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ABSTRACT: This article describes incompatibility and file administration issues systems administrators should consider before implementing Windows 95 long filenames. Incompatibilities involving applications, MS-DOS commands, networks, and hard disk tools, naming convention tips, and tools used to support long filenames are discussed

When users get their hands on Windows 95 and new Win32 applications they may be tempted to begin using long filenames-right away. With Windows 95's long filenames there are no stringent naming guidelines to learn and filenames can be much more descriptive than those of the conventional 8.3 character length. In homogenous, 32-bit environments, long filenames will provide the detail necessary to describe file contents fully and intuitively. However, critics accurately contend that system administrators and users may run into naming inconsistencies when using long filenames in hybrid environments—those with both Win16 and Win32 applications.

Win16 applications lack support for long filenames and truncate them into an 8.3 format. Attaching long-named files in e-mail messages or using some MS-DOS file commands similarly forces truncation. This truncation, or renaming, may leave users guessing when they attempt to locate files that correspond to their long names. In addition, administrators managing networks using a product like Novell® NetWare® 3.11 (or earlier) network operating system (NOS) will run into long filename truncation and/or loss of files on redirected NetWare drives.

By understanding and planning for long filename incompatibilities, establishing naming conventions, and following naming tips, system administrators will be able to successfully implement long filenames and avoid possible document management headaches in any environment.

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Long Filename Incompatibilities
Long Filename Administration Issues
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Long Filename Incompatibilities

Prior to Windows 95, previous versions of Windows relied on MS-DOS's File Allocation Table (FAT) file system. Windows 95 uses a new Virtual File Allocation Table (VFAT) system that allows filenames with up to 255 characters, mixed-case characters, and spaces. Completely compatible with MS-DOS and Windows 3.1, VFAT writes two filenames to disk for each file saved on a VFAT volume: one is an 8.3 short filename, also referred to as an alias, and the other a long filename. By creating two filenames, the VFAT system allows users to create files with long filenames using Win32 applications, while still opening those files using the 8.3 filename in Win16 and MS-DOS applications.

System administrators need to be aware of Win16 and MS-DOS application long filename incompatibilities inherent in hybrid environments. These issues are discussed in the "Win16 Windows or MS-DOS Applications" and "MS-DOS Commands" sections. In addition, network administrators running Novell NetWare 3.11 (or earlier) should pay close attention to the naming inconsistencies and truncation issues discussed in the "Novell NetWare" section. Finally, the "Legacy Hard Disk Utilities" section discusses how administrators will want to keep track of tools used by their supported clients, because older disk utilities (for example, virus scanning, disk repair, and disk optimization tools) rely on the FAT file system to function correctly and may corrupt or destroy long filenames under Windows 95.

Win16 Windows or MS-DOS Applications

Although Windows 95 fully supports the use of most 16-bit MS-DOS and Windows applications, such applications have a difficult time taking full advantage of Windows 95's heightened feature set. For example, Win16 applications can't:

  • Support Windows 95, Windows NT, or Win32 long filenames.

  • Enable files to appear in the Windows 95 Documents menu. (The Documents menu is a submenu of the Start menu, and it keeps track of the last 15 documents you opened.)

  • Multitask.

Windows 95 uses a process called tunneling to preserve long filenames for files opened and saved with long filename-incompatible applications. Tunneling occurs automatically with the VFAT file system and preserves long filenames on a local computer and across a network. Correct network tunneling is the responsibility of the server—that is, the server must be configured to support long filenames. A server running any edition of Windows NT 3.5 or Windows 95 file and printer sharing services preserves long filenames.

Lacking Windows 95 32-bit common dialog boxes, Win16 applications can't take advantage of long filenames. Word 95's File Save As or File Open dialog box offers support for long, mixed-case filenames. If you try to open a file with a long filename in a Win16 application such as Word 6.0, the filename appears truncated in the File Open dialog. The Win16 application displays the filename by taking the first six characters of the long filename, adding a tilde (~), a number, and the extension. Truncated long filenames in Win16 applications can be especially irksome for people working on similarly named documents where the first couple of words are not unique. Names, dates, or version numbers used at the end of a long filename don't make identification possible as they are the portion that is truncated.

The truncation also occurs when you attach a file with a long filename, for example a Word 95 .DOC document, in a Win16 messaging product such as Microsoft Mail 3.2. Sending the attached document in e-mail causes the long filename to be lost. When the recipient receives and saves the document, it will only be accessible in Word 95 using the truncated name, and may no longer be recognizable by filename alone.

Understanding how different applications handle long filenames is important; however, it still doesn't solve the problem of figuring out which truncated filename is which when using a Win16 application. To help you identify files, try alphabetizing them and comparing the Win16 application's dialog to a Windows Explorer long filename listing. "[Comparing the dialog box and the long filename listing is] Not an intuitive process, but a great idea for a utility," says David Berlind, author for Windows Sources magazine.

The "Long Filename Administration Issues" section below outlines some naming tips and tools that will help handle Win16 application incompatibilities.

MS-DOS Commands

MS-DOS users will want to pay close attention to the following long filename pitfalls. The first three MS-DOS commands listed are the most frequently used.

