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The fine art of file naming

By Jean-Claude Elias - Oct 20,2016 - Last updated at Oct 20,2016

It’s one of the aspects of living with technology that you tend to take lightly, until you realise how important it is, and how deep its impact can be.

Giving a name to a digital file you are storing does not matter much at the very moment you do it, and actually may not matter at all if all you are keeping on your device or computer are only a few files, say tens of them. However, who of us has only a few files stored? Whether on a smartphone, a tablet or a laptop, we now keep and maintain thousands and even sometime tens of thousands of them. My personal count is about 45,000.

Digital files of all kinds, photos, music, documents, spreadsheets, programmes, and so forth, this is how we store information these days. Whether it is on a hard disk, on a memory card, a USB drive or in the cloud, the result is the same: we end up with very large numbers that need proper, efficient management. Failure to do so often translates into files lost, misplaced, or that take very long to retrieve. Take heart, however, there are software tools that can help you work better and even put order in the digital filing mayhem you may have generated after years of saving files without a good method.

The first part of the organisation that is necessary for smooth digital filing is, of course, to create a logical and practical structure of folders and subfolders. We have become more or less aware of this aspect, of the “architecture”, even if not everyone does it well; it varies a lot from one user to the other. The second part is about giving meaningful names to the files we place inside these folders — and it is a more critical, a more delicate action that one might first think.

Build yourself a “system” for naming your files and follow it rigorously. Maintain consistency. Watch spelling (yes, it does matters). Put enough information in the file name but avoid ending up with too long a string at the same time.

Most Windows-based systems do not recommend having file names longer than 255 characters. This may seem very long, but the count also includes the folders names where the file is, so if for instance it is saved inside several folders and subfolders you can easily reach 255 characters. It is called the path. Example of path with a photo file name on drive D: ”D:\MyPhotos\2015\TakenWithSmartphone\Greece\Hydra\DiningWithFriends.jpg.”

Use a smart combination of capitals and small letters for easier reading. Avoid, as much as possible, mixing different types of files in the same folder. Name files in a way to have comfortable reading of the list when you sort them.

Among all the software products out there that are designed to get you better organised, there is one that is particularly good at files naming and renaming. It is called Better File Rename (BFR) – the name says it all. BFR is here to assist you being organised, and re-organised in case you are not yet.

The powerful tool can do massive and instant renaming of thousands of files, using smart yet easy to understand and apply rules and formulas. It follows plain logic and does not require a degree in IT. There are versions for Windows and for Mac OS as well, and the product’s licence is a mere $20.

With BFR you can select a large number of files, or the contents of an entire folder for instance, right-click to launch BFR, and then apply a massive rename action. You can insert numbers, strings, search and replace strings inside the names, apply dates changes, renumber, delete characters, and so forth.

 

Apple and Microsoft operating systems do come with some tools that are useful to retrieve files and to search for strings inside the files. However, even these otherwise useful built-in tools are not enough for the kind of work you have to do today to keep your huge digital filing storage really tidy. Even if you already are a well-organised person and do proper file naming from the very start, chances are that you will need to go through reorganisation and files renaming at some point. This is where BFR comes in. Without it it’s a daunting, long and tedious task.

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