The Mechanics of File Naming: No Elbow Grease Necessary

Machine ScrewIn the last post, we discussed the importance of establishing a file naming protocol. While creating said protocol is not particularly difficult, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Blank spaces are like germs, avoid them. Most of today’s desktop programs allow blank spaces in file names. However, spaces can cause database problems, so if there is any chance at all that your files will be stored outside of your regular computer or laptop, eliminate the spaces.

Also, if your files will be published on the Internet, remember that spaces aren’t permitted in URLs. While most current browsers will automatically convert spaces into other characters, this process isn’t error proof. Why chance annoying your web visitors with the dreaded 404 File Not Found page?

The safest way to represent a space, without actually including one, is to use an underscore ( _ ).

2. Some characters are special, for a reason. So-called “special characters,” such as forward and backward slashes ( / and \), the asterisk (*) , and the question mark (?) should never be used in file names because they have specific functions within various database and server systems.

Luckily, nearly all modern software will prohibit you from using these characters in file names. But, if you are not sure, visit Wikipedia’s Filename page for an extensive list of reserved characters.

3. Camels are cool. Camel casing is simply the process of putting two or more capitalized words together, thereby creating camel-like humps. Many companies use this technique in their names, such as YouTube, LinkedIn, and PayPal. Camel casing is a good option when you want to indicate different words but don’t want to overuse underscores. For example, you can use underscores to separate sections of a file name and camel casing to indicate individual words within the sections:

  • HumanResource_FinalDraft_05Jan13
  • ResearchReport_V1_10Feb13
  • CaseStudy_JaneDoe_05May13

One word of warning about camel casing: Many systems will convert all of the letters to lowercase or uppercase behind the scenes. Therefore, if you label one file HumanResource_FinalDraft, you will run into trouble if you call another file humanresource_finaldraft. To be on the safe side, consider sticking with camel casing all of the time.

I had planned to talk about renaming existing files; however, this post has grown a little longer than expected, so I will save that topic for next time. After all, file naming is certainly an extraordinarily exhilarating topic, so I might as well keep it rolling, right? (What, it’s not exhilarating? Okay, maybe not. How about mildly interesting? Slightly entertaining? Somewhat not boring?)


 Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in business documents, copywriting, marketing material, blogs, web copy, and instructional content.

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