Why Is The File Path Length Important?

Word Long File Path
The file path length is the total number of characters in the file path. This includes spaces and backslashes. When working with files and folders, it is important to consider the file path length. The Windows operating system has a maximum file path length of 260 characters, but this limit is often reduced to 255 characters due to some reserved characters that take up extra space. In this blog, we'll discuss why file path length is important and the potential issues that can arise if the length of the file path is too long. Additionally, what can be done if you are encountering an error caused by a long file path.

Why is File Path Length Important?

The file path length is important because it can affect the ability to open or access files and folders on a Windows operating system. If a file path exceeds the 255 character limit, it can cause errors when attempting to open or access the file. In addition, some software programs have their own file path length limits that may be lower than the Windows limit. If a file path exceeds the limit set by a software program, it may not be able to open or access the file.

What Issues Could a Long File Path Cause?

Difficulty Opening or Accessing Files

If a file path exceeds the 255 character limit, it can be difficult or impossible to open or access the file. This can be frustrating for users who need to access important files for work or personal use. When a file path exceeds the maximum limit of 255 characters, Windows may be unable to open or access the file. In some cases, you may receive an error message that says something like “The data area passed to a system call is too small”, “The file path is too long” or “The filename or extension is too long”.

Word Long File Path
You may see errors opening a document if the file path is too long

Search Functionality Not Working

If a file path exceeds the 255 character limit, it may not be possible to find the file using the search functionality in Windows File Explorer or you may receive an error like “The data area passed to a system call is too small”. This can be very frustrating is you use the search to find your files quickly.

You may be unable to open documents from a search if the path is too long, with the odd error 'The data area passed to a system call is too small'
You may be unable to open documents from a search if the path is too long with the odd error The data area passed to a system call is too small

OneDrive Can’t Open The File

If you use the OneDrive app to sync files from your OneDrive or SharePoint sites, you may see an error suggesting that the file is open in another program or it is offline when opening the file in Explorer. The long file path means that OneDrive is unable to download the file to your computer.

The error 'Available when online' may displayed when attempting to open in OneDrive
The error Available when online may displayed when attempting to open in OneDrive

What can I do if I encounter an error caused by a Long File Path?

Rename the file or folder with a shorter name: One way to shorten the file path is to rename the file or the folders in the path with shorter names. This can be done by right-clicking on the file or folder and selecting “Rename” or by selecting the file and pressing F2.

Move the file to another location resulting in a shorter path: Another way to shorten the file path is to move the file to a directory path with fewer sub-directories or shorter folder names. This can be done by dragging and dropping the file to a new location in Windows File Explorer or using Ctrl + X (Cut) & CTRL + V (Paste). If the file is stored in OneDrive or SharePoint, you can also go to the file in a web browser and choose ‘Move to’ or ‘Copy to’ to place it in another location.

Move the file online to another location
Move the file online to another location

In Conclusion

File path length is an important consideration when working with files and folders. By following best practices such as using short file names, keeping files in short directory paths, and using abbreviations, it’s possible to avoid long file path lengths and the potential issues that can arise from them. By being mindful of file path length, users can ensure that they are able to access and work with their files in an efficient and productive manner.

Further Reading

If you’re interested in learning more, for a (very) technical explanation of how file paths work in Windows, see the Microsoft Learn article Naming Files, Paths, and Namespaces – Win32 apps | Microsoft Learn

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