 55b (1) VwGO: “The process files can be kept electronically”).

From 1 July 2014, after the E-Government Act , all authorities committed federal, state and local, electronic documents receive. The law enables a networked working method between the authorities and thus relieves citizens who have to communicate with different authorities as well as the individual authorities. Signatures that were previously required can be replaced with a De-Mail with confirmation of the sender or the electronic identification function of the new identity card . The law enables electronic file management in official administration nationwide. If a file is kept electronically, appropriate technical and organizational measures in accordance with the state of the art must ensure that the principles of proper file management are observed. The aim of the E-Government Act is to facilitate electronic communication with the administration. The law is intended to offer the federal, state and local governments simpler, more user-friendly and more efficient electronic administrative services.

Files in the administration

The term file is mainly used in administration, which is expressed in the decision “according to the file situation” as well as in the investigation file in criminal proceedings , which arise from the police investigation work. Access to files is the right of a person not entrusted with the management of files to be able to read the content of a specific file. The term comes from procedural law, but also has considerable meaning in the personnel file .


There are several reasons for keeping files. On the one hand, it allows the administration to access the information gathered in the files, thus fulfilling a practical purpose in continuation of the purpose of the files. As the time lag between the creation of the files increases, legal aspects - the traceability of administrative actions and the protection of legal claims - become more important for storage. Finally, files are kept as sources for the story. For this reason, the retention of files is regulated by a large number of administrative, data protection and archiving laws that regulate retention periods , responsibilities for retention and the possibility of inspecting files. Commercial law applies to business documents , which indicate which documents must be kept and for how long (see retention requirements , retention period).

Files are initially stored in the - decentralized or centralized - registry of the agency responsible for the files. If they are no longer needed for direct business operations, they can be separated out or repositioned. An intermediate archive or an administrative archive is responsible for storage and retrieval . The files usually remain here until they are ready for archiving. This is mainly due to the expiry of the retention periods, since when transferring to a historical or final archive, a selection of permanently valuable and thus to be preserved files takes place on the one hand and files to be destroyed ( cassation ) on the other ( archival evaluation ) . With the exception of a few so-called "put away items", the authorities are prohibited from destroying files themselves within the framework of the obligation to provide them. Once in a public archive , the provisions of the respective archive rights apply, which stipulate permanent storage. In order to ensure the durability of the archived files, they are demetallized, re-embedded and stored under favorable climatic conditions. Due to the often inferior papers in the files of the 19th and 20th centuries, deacidification is necessary to ensure their long-term preservation.


The 19th century is not only seen as the age of the files in history. On the one hand, the filing reached a high point, on the other hand, difficulties arose more and more frequently in handling the administrative burden of modern mass society and the increasing state tasks. Out of this tension, the file and the file management became a widespread motif.

  • keep someone on file = have written records about a person
  • one thing to files / shelved put ' = a thing as complete look (actually one thing to the other documents that are already in place, add).
  • quod non est in actis, non est in mundo (Latin for: What is not in the files is not in the world. Comes from the written trial under Roman law, in which nothing could be observed that was not in the trial files )

See also


  • Heinz Hoffmann: Official records management: a manual for organizing, registering, sorting out and archiving files of the authorities . 2nd Edition. Munich. Boldt im Oldenbourg Verlag, 2000 (publications of the Federal Archives: 43), ISBN 3-486-56491-9 .
  • Petra Muckel: Everyday life with files - psychological reconstructions of bureaucratic phenomena. An empirical study in different institutions based on the grounded theory. Aachen. Shaker Verlag , 1997, ISBN 3-8265-2685-6 .
  • Claus Noppeney: "The electronic file as an image phenomenon: observations on the everyday nature of the digital in organizations", in: Bildwelten des Wissens, 3 (2), 2005, 74–83.
  • Cornelia Vismann : Files. Media technology and law . Frankfurt am Main 2000, ISBN 3596149274 .
  • Alexandra Kemmerer: "Files", in: Marcel Lepper / Ulrich Raulff (eds.), Manual archive. JB Metzler, Stuttgart 2016, 131–143.

Web links

Wiktionary: Files  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Gerhart Enders: Archive administration teaching . Unchanged reprint of the 3rd edition from 1968. Universitätsverlag Leipzig, Leipzig 2004, p. 55-75 .
  2. Transparency Portal Bremen - Ordinance on the storage of documents in the justice and justice administration of the State of Bremen (StorageV) of 26 Sep. In: September 26, 2016, accessed January 15, 2019 .
  3. ^ General file decree NRW from 2002 ( Memento from April 3, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 366 kB)
  4. Document management and electronic archiving in IT-supported business processes, DOMEA organizational concept 2.1 , November 2005, p. 86
  5. Florian Kunstein, The electronic signature as a component of electronic administration , 2005, p. 205
  6. On legal issues in this context: Thorsten Vehslage: Digital file management in administration . In: Verwaltungsrundschau . 2001, p. 374-379 .
  7. Horst Clages, The Red Thread: Principles of Criminal Practice , 2004, p. 60