Have you ever received the error that states your file’s name is too long? Whether when saving a file, renaming it, or moving it, this error is sometimes hard to understand the reasoning behind it.

Cause: A file’s name can only be 256 characters long. Sounds like a lot… well it isn’t, when consider all that goes into a file’s name.

Okay, so how does a 3 character file name break this limit? The file’s name includes every folder above it in the file tree.

This list of characters precedes every file in your documents folder:

The tree looks like this:

  • C:\
    • users
      • user.name
        • my documents
          • documents
  • documents is a sub folder to my documents (as shown above).

or this:

C:\users\user.name\my documents\documents\

That is at least 26 characters, not including your user.name, which totally depends on what you picked for your username.

Then you have to include the names of all the folders that you use to keep your files organized in, such as:

my awesome trip to Hawaii\daily documentary\day one of my adventure….

Then one day you might decide to move a perfectly fine length name to a sub-folder under Archived Adventures\The Ongoing Saga\2010 a Year in Review\ and the additional upper echelon folders causes the problem.

You get the idea. It doesn’t take long to trip the 256 character limit, especially at work, when you have to keep your files under your organization name\office name\special project name\version name\etc. and most especially when people like to make these folder names excessively descriptive.

Solution: Use acronyms or very short, preferably one word description names.


  • c:\users\user.name\my documents\documents\federal government\department of health and human services\food stamps application\requestorname.docx
  • c:\users\user.name\my documents\documents\Fed\HHS\FS App\reqname.docx

This method gives you much more leeway in the file’s actual name. You simply have to remember to keep a document that defines the acronyms to train new employees\users and as a reminder for existing employees\users.