Home » Tips » Why There is a Restriction on Windows File Name

You may have noticed that you can’t keep your Windows file name too long. There is a restriction on the limit of the length of that. May be many of you have experienced it that while running a Windows file, it may display an error message that says that the name of one of your files is too long and leave you clueless about what caused this to happen. So this article is about the limits on the length of a Windows file name.

Depending on the structure of the file system, there are various restrictions on how long a file name can be. It is important to remember that the length of a file name referred here means all the information that the computer system needs to identify the file. That includes the drive and all the folders and subfolders involved. It may also involve certain kinds of other information about the structure of the file.file_name_too_long

There are a variety of disk file systems and each has its own way of structuring the file while storing it on a disk. Optical disks may have a different file system, and smaller USB devices may have an older system. But often hard drives installed with Windows using the NTFS file system. There are different literatures about the maximum length of an NTFS file name. The practical limit is less than the actual limit as certain subtleties are often overlooked.

Although there is an absolute limit of 260 characters set by the Windows API which is practically less. There are various reasons of this restriction as all names have to have a null terminator at the end. And this null terminator is also counted as a character so now the limit reduced to 259 characters. Three other characters are used by the drive or volume designation (e.g., C:\) hence  the limit for naming the containing folder and subfolders plus the name of the file itself is remains to 256 characters.

Still, there is a subtlety imposed by the way that Windows encodes characters and no individual file or folder can have a name more than a length of 255 characters. These 255 characters include spaces and back slashes (used as separators). This limitation is often quoted for an individual file names and applies only to file names in the root directory with no additional containing folders. There is another limitation on a file name which is overlooked.

Usually there is a default option to provide an optional name for a file using the old 8.3 naming system. When you create a new folder, Windows will put aside 12 characters in the alternate file name, and leaves only 244 characters for all containing folders. The generation of 8.3 names can be disabled, but it may cause problems with very old 16-bit programs.

There is a mechanism which makes it possible to create longer file names. As an example – networked systems need more flexibility for file names so the Windows API offers special naming conventions to create very long Unicode names in blocks of 255 characters. These long names are prefixed by \\?\ . Try this prefix on the file name and path as a solution if you are facing a problem with a file name that is too long.

Natalie Green is an experienced technical content writer. She has done post graduation from a reputed university and likes to write unique and informative article for computer repair company to optimize computer speed. In this article she is highlighting that why there is a restriction on Windows file name.

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