Naming For Legacy

Posted to LinkedIn

File naming is one of the least fascinating, but ubiquitous aspects of any tech system. 

Different operating systems (Mac OS, Linux, and several still-active versions of Windows) have different forbidden characters. Certain drive formats can have different requirements as well. 

If you only work with files on your own computer, you can just count on the system not allowing you to enter an incorrect name.  You might work on a Mac and use a question mark ‘?’ in your filename with no problem. But if that file passes through an exFat drive it won’t be able to be written. And may or may not give a specific error pointing to why it was skipped.

If syncing from a cloud service like Dropbox and certain files simply don’t download, it’s very possible that forbidden characters in the filename are the culprit.

When onsite for a live event, I never know how many different file systems my files might need to pass through. Add to that any amount of legacy hardware being used simply because it’s the only one that does that one thing that’s needed for that one thing.

Not to mention custom applications and scripts that someone onsite may have thrown together at 3am as a stop-gap for some operation, and didn’t take time to safeguard against a semi-colon or single-quote in a filename. They themself would never think of using that character.

Time is almost always a limited commodity onsite. And the last thing anyone wants to do is to stop everything to troubleshoot why a file isn’t being recognized. Or worse, some important system has crashed altogether. 

I choose to play it as safely as I can with filenames. Alphanumerics, and a few safe delimiters (underscores ‘_’ and dashes ‘-’). With periods only ever for the file extension. Many people feel safe using spaces in filenames, but I personally steer away from them.

Of course, I’m willing to break that rule if there’s ever a good reason. But I try to play it safe otherwise.

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