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Data Management @ NAU

Naming conventions for files and folders

The following recommendations can help your research group design a simple and consistent system for naming project files.

File and folder names should (be):

Unique Avoid duplicate names to make files easier to find.

Name folders based on major functions or activities. Name files based on content.


Individual names should not exceed 31 characters (this was a limit on earlier file systems that can still be problematic if a program contains older code).

The total file path should not exceed 256 characters (e.g. TopLevelFolder\Subfolder\SubSubFolder\

Contain only letters (A through Z) and numbers (0 through 9)
  • e.g.
To make names more readable, you can use:
  • underscores* (e.g.
  • hyphens* (e.g.
  • CamelCase** (e.g.

*Avoid putting underscores or hyphens at the beginning or end of your file names.

**Note that some operating system do not recognize capital letters.

Avoid using blank spaces or special characters (such as < > : " / \ | ? * & # @ { } = +) This will ensure compatibility with a wide range of operating systems and make files easier to work with in the command line (for example, if you need to write/use a script to import files into a database).
Include dates as needed

Include a date if you want that date to be permanently associated with the file (the "date created" field applied by the computer will be reset if the file is transferred to another computer or drive).

Format dates according to the ISO 8601 standard:

  • YYYY-MM-DD (e.g. May 4th, 2011 would become 2014-05-04)
  • The hyphens can be omitted to save space (e.g. 20140504)
Include version information as needed

Keep track of the version by listing a version number or a date at the end of the file name. It's also helpful to indicate which version is the final version of the file, e.g.:

  • Version 1: file_name_v01.docx OR file-name-2014-03-04.docx
  • Version 2: file_name_v02.docx OR file-name-2014-04-15.docx
  • Final Version: file_name_FINAL.docx OR file-name-FINAL.docx

Organizing files and folders

Organize your directory structure in a way that makes it easier to find and share files and folders:

Keep it simple and consistent Consider naming folders based on major functions or activities, then organizing subfolders by date or event.
Determine whether you need a deep or shallow file hierarchy When you browse through your data hierarchy, what are you most interested in finding? (e.g. do you want to find data collected by a particular student, data collected on a particular date, or data collected at a particular location or with a specific instruction? etc.). This can help you determine how deep or shallow your hierarchy should be.
Beware of too much depth Remember that the total file path should not exceed 256 characters, as discussed above.

Having too many levels in the hierarchy might also interfere with some software (for example, most CD burning software returns an error if your folder hierarchy has more than eight levels -- see ECMA-119/ISO 9660 standard, page 9).