12-21-12 - File Name Namespaces on Windows

A little bit fast and loose but trying to summarize some insanity from a practical point of view.

Windows has various "namespaces" or classes of file names :

1. DOS Names :

"c:\blah" and such.

Max path of 260 including drive and trailing null. Different cases refer to the same file, *however* different unicode encodings of the same character do *NOT* refer to the same file (eg. things like "accented e" and "e + accent previous char" are different files). See previous posts about code pages and general unicode disaster on Windows.

I'm going to ignore the 8.3 legacy junk, though it still has some funny lingering effects on even "long" DOS names. (for example, the longest path name length allowed is 244 characters, because they require room for an 8.3 name after the longest path).

2. Win32 Names :

This includes all DOS names plus all network paths like "\\server\blah".

The Win32 APIs can also take the "\\?\" names, which are sort of a way of peeking into the lower-level NT names.

Many people incorrectly think the big difference with the "\\?\" names is that the length can be much longer (32768 instead of 260), but IMO the bigger difference is that the name that follows is treated as raw characters. That is, you can have "/" or "." or ".." or whatever in the name - they do not get any processing. Very scary. I've seen lots of code that blindly assumes it can add or remove "\\?\" with impunity - that is not true!

"\\?\c:\" is a local path

"\\?\UNC\server\blah" is a network name like "\\server\blah"

Assuming you have your drives shared, you can get to yourself as "\\localhost\c$\"

I think the "\\?\" namespace is totally insane and using it is a Very Bad Idea. The vast majority of apps will do the wrong thing when given it, and many will crash.

3. NT names :

Win32 is built on "ntdll" which internally uses another style of name. They start with "\" and then refer to the drivers used to access them, like :


In the NT namespace network shares are named :

Pre-Vista :

\Device\LanmanRedirector\<some per-user stuff>\server\share

Vista+ : Lanman way and also :


And the NT namespace has a symbolic link to the entire Win32 namespace under "\Global??\" , so


is also a valid NT name, (and "\??\" is sometimes valid as a short version of "\Global??\").

What fun.

No comments:

old rants