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Path (computing)

In computing a path is the general form of a file or directory name. It intends to be a path to a specific file, where they may be many instances of that same file. Because directories are essentially graphical representations and groupings of [[files], it does not violate this rule to mention that a path points to the last item in the path--whether it is a directory, file, or symbolic link. Paths point to their location using a string of characters signifying directories, seperated by a delimiting character, most commonly the slash "/" or backslash character "\\", but some operating systems may use a different delimiter. Specifically, Pre-Unix (or Classic) Macs use colons, and Windows is mostly compatible with either the backslash or the forward slash, the two slashes on a modern keyboard.

A path can be either absolute or relative. An absolute path is a path that points to the same location regardless of the working directory or combined paths. It is usually written in reference to a root directory, in the Microsoft Windows operating system this is the current working drive, however in Unix and Unix-like operating systems this is "/".

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

To list several paths, a colon ":" is commonly used in the Unix and the like as a separator. A semicolon ";" is used instead in the Windows operating system.


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 CLI 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 current 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.

Windows' "find" and "search" utilities 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 XP is seamlessly integrated with Explorer and Internet Explorer's Search sidebar. To be clear, the formerly available seperate front-end used for searching the Windows' file system has been eliminated from the currently avaliable Windows product line.

See also: Hodology, the study of pathways. '' See the [[path|the disambugation page for path] to reference other homonyms that use this nomenclature.

This article is based on material from FOLDOC, used with permission. Update as needed.