The (too) long path home

I’ve encountered a problem I never thought I’d have: I’m too organized.

No one looking at my office (or my house) would suspect it, but all of my computer files are very neatly stored and nested, sub-folder within sub-folder. My virtual desktop is almost completely empty, save a few shortcuts. Any time I see two or more files in a folder that have something in common, I make a new sub-folder and drop them in.

As I’ve transitioned to paperless grading in Oncourse, particularly for my Spanish composition class, I’ve run across “Destination path too long” errors that baffled me. In Assignments 2, I make regular use of the “Download All” option, so that I can grade all of my students’ submissions for a particular assignment at once.

Screenshot of the Download All option in Assignments 2Oncourse is also hyper-organized (evidently we have this in common), so the zipped file that I save to my computer has a very detailed name:

Obviously in real life most of those come out shorter. Here’s a more true-to-life example inspired by my class.

When you look at all the information that Oncourse packs in to the name of the zipped file, it’s pretty impressive. There’s no confusion as to which assignment for which section of which class from which semester I have – it’s all in the name.

From here, I could simply open the zipped file, and then click the “Extract all files” link at the top of the window. But no, in an effort to be organized and clear, I choose to move the zipped file to my class folder. Where is that, you ask? Here’s a sample path that I might have on my computer:

C:\Users\kmurday\Documents\_WLAC\_Spanish\_S399\SP12 documents\comp1\

In case you don’t read path names on a regular basis, this means I have a folder in Documents named _WLAC (the underscore at the front makes it jump to the top of an alphabetized list). Inside that is _Spanish, for all the Spanish classes I’ve taught over the years. I have a sub-folder within that named for this semester’s class, _S399. Within that folder I might have sub-folders for handouts, another for rubrics, and definitely one for homework: SP12 documents. I include SP12 in the folder name so that if I teach the class again in the fall, I can put that class’s homework in a different sub-folder (FA12 documents, perhaps) but still have it nicely stored with my other S399 classes.  Within my homework folder, I then have sub-folders for each assignment. That’s the “comp1” you see above. So once I’ve moved the zip file, my path name is this:

C:\Users\kmurday\Documents\_WLAC\_Spanish\_S399\SP12 documents\comp1\

Once I click “Extract all files” the zip file is unpacked.  For some reason that I’m sure makes sense to someone somewhere, inside my newly unpacked folder is another folder with the same name.  Now I’m up to:

C:\Users\kmurday\Documents\_WLAC\_Spanish\_S399\SP12 documents\comp1\Comp_1_v3_final-SP12_IN_SPAN_S399_99999\Comp_1_v3_final-SP12_IN_SPAN_S399_99999\

OK, no problem. I open up the next folder, and find a separate folder for each of my students, named thusly: StudentLastName, StudentFirstName StudentMiddleName (studentemail)

Even for students with short names, this gets pretty lengthy. Now we’re up to:

C:\Users\kmurday\Documents\_WLAC\_Spanish\_S399\SP12 documents\comp1\Comp_1_v3_final-SP12_IN_SPAN_S399_99999\Comp_1_v3_final-SP12_IN_SPAN_S399_99999\Alabaster, Alfredo J (sample99)\

Oncourse tracks the date and time that students submit their assignment, and puts the files in a folder named by the year, month, date of submission followed by the exact time (such as 0928AM), then adds an additional number after that… probably for tracking purposes.  In order to find Alfredo’s assignment, I have to dig into this folder. If Alfredo has turned in his assignment as an attachment, that attached file will be inside. So now we have:

C:\Users\kmurday\Documents\_WLAC\_Spanish\_S399\SP12 documents\comp1\Comp_1_v3_final-SP12_IN_SPAN_S399_99999\Comp_1_v3_final-SP12_IN_SPAN_S399_99999\Alabaster, Alfredo J (sample99)\20120209_0928AM (1999199)\Alabaster comp1 final version S399.docx

Got all that?  Well, even if you do, Windows may not.  While I remember quite clearly the days when Windows required file name to be a max of eight characters followed by a dot and a three character extension, no exceptions, I also remember the happy day when that restriction was lifted. (I also remember snarky comments from my Mac-devotee friends at the time, but I digress).

When I first insisted on electronic submission of homework assignments, I used to end up with 25 files all named “Spanish Homework.doc.” I guess on their own computers, this made perfect sense to my students, but on mine it was a sea of confusing files I couldn’t keep straight.  I began asking my students to include more information in their document title, such as their last name, the class number, and the homework assignment. I had no idea this brilliant idea, combined with Oncourse’s detailed folder system and my compulsion to create sub-folders, would be pushing my computer to its limits. I didn’t know it had limits.  Turns out, yes, it does have limits on file names – and the path name to that file is included in the maximum characters allowed (which seems to be about 260 characters, give or take).

So I haven’t had any problems when I first download the zip file from Assignments because I send them automatically to “My Downloads” – a simple c:\users\kmurday\Downloads\.  Short and sweet. But once I try to get organized, I create a monstrous path and file name that chokes everything up. The error message that pops up under these circumstances was less than helpful, as all it does is provide the options to skip the file, or cancel the process entirely:

A graphic of the "destination path too long" error

Ok, so what’s the solution? Well, we can’t easily or efficiently alter the folders and sub-folders that come along with the zipped file from Oncourse. However, they usually won’t cause a problem on initial download. If they do, save the zip file to your desktop, which usually has a relatively short path.  If that’s still creating too long a path name, put the zip file directly to your C:\ directory (find it under “Computer” in the Start menu, if you don’t have a shortcut on your desktop).

Bear in mind that once you unzip your file, you don’t have to move the top folder that it creates. In this case I don’t really need a sub-folder named Comp_1_v3_final-SP12_IN_SPAN_S399_99999 within the folder named Comp_1_v3_final-SP12_IN_SPAN_S399_99999. So instead of moving the top-level unzipped folder, I could move just the inner folder. Even better, I could rename the inner folder something shorter, like “Comp1_v3” and then move THAT one into my class folder. Then I end up with C:\Users\kmurday\Documents\_WLAC\_Spanish\_S399\SP12 documents\comp1_v3\, followed by each student’s submission folder, and so forth.

I also recommend examining your destination folder’s path name, to see if any its folder names can be shortened.  For example, I could change a folder named “Spring 2012 documents” all the way to “S12docs” without losing clarity. Now that I know the problem exists, I will try to shorten my folder names… that way I can stay organized!


  1. EthanGreg

    I like this trick. This trick is good for users who love to play with technical ways. However, I have used “Long Path Tool” in this situation and it helped me easily and quickly. So this tool is best for those members who don’t love to play with technical skills.

  2. GarryBrown

    Thanks for the information. Also try “Long Path Tool”. It helped me with error 1320 on Windows 7. Sweet! 🙂

    • Kim Murday

      Glad to hear from someone else who has had success with “Long Path Tool.”

  3. franklo

    Long path tool is the best solution for your problem. try it and solve your problem.

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