  • copy—This command results in a mismatched long filename. For example, a file mismatching occurs if you use the copy command to copy an orphaned file into a directory with another similarly-named file. Although the long filenames may be distinct, the number following the ~ in the short filename will be incorrect.

  • move—This command causes mismatched or orphaned long filenames. If move is performed within the context of the same directory (a modified rename) a mismatched long filename results. If move is performed outside of the directory, an orphaned long filename results.

  • ren—This command results in a mismatched long filename. The ren command does not fix a previously mismatched long filename.

  • defrag—Using the defrag command in MS-DOS 6.x causes long filenames to be lost because it re-sorts the structure of short filenames on a hard disk without taking into account their associated long filenames. Windows 95 Defrag does not re-sort the filenames because of the file corruption possibility in a multitasking environment.

  • del/deltree—These commands result in orphaned long filenames. The del command applies to files only and deltree applies to files and directories, but affects only the topmost directory specified, not subdirectories.

  • md—This command results in a mismatched long filename.

  • rd—This command results in an orphaned long filename.

  • scandisk—This command does not account for the long filename structure when it writes corrections to disk; therefore, it corrupts long filenames.

Even though you may have upgraded to Microsoft Office 95, use Win32 applications exclusively, and work in a homogenous Win95/WinNT environment, inconsistent naming rules used in NetWare environments may have you searching for misnamed files.

Novell NetWare

Administrators who manage Novell Netware network operating systems (NOS) should be wary of long filename incompatibilities, especially if they are using Novell 3.11 (or earlier) servers.

A Novell 3.11 server can be set up to support long filenames by configuring OS/2® Namespace, which emulates an OS/2 High Performance File System (HPFS) volume. (See "Configuring NetWare Servers to Support Windows 95" in the Windows 95 Resource Kit for installation information.) However, because of a known glitch in OS/2 Namespace's implementation on Novell 3.11 servers, users may receive one of the following errors when trying to access a file on a Novell 3.11 server from a Windows 95 computer using the Microsoft Client for NetWare Networks:

  • File not accessible

  • File not found

  • Sharing violation

This bug is thoroughly documented in the Microsoft Knowledge Base Article 130710 and in the September 1995 Windows Sources article "Long Name Lowdown," by David Berlind.

To fix this, administrators can:

  • Use a Novell workstation shell (NETX or VLM) instead of the Microsoft Client for NetWare Networks.

  • Disable long filename support on the client by modifying the SYSTEM.INI file or editing the registry.

    Note: Microsoft doesn't support changes made to the Windows 95 Registry.

  • Obtain the OS20PNFX.NLM patch from Novell.

    As of this writing, the OS20PNFX.NLM patch is available from the Novell forum on CompuServe®. The patch is self-extracting and located in the file named "Patch Kit for NetWare 3.11 OS" (311PTD.EXE). If you have installed the NetWare patch, be sure to set SupportLFN=2 in the Registry key: Hkey_Local_Machine \System \CurrentControlSet \Services \VxD \Nwredir.

Network administrators who install OS/2 Namespace without the patch, and disable long filename support will notice long filename naming inconsistencies, especially when backing up local files to network volumes. Unfortunately, the naming rules NetWare 3.11 uses to adjust filenames for NetWare volumes are different from those used by Windows 95 to handle Win16 application incompatibilities.

Using long filenames on a NetWare 3.11 server is risky without the patch installed. If you are going to use Novell NetWare as a networking solution and want to take advantage of long filenames, upgrade to NetWare 3.12 or 4.x.

Legacy Hard Disk Utilities

Many of the hard disk utilities developed prior to Windows 95's release are not compatible with Windows 95 or Win32 applications' long filenames. Some file maintenance utilities that do not provide long filename support include:

  • Conner® Backup Exec 2.1

  • Microsoft Defragmenter for MS-DOS 6.x

  • Stacker® 4.0 by STAC Electronics

These legacy utilities will probably not cause data loss; however, they may make files with long filenames difficult to locate. For example, when performing a full system backup with Conner Backup Exec 2.1, some filenames may appear garbled and the system may stop responding (hang).

Before discarding these utilities and purchasing the new Windows 95-compatible versions, check to see if the utility package vendor is currently offering an upgrade to the Windows 95 32-bit version.

If you absolutely can't live without an older version disk defragger, backup utility, or disk optimizer you still have one option: install the LFNBK.EXE utility available from the Windows 95 CD. Details on who should use this utility and what it does are discussed in the "LFNBK.EXE Utility and Symantec's Norton Navigator for Windows 95" section.

Long Filename Administration Issues

After network administrators have addressed all software incompatibility issues associated with long filenames, they should establish naming policies and conventions. Naming guidelines ensure consistency among filenames and aid file navigation and browsing.

Naming Convention Tips

Establishing a naming convention is much like developing a company style guide. A thoroughly developed set of naming guidelines provides users with detailed information on acceptable:

  • Filename structure

  • Filename length

  • Filename character significance

  • Allowed document extensions

  • Document location

Each of these items affects how an 8.3 character filename is assigned to a long filename.

