How Loooong File Names Can Kill Your Work

April 29, 2010

I try to avoid lower level stuff on this blog, but this has been a support issue for me several times in just the last few months, so I’m going to break my rule.

The Scenario:

Your co-worker e-mails you a new proposal attached to it for your review, you open the email and then you save that proposal into your windows My Documents folder.

After you save it? Well, that is when the headache starts.

Perhaps you try and copy that proposal to your server, or maybe you just want to modify it, maybe insert a new table or image. What happens? your proposal blows up, says it can’t find the image you are trying to insert, maybe an error message says something about a zero byte file, or if you are really lucky it gives you a message that the file name is too long (usually in cryptic language)

For arguments sake, lets assume that the name of your proposal document is;

ACME Consulting and Implementation Proposal Version 1 April 30 2010.doc

What is a File Name?

First? I tell you that your file name cannot be longer than about 255 characters.

You carefully count the letters on our sample ACME proposal and tell me I am out of my mind because: hey that is only 71characters! not even close to 255!

Sorry! But that is not correct.

The hidden background of file paths and file names

Microsoft Windows computers and servers limit the full file name, and path to that name to approximately 255 characters, that includes letters, numbers, and spaces. But in many cases you can start getting erratic behavior when you start getting beyond about 180 characters.

But here is the tricky part.

In the Windows environment, a file name is unique and also includes the full path that leads to the location of the file.

And what is this path?

The path is defined as the levels you need to travel through various folders to get to a unique document, each of those folders defines that path. And in some cases, those folders (or directories) are actually hidden from you by default.

Using our ACME sample, If you saved document in your My Documents folder?

On a Microsoft Windows XP computer, the full path to your proposal is actually;

C:\Documents and Settings\name.domain\My Documents\ACME Consulting and Implementation Proposal Version 1 April 30 2010.doc

Count the number of characters again – we have already reached 122 of them!

Now lets assume that you keep everything neatly organized by having neat sub-folders in your My Documents, lets say that the first folder is All Customer Proposals, then under that one is an alphabetical list of your clients including a folder for ACME Corporation.

What is our ACME Proposal now?

C:\Documents and Settings\name.domain\My Documents\All Customer Proposals\ACME Corporation\ACME Consulting and Implementation Proposal Version 1 April 30 2010.doc

You got it – we are now at 162 characters! And getting very close to the danger zone!

OK, you say you put all your work on your company server?

Same thing.

Lets assume your server has your proposal in the Project teams area, looking something like this;

M:\Project Team\Project Proposals\2010-2011 Projects\ACME Corporation\Finance Department\ACME Consulting and Implementation Proposal Version 1 April 30 2010.doc

160 characters -again, danger zone!

The SMB IT Takeaway

Take a look at the conventions, or rules that govern where you place your documents, and what names you give your documents to avoid full path names that are too long.

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