Having started using computers when file names had to be no longer than eight characters, a dot, and three characters for an extension (12 total characters), I have never personally experienced any issues with long filenames. Unfortunately, many of our clients weren’t forced into using short file names at an early age and as a result are bumping into some settings built into Microsoft’s operating system.
A legacy setting in Microsoft operating systems, MAX_PATH, has been causing an increasingly common problem for our clients. With Windows 95, Microsoft introduced the ability to create long file names. Then and now, there was an absolute limit to the length of a file name which includes the entire file path. Since from the operating system’s perspective the file name includes the entire path (e.g., c:\folder1\folder2\folder2\folder3\folder4\word.docx), users have been routinely exceeding the long file name length.
Several factors are exacerbating the problem. In Windows 10 and Server 2016, the MAX_PATH value of 260 characters has been removed. In the typical mixed operating system environment we see, the removal of this MAX_PATH value has caused major headaches. When copying or moving files between Windows 10 and older operating systems like Windows 7 or Server 2008, the process often fails. Compounding the problem, many of the most common tools for moving files – like File Explorer, copy, and xcopy – only support the 260 character maximum. This has been a particular pain point for DeckerWright Corporation during server upgrades requiring the migration of thousands of files between old and new systems.
The unfortunate reality is that we are several years away from being able to name files to the maximum allowed value of 32,767 characters. Older operating systems will need to be retired, and Microsoft will need to upgrade its built-in functions to support long file names. Once these steps are taken, applications that use these functions will need to be re-written to be compatible with the new maximum file name length – no small task.
What do you do in the meantime? Here are some tips for how to stay within the 260 character maximum file name length:
- Keep folder names short, six characters of less. Since folder names get added to the filename character count, the effect of a long folder name gets multiplied across every file within it.
- Flatten directory structures and keep them no more than three deep. Again every successive folder name in a path adds characters (including the back slashes) to the filename. Keeping the hierarchy of folders flat helps to reduce the file name length.
- Use shorter file names. The most common problem we see in clients using long names - such as full postal addresses for folders and filenames. The extra-long names are meaningful, but quickly eat up the 260 character maximum. Either use shorter client names or use abbreviations to keep file names short, no more than 20 characters.
By combining shorter folder names, fewer layers of folders, and more intelligent and shorter file names, everyone should be able to survive until operating systems and tools catch up to long file names