Understanding long folder and file names in Windows

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Did you know that there is a limit to how long a file name can be? Did you know that the folder name is also include in that limit? And what about the path? Let’s take a look at long folder and file names in Windows.

Understanding long folder and file names in Windows

I recently recovered files from several Windows based computers for a client. He asked that I put them onto an external drive for storage. But I ran into a problem, file names that were too long.

Now allot of people think that the maximum length for the name of a File in Windows is 255 characters. But that is not really correct. Technically, Folders are also a File but with a special attribute designating it as a Folder.

And Folder and Sub-Folder names are also included in the full File name. So, the actual File name also includes the Folder and Sub-Folder name(s) as well. They all factor into the 255 character limit.

So, when you put all of the names of the Folder, Sub-Folder(s) and File together, it is called a Path. A Path is a string of Folder, Sub-Folder and/or File names, backslashes and sometimes a volume name (drive letter).

The Path to a Folder or File on your computer will contain a drive letter (C:, D:, etc.) at the beginning. A Path to a network Folder or File will contain just two (2) backslashes (\) at the beginning. And a Path can be up to 260 characters in length.

For example, let’s say you have a file named ‘My Text File.txt’ in a Sub-Folder of your Documents Folder called ‘Simply Text Files’. The complete Path for it would be:

C:UsersusernameDocumentsSimply Text FilesMy Text File.txt

The name of the File itself is only 16 characters, but with the name of the Folder and Sub-Folders included, it is 59 characters. And the complete Path is 62 characters. And yes, spaces do count as characters.

So, getting a long File name error does not necessarily mean the actual name of the File is too long, it just means the length of the names of the Folder, Sub-Folder(s) and File altogether are too long. The simplest solution is to shrink the Folder or Sub-Folder(s) name(s) and leave the actual File name alone.

Now in my case, I was dealing with a couple thousand File names that were too long. And I could not identify where all of the Files were located. So, I went looking online for a program that could help me with this issue.

What I found was a cool little program called TLPD (Too Long Path Detector).
Too Long Path Detector folder selection screen
It showed me where all of the long file names were. And lucky for me, they were grouped together in Folders and Sub-Folders with fairly long names.

So, using the output from TLPD,
Too Long Path Detector text file output
I started shortening the Folder and Sub-Folder names. I kept running TLPD until I had all of the Paths down to under 225 characters. It was then I was able to copy all of the Files to an external drive for storage.

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