Path (computing)

From Academic Kids

A path is the general form of a file or directory name, giving a file's name and its unique location in a file system. Paths point to their location using a string of characters signifying directories, separated by a delimiting character, most commonly the slash "/" or backslash character "\", though some operating systems may use a different delimiter. Paths are used extensively in computer science to represent the folder/file relationships common in modern operating systems, and are essential in the construction of URLs.

A path can be either absolute or relative. An absolute path is a path that points to the same location on one file system regardless of the working directory or combined paths. It is usually written in reference to a root directory.

A relative path is a path relative to the current working directory, so the full absolute path may not need to be given.


Representations of Paths by Operating System

  UnixMicrosoft WindowsMac OSAmigaOS
Parent-Child Direction Left-RightLeft-RightLeft-RightLeft-Right
Root Directory / <drive letter>:\ <drive name>: <drive, volume or assign name>:
Directory Separator / \  : /

On Unix-like operating systems, $PATH is an environment variable listing directories where common executables may be found.

Universal Naming Convention

The Universal Naming Convention specifies a common syntax for accessing network resources, such as shared folders and printers. The syntax for Windows systems is as follows:


Where 'computername' is the hostname, 'sharedfolder' is a top-level shared fdirectory, and 'resource' is a shared file or printer. The hostname may also be identified by a fully-qualified domain name or by IP address. Unix- and Linux-like systems use a similar syntax, with foward slashes ( / ) in place of backward slashes ( \ ) [1] (


Here is an example with a Unix style file system as it would appear from a terminal or terminal application (command-line window):

Your current working directory (cwd)is:


You want to change your current working directory (cwd) to:


At that moment, the relative path for the directory you want is:


and the absolute path for the directory you want is


Because bobapples is the relative path for the directory you want, you may type the following at the command prompt to change your current working directory to bobapples:

cd bobapples

Two dots are used for moving up in the hierarchy, to indicate the parent directory; one dot represents the working directory.

Windows also uses the path extensively throughout the modern editions of its operating systems and Office applications, which users can customize. By default, in Windows 98 or above, each folder and Windows Explorer window has an address bar by which you can navigate a different path, or view the path of the current working directory.

The "find" and "search" utilities under Windows have always featured the path as a sortable option, though in Windows 95 the column was truncated by default, allowing the user to resize the "path" column manually until the path became sufficiently visible.

In Windows 98, (and above), it is part of the metadata displayed in Windows Explorer's HTML-containing window pane above the search results if you are using the Search sidebar--a function that in Windows XP is seamlessly integrated with Explorer and Internet Explorer's Search sidebar.

See also

See path to reference other homonyms that use this nomenclature.


This article was originally based on material from the Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, which is licensed under the GFDL.

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