Naming conventions for files and folders

Folder and Document icons

Computers allow us to name files and folders (directory) as we please.

Naming your computer files and folders (directories) in a consistent manner will help you become better organised and more efficient. It is easy to name a file “Agenda.doc” but this name loses context in just a matter of days.

I have tried several systems of file naming but I decided to write this article to codify the rules I follow. I searched on Google and read other people’s guidelines then adapted useful suggestions into the following guidelines.

So why do I need guidelines? There are many reasons:

  • A filename indicates the contents and context For example, “Music Committee Minutes” implies a record of the music committee. But which meeting? On to the next point.
  • A filename should indicate the Date Created. Therefore a better file name would be “Music Committee Minutes 20110904.doc”
  • Documents which are revised and reviewed should have a version number and a means of identifying a final version.
  • Temporary files should be clearly identifiable.
  • Which project does a file belong to? This is where folder names and suitable folder hierarchies are important.

These are my guidelines.

1. Keep Names short but still information-rich

I am a committee member of a youth orchestra whose abbreviated name is KYO. A folder name of KYO is therefore meaningful to me. In that folder I have more folders: ScoresMusic CommitteeConcert Aug 2011Concert Dec 2011. The name has a clear meaning and similar projects with different dates are obvious (two concerts).

Use consisent abbreviations for example agn (agenda), min (Minutes), and rep (Report). For example Music committee rep 20110903.doc.

2. More Folders are better

Folders don’t take up space, unlike physical folders. Don’t be afraid to create folders inside folders to organise files. If for example I was creating a podcast using musical clips, I would have folders for ScriptVoiceoverMusic ClipsAudacity and so on. It is much easier to search in one folder for a music clip than browsing a folder with many files.

3. Don’t use fancy characters in names

One guideline recommended using underscores (_) instead of spaces. I still like to use spaces in names but I avoid characters like #, $, %, &, *, / and \. The only special character to use is a hyphen (-).

4. Names should go from General to Specific

This means that files and folders will be sorted into a more useful sequence. For example, Concert Podcast - Part 1.mp3.

5. Add creation dates to the end of a file name

I sometimes add a date to the end of a file name, for example, Rehearsal Schedule 20110904.doc. I follow a date format of YYYYMMDD as this format is suitable for sorting file names.

6. Add a version number to the file name

When I work on a document, I often send copies for feedback. When I received the document with changes, I increment the version number and change the date. For example, a music concert program will undergo several changes, starting with Concert Aug 2011 Program - 20110815_v01.doc. A later version could beConcert Aug 2011 Program - 20110819_v02.doc.

Use 2 digits for the version so file names will sort correctly, otherwise you will see version 1, version 10, version 2 and so on.

When the document is finalised, I change the version number to FINAL so it is clear this is the published document.

Software developers will most likely use a source code control system (for example, SubVersion or GIT). Files are “checked in” so earlier versions can be accessed if required. Souce code control systems are not much for Word, Excel and Powerpoint.

7. Temporary file names

When creating a file which can be deleted soon, prefix the name with Tmp or create a folder with a name beginning with tmp. This will allow fasy cleanup.

8. Rename files when downloading

When downloading files, for example, Installers, PDFs, web pages or images, change the name to something meaningful. Software installer should include the product name, version. For example if I was downloading the MUP music typesetting program, I would name the installer MUP_installer_5.9.exe There is no need to save the download date in the name as the file system has the date created.

In a similar manner, I rename the product documentation to include the version number, for example, MUP User Guide 5.9.pdf.

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