Path Name Portability Guide

Introduction
name_check functions
File and directory name recommendations

Introduction

Like any other C++ program which performs I/O operations, there is no guarantee that a program using Boost.Filesystem will be portable between operating systems. Critical aspects of I/O such as how the operating system interprets paths are unspecified by the C and C++ Standards.

It is not possible to know if a file or directory name will be valid (and thus portable) for an unknown operating system. There is always the possibility that an operating system could use names which are unusual (numbers less than 4096, for example) or very limited in size (maximum of six character names, for example). In other words, portability is never absolute; it is always relative to specific operating systems or file systems.

It is possible, however, to know in advance if a directory or file name is likely to be valid for a particular operating system. It is also possible to construct names which are likely to be portable to a large number of modern and legacy operating systems.

Almost all modern operating systems support multiple file systems. At the minimum, they support a native file system plus a CD-ROM file system (Generally ISO-9669, often with Juliet extensions).

Each file system may have its own naming rules. For example, modern versions of Windows support NTFS, FAT, FAT32, and ISO-9660 file systems, among others, and the naming rules for those file systems differ. Each file system may also have differing rules for overall path validity, such as a maximum length or number of sub-directories. Some legacy systems have different rules for directory names versus regular file names.

As a result, Boost.Filesystem's name_check functions cannot guarantee directory and file name portability. Rather, they are intended to give the programmer a "fighting chance" to achieve portability by early detection of common naming problems.

name_check functions

A name_check function returns true if its argument is valid as a directory and regular file name for a particular operating or file system. A number of these functions are provided.

The portable_name function is of particular interest because it has been carefully designed to provide wide portability yet not overly restrict expressiveness.

Library Supplied name_check Functions
Function Description
portable_posix_name(const std::string& name) Returns: true if !name.empty() && name contains only the characters specified in Portable Filename Character Set rules as defined in by POSIX (www.opengroup.org/onlinepubs/007904975/basedefs/xbd_chap03.html).
The allowed characters are 0-9, a-z, A-Z, '.', '_', and '-'.

Use: applications which must be portable to any POSIX system.

windows_name(const std::string& name) Returns:  true if !name.empty() && name contains only the characters specified by the Windows platform SDK as valid regardless of the file system && (name is "." or ".."  or does not end with a trailing space or period).  The allowed characters are anything except 0x0-0x1F, '<', '>', ':', '"', '/', '\', and '|'.

Use: applications which must be portable to Windows.

Note: Reserved device names are not valid as file names, but are not being detected because they are still valid as a path. Specifically, CON, PRN, AUX, CLOCK$, NUL, COM[1-9], LPT[1-9], and these names followed by an extension (for example, NUL.tx7).

portable_name(const std::string& name) Returns:  windows_name(name) && portable_posix_name(name) && (name is "." or "..", and the first character not a period or hyphen).

Use: applications which must be portable to a wide variety of modern operating systems, large and small, and to some legacy O/S's. The first character not a period or hyphen restriction is a requirement of several older operating systems.

portable_directory_name(const std::string& name) Returns: portable_name(name) && (name is "." or ".."  or contains no periods).

Use: applications which must be portable to a wide variety of platforms, including OpenVMS.

portable_file_name(const std::string& name) Returns: portable_name(name) && any period is followed by one to three additional non-period characters.

Use: applications which must be portable to a wide variety of platforms, including OpenVMS and other systems which have a concept of "file extension" but limit its length.

native(const std::string& name) Returns: Implementation defined. Returns true for names considered valid by the operating system's native file systems.

Note: May return true for some names not considered valid by the operating system under all conditions (particularly on operating systems which support multiple file systems.)

File and directory name recommendations

Recommendation Rationale
Limit file and directory names to the characters A-Z, a-z, 0-9, period, hyphen, and underscore.

Use any of the "portable_" name check functions to enforce this recommendation.

These are the characters specified by the POSIX standard for portable directory and file names, and are also valid for Windows, Mac, and many other modern file systems.
Do not use a period or hyphen as the first character of a name. Do not use period as the last character of a name.

Use portable_name, portable_directory_name, or portable_file_name to enforce this recommendation.

Some operating systems treat have special rules for the first character of names. POSIX, for example. Windows does not permit period as the last character.
Do not use periods in directory names.

Use portable_directory_name to enforce this recommendation.

Requirement for ISO-9660 without Juliet extensions, OpenVMS filesystem, and other legacy systems.
Do not use more that one period in a file name, and limit the portion after the period to three characters.

Use portable_file_name to enforce this recommendation.

Requirement for ISO-9660 level 1, OpenVMS filesystem, and other legacy systems.
Do not assume names are case sensitive. For example, do not expected a directory to be able to hold separate elements named "Foo" and "foo". Some file systems are case insensitive.  For example, Windows NTFS is case preserving in the way it stores names, but case insensitive in searching for names (unless running under the POSIX sub-system, it which case it does case sensitive searches).
Do not assume names are case insensitive.  For example, do not expect a file created with the name of "Foo" to be opened successfully with the name of "foo". Some file systems are case sensitive.  For example, POSIX.
Don't use hyphens in names. ISO-9660 level 1, and possibly some legacy systems, do not permit hyphens.
Limit the length of the string returned by path::string() to 255 characters.  Note that ISO 9660 has an explicit directory tree depth limit of 8, although this depth limit is removed by the Juliet extensions. Some operating systems place limits on the total path length.  For example, Windows 2000 limits paths to 260 characters total length.
Limit the length of any one name in a path.  Pick the specific limit according to the operating systems and or file systems you wish portability to:
   Not a concern::  POSIX, Windows, MAC OS X.
   31 characters: Classic Mac OS
   8 characters + period + 3 characters: ISO 9660 level 1
   32 characters: ISO 9660 level 2 and 3
   128 characters (64 if Unicode): ISO 9660 with Juliet extensions
Limiting name length can markedly reduce the expressiveness of file names, yet placing only very high limits on lengths inhibits widest portability.

Revised 11 January, 2009

Copyright Beman Dawes, 2002, 2003

Use, modification, and distribution are subject to the Boost Software License, Version 1.0. (See accompanying file LICENSE_1_0.txt or copy at www.boost.org/LICENSE_1_0.txt)