Whether you use a PC or a Mac, if you are like me, you must rely on Windows Explorer or the Mac Finder to visualize and search your files and data as they are stored on your computer. These tools provide a user-friendly and intuitive way to manage all types of files and documents. They allow you to create new ones, move existing ones around, delete some, rename some, search their content, view metadata describing them, or even open and edit such files right from within these tools. Wouldn’t it be nice to have something similar for the Azure cloud storage? The good news is that there is a solution that Microsoft provides to do just that, and it is called Azure Storage Explorer. In this blog post, we will go over this tool and show how to get your hands on it and use it.
What is Azure Storage Explorer?
Azure Storage Explorer is a client application that runs on multiple operating systems, including Windows, MacOS, and Linux (for more details on what versions of these operating systems are supported, visit the Azure Storage Explorer documentation). You can download Storage Explorer from this link: https://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=708343&clcid=0x409. Once downloaded, you can run through a straightforward installation wizard to get it installed on your computer. For Linux distributions, you may need to manually install some dependencies.
Once installed, you can launch Azure Storage Explorer, which will present you with the license agreement. After accepting the agreement, you will be prompted to connect to Azure Storage by adding an Azure account. You can connect Azure Storage Explorer to your Azure account/subscriptions in many ways, including: using a connection string, using a Shared Access Signature Unified Resource Identifier (SAS URI), or by using a storage account name and key.
Storage Explorer lists your subscriptions under your account in the left-hand pane. You can choose to remove or keep whichever subscriptions you want, or even add one or more accounts with their different subscriptions. With this, you can see that Azure Storage Explorer provides you with great flexibility to manage anything storage-related across multiple accounts and subscriptions in one place.
Using Azure Storage Explorer
Azure Storage Explorer presents you with a user-friendly interface with basic menus on the top that allow you to control the basic view of the interface, get the help you may need as you use it, or perform basic editing functionalities, such as copy and paste, among other things. On the left-hand side of the interface, you will see a bar with different icons that allow you to control your connections to your accounts and subscriptions.
You can click on the icon in the left bar to view the storage hierarchy of your accounts and subscriptions. In that hierarchy, you can find a section labeled “Local and Attached,” which makes it possible to connect to Cosmos DB or an Azure Data Lake deployment. You can connect to Cosmos DB using a connection string, and to the Azure Data Lake using a SAS URI. This gives you great flexibility in visually controlling the data and documents you store in such data stores. This is especially important since these data stores support NoSQL, among other types of Big Data.
Once you select a storage item in the storage hierarchy, another bar appears at the top of the screen with different icons that correspond to your selection that allows you to perform certain relevant functionalities.
For instance, the figure above corresponds to a selection of a file share in Azure. As you can see, the icons allow you to upload files to the share from your local machine, download files from the Azure share, open files in the share, create new folders, connect the Azure file share to a virtual machine, and many other things.
The figure below shows what the icon bar looks like when you select an Azure Table from the storage hierarchy. The commands represented by the icons in the bar allow you to perform many actions relevant to tabular data, including querying data in the table, importing to or exporting data from it, adding rows or columns as needed, and editing the table data directly in the graphical interface.
Storage types supported by Azure
The Azure Storage Explorer interface provides additional panes in the main interface that allow you to track what actions have been taken, properties of the items selected in the storage hierarchy, which can come very handy, as well as keeping track of a log of activities conducted by the system.
As we speak about the Azure Storage Explorer, it helps to mention what types of storage are supported by Azure and can be accessed with this tool. Azure Storage supports four main types of storage:
- Azure Blobs: an object store for text and binary data that provides massive scale for such storage items and can be accessed from anywhere via HTTP or HTTPS. Controlled access to Blobs and Blob containers can be accomplished directly through their URLs.
- Azure Queues: a store that provides reliable messaging capabilities between applications. Each queue can contain millions of messages that can be up to 64 KB in size and that can be processed asynchronously.
- Azure Tables: It is now part of Cosmos DB. Table Storage is a NoSQL data store for structured data that has no specific schema.
- Azure File Shares: provides a highly available managed file share for both cloud and on-premise deployments.
Details of Azure storage types will be the topic of a future blog post.
Azure provides programmable access to items stored in these types using REST APIs, Azure PowerShell, Azure CLI, or Azure Storage client libraries. Developers can use any programming language supported by Azure to access Azure Storage. For non-programmers, Azure Storage Explorer makes it possible to access data stored in Azure, no matter how it is stored and easily work with it performing what a user would do with data and files stored on their personal computer.