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What is an Absolute Path?

By Troy Holmes
Updated May 16, 2024
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Computer file systems are logical folders that are often referred to as file directories. These directories can include sub-folders and files that are maintained within each folder. The directory structure of these folders is known as a directory path. The absolute path refers to full path name, which includes the director name, sub-folder name, and file name.

A computer file system is typically represented as a hierarchy of files, folders and subfolders. The top folder within the hierarchy is the root directory of the file system. When an individual uses the absolute path of a file or folder, he must include the root directory in the name. This full path name is typically written with backslashes between each sub-folder name.

Most computers are designed to be used by multiple people. This access control is managed by an authentication of a user’s password credentials. When he connects to the computer, he typically is placed into a specific file directory, where he can save personal information. The directory is the home directory for the user.

When a computer application is executed, it runs in a specific folder within the hierarchy of the computer files system. The folder becomes the relative path of the application. Most computer applications use this relative path to access special files and folders. By using the relative path, all application data can be easily stored within the folder of the application being run without requiring the user to type the absolute path name.

Today there are many operating systems that manage computers. These typically include Windows®, Linux®, Mac®, UNIX&reg and Mainframe versions. Each operating system has special commands that can provide the absolute path of a folder or file. When a user needs this full path name, he must execute the specific command to obtain that information.

Using an absolute path to access data files can be a cumbersome, error-prone process. This is more prevalent with files that are buried several layers within the file system hierarchy. To streamline this process, an individual can move to the relative path by changing directories into the desired folder. Once he is in the folder of interest, he can ignore the absolute path name and use simple file names within the folder.

Most software programming languages use special commands that enable the programmer options to set file path name variables. This path name is substituted within the computer program for the long absolute path name. Using this form of variable substitution reduces file access errors throughout a computer program.

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