Understanding File Paths

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated September 2, 2019)

1

You already know that information is stored on your disk drive in a series of files. You may also know that those files can be organized using folders, and that folders can exist within other folders. All this organization has a slight drawback, however—it can make locating a particular file a bit tricky.

This is where file paths come into play. A file path can be viewed as an address for your house; it provides detailed information (in a standardized format) for locating any given file on a disk drive. The file path starts with the drive letter of the disk drive, such as C:. To this beginning is appended the "path" of folders that are traversed to get to the file. Each item in the file path is separated from other items by a single backslash, in this manner:

c:\My Files\Budgets\Current Year\Research\budget.xlsx

This particular example shows that the file budget.xlsx (an Excel file) is stored within the Research folder, which in turn is stored in the Current Year folder, which is within the Budgets folder, which resides in the My Files folder.

Every path name—when fully qualified so it includes both the drive letter and the file name—is unique and unambiguous; there cannot be a duplicate path name for that unique file.

You should note that Windows places a limit on the length of path names—260 characters. This may seem like a lot of characters, but it is relatively easy to exceed. For example, the fully qualified path example earlier in this tip takes up 53 characters. With a few more subfolder "levels" added or a few more verbose folder names, the limit would be easy to reach. The rule here is to make sure that you name your folder and structure your hierarchy such that you lessen the risk of hitting this 260-character length limit.

 This tip (6818) applies to Windows 7, 8, and 10.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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What is five more than 7?

2019-09-03 20:25:42

Alex B

If you find you can't open an Excel file, the filepath & name length can be an issue, a workaround (especially for network drives) is to map the fully specified path to a Drive letter. The more levels you include in the mapping the shorter the full name.
Your colleagues needing to access the file would need to do it too though.

OneDrive is causing me a lot of grief. I store the file path for various reasons and want the OneDrive path not the C Drive location that the file is synching too.
Love to hear any suggestions on how to get OneDrive path without having to go through a browser to get it.


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