Filename significance

To work around long filename truncation issues you might require that the first three or four letters of a long filename be significant. Placing dates, names, and version numbers at the beginning of long filenames makes them easier to read and identify.

Simple document file codes located at the beginning of long filenames are another option to consider. For example, in a magazine publishing environment, a network administrator could establish an 8-digit code to accompany all long filenames:

11_5MMED.SP - "Baseball Pennant Races Coming Down to the Wire This Season"

In this case the code could refer to the issue and year, author initials, development stage (Editorial Review), and section (Sports). Individuals not able to see long filenames—because of operating system or application incompatibilities—still have access to specific article information. Those with long filename support can take advantage of the added detail—in this case, the article's full title.

Making filename characters significant and unique are not new naming strategies. They are based on established naming principles originating with MS-DOS. Administrators of both hybrid and homogenous environments who want to take advantage of long filename functionality should stress concise filenames devoid of meaningless words, phrases, and symbols.

Short filenames as part of a long name

Another long filenaming strategy is to incorporate short filenames within long filenames. Note the examples listed in the following table.

Long Filename

Short Filename

BOB_MAST - Bob's masthead bitmap image


11_95MKT - November marketing report


V2CDANAL - Version 2 CD space analysis chart


Providing short filenames within long ones makes for unambiguous filenames in hybrid work environments.

Filename length

Even though long filenames can include up to 255 characters, network administrators will want to encourage concise filenames among users who post files to network locations. Because a file's full path length can't be longer than 260 characters, administrators should discourage filenames over 75 characters. Character overhead is especially important for files that are moved or copied to different directories; for example, if you move a file from a root location to a subdirectory that is three or four levels deep, the path name increases significantly.

In addition, to better keep track of file lengths and document locations, administrators should stress the availability of different viewing options in the Windows Explorer. The View Options dialog box offers users the ability to display the full MS-DOS path of files in the title bar, show or hide MS-DOS file extensions, and include the description bar for right and left panes.

Checking the properties

Because mismatched or incorrect short filenames based on long filenames are possible in hybrid computing environments, administrators should recommend that users validate the MS-DOS short filename in the Properties dialog box of any newly created long filename. The quickest way to do so is to right-click (or use the secondary mouse button) on the file in Windows 95 Explorer and select Properties.

LFNBK.EXE Utility and Symantec's Norton Navigator for Windows 95

There are utilities and third-party software available to help address long filename incompatibilities.

On the Windows 95 CD, the LFNBK.EXE utility allows users to run backup or disk management utilities created for older versions of Windows or MS-DOS that are not compatible with the extended file system capabilities of Windows 95. If users need an application that is not compatible with long filenames, this utility removes and later restores long filenames on a hard disk. LFNBK.EXE utility operation is documented in the Windows 95 Resource Kit and in the Microsoft Knowledge Base Article 120442.

The LFNBK.EXE utility is intended to provide compatibility with older disk utilities and is not likely to be needed by most users.

Norton Navigator for Windows 95 by Symantec® Corporation can be used to enhance the Windows 95 Explorer. The utility includes a handy set-and-forget feature that automatically provides support for long filenames to Win16 applications that use common dialog boxes. Norton Navigator also stores short filename information to accommodate file exchange with non-Navigator users.


In a homogenous, fully-supported 32-bit environment, long filenames offer users the flexibility and the freedom to assign descriptive, meaningful filenames. By establishing naming conventions and using caution when running long filename-incompatible software, system administrators can keep things running smoothly in a hybrid 16- and 32-bit environment.

More Information

On TechNet

The following resources are all available on TechNet Disc 1.



Using Hard Disk Utilities with Windows 95

Microsoft Knowledge Base: 120442

Cannot Access Files on Novel 3.11 Server

Microsoft Knowledge Base: 130710

Microsoft Windows 95 Resource Kit

Personal Systems; MS Windows 95; Resource Kit




"Long Name Lowdown"
Discusses long filename incompatibilities and Windows 95 features not supported by Win16 applications.

Berlind, David, Windows Sources, September 1995, volume 3, number 9, p263(3)

"Windows 95 Longs to Redo Document Management"
Addresses the new document-management capabilities of Windows 95 such as long filename support and an extended Find facility.

Bonner, Paul, Computer Shopper, May 1995, volume 15, number 5, p540(2)

"Documents on Demand"
Discusses new third-party programs that make document exchange over a network easier.

Lawrence, Bill, PC World, July 1995, volume 13, number 7, p121(3)

"Windows 95 Lock Picking"
Highlights how two new MS-DOS 7.0 character mode commands, LOCK and UNLOCK, work with Windows 95 long filename utilities.

Livingston, Brian, Windows Sources, July 1995, volume 3, number 7, p151(2)

"Is VFAT Ready for Prime Time"
Discusses the advantages and limitations of Windows 95's new Virtual File Allocation Table (VFAT) system.

Prosise, Jeff, PC Magazine, June 13, 1995, volume 14, number 11, p247(4)

Microsoft TechNet

Volume 3, Issue 11
November 1995