The legacy 8.3 filename restrictions that came from the old MS-DOS days are (for the most part) long gone, but one of the other lingering legacy limitations is the 260 character limit.
Microsoft have a great article about how all this works and the reasons why. With Windows 10 anniverasry edition and Windows Server 2016, it’s possibe to get around the 260 character limit with some caveats. The new limit is 32,767 characters!
When researching this, I found quite a few articles that said how to enable the setting but didn’t really go into it any deeper, and my testing found that it’s not as simple as described. Enabling “Long Paths” doesn’t magically remove the limit, it enables longer paths in certain situations.
Firstly – enabling the policy itself. There’s a mix of information out there, and I’ve found some catches.
One of the mentioned methods of turning the feature on is to use Group Policy at Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > System > Filesystem > Enable NTFS long paths. This doesn’t exist on my fully updated Windows 10 Pro install:
I also checked on Windows 10 Enterprise fully patched, and the option was also missing. I found this similar option though, one level down:
The name and description are very similar. I then found this technet thread which agreed that they are the same setting.
After applying the setting and rebooting, I tested via Command Prompt to see how far I’d get:
I wasn’t very successful. “12characters” contains… 12 characters, so 18 folders * 12 characters = 216. Then add the slashes and you’re around 233 characters. Not quite the 260 limit, but close. Why wasn’t it working?
A few reasons; the app itself needs to support the new API calls to go beyond 260 characters, and I dare say Command Prompt hasn’t been touched yet due to the potential of breaking things.
What about Windows Explorer? This is where things got a bit strange. I couldn’t create a folder in that same path for the same reason, so I created a share on the very bottom of the tree, went to the share name and started creating more folders. I then went back to the original path to see if I could navigate all the way to the bottom, and I could:
22 folders called ’12 characters’ = 264 characters by itself, and I was then able to create a subfolder called “New Folder”. What’s strange about this is that Windows Explorer itself wouldn’t break the 260 character wall directly, but once it was passed, it was happy to read through and continue on further.
Back on the command prompt, it had let me navigate one folder further than before into the 19th, but wouldn’t delve any deeper:
What about PowerShell? That seemed to be very happy with the extra characters, so I made a complex script containing the lines “md 12characters” and “cd 12characters” many, many times. PowerShell happily went mad creating subfolder after subfolder, although the speed of subfolder creation went from ludicrous speed to very very slow as it ran.
Seeing what Windows Explorer would do, I was surprised that I’d hit a different limit:
The ability to drill down further had gone. I could see 29 folders in the tree, and the 30th on the right hand pane, but couldn’t actually get into it. I also couldn’t create folders or files at that level or seveal levels up:
Back into PowerShell, I had to scroll to see beyond my current folder path!
I was also able to create files at that level. From this, if you’re going to use long paths in Windows Server 2016 or Windows 10, use PowerShell to manage your files!
This to me seems a good reason for Microsoft to not make Long Paths on by default. It should only be used for special cases, and a lot of things may break or just not support it. For example, if you’re doing a file level backup, will your backup software both read and write beyond the 260 character limit?
The best use case I can think of currently is having a location you can extract out long paths (maybe that came from a Unix box?) so you can adjust back down to the 260 limit, or get out the files you need. Microsoft always has pressure to look after legacy, and I can see the 260 character limit being around for a very long time.