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DataShare: ISU's Open Research Data Repository

Iowa State University’s DataShare is an open access repository for sharing and publishing research data created by Iowa State University scholars and researchers.

File Names

Using consistent, straight forward, and well thought out file names will help you and others make sense of your files.

File names should have meaning

Files names are the fastest way to identify what is inside a file and how it differs from similar files. You should name your files based on important elements of your project such as:

  • Specimen or sample designation
  • Dates and times
  • Location or coordinates
  • Testing or environmental conditions or variables
  • File version number
  • Other relevant information

You can combine elements as needed in to create a file naming convention that you can deploy during the entire project. An explanation of what each element of the file name means should be documented. One easy way to do this is to create a readme text file in the project's top folder.

== File names ==
Plot ID (i.e. Plot01, Plot02, etc.) refers to where the samples were obtained. The file plotmap.png shows where each plot is located.
The date the samples were collected is in the file name and formatted as YYYY-MM-DD.
The initials of the person who collected the samples that day is at the end of the file. GH = Gavin Hill; AT = Aisha Taylor


Consider how you want to track the files (i.e. chronologically, by location, by sample, etc.). This is the element that should be at the beginning of your file name as it will affect how the computer sorts and displays files.

The example below shows how files sort differently depending on which name element is used first. If the researcher needed to track the project by dates then the "By date" method would work better than the "By plot" method.

By date By plot
2018-04-10_Plot01_GH.csv Plot01_2018-04-10_GH.csv
2018-04-10_Plot02_AT.csv Plot01_2018-06-03_GH.csv
2018-06-03_Plot01_GH.csv Plot02_2018-04-10_AT.csv



Don't reinvent the wheel. Use existing standards whenever possible! This will make it easier for others to understand the file names.

For example, there is a standard that defines how dates and times should be recorded: ISO 8601. Using this standard eliminates common points of confusion such as the difference between US and European dates which swap the order of day and month.

Avoid special characters

Just because you can use something doesn't mean you should. There are two reasons to avoid special characters, punctuation marks, and symbols in filenames:

  1. Special characters and punctuation marks are often reserved characters for computer operating systems. This means that the character is used in a very specififc way by the operating system and using it in a file name will cause errors. 
  2. Not all operating systems and programs support the same characters. A common example is how the modern Mac OS (9 and after) support a number of special characters (/ \ : * ? < > |) that are not supported by Windows. Also: Never Use Emojis in file names! It's a very bad idea at this time.

Limit the use of periods

Periods (.) should only be used to separate the file name from the file extension. Do not use periods to separate different elements of a file name, use a dash (-) or an underscore (_) instead.

The same rule applies for multiple periods (i.e. .. and ...). Don't do it!

Avoid spaces

The last practice we'll cover is avoiding spaces in file names. Spaces are not supported by all operating systems or by command line applications. A space in a filename can cause errors when loading a file or when transferring files between computers. Common replacements for spaces in a filenames are dashes (-) or underscores (_). Alternatively you can also use a technique called camelCase which uses letter case to separate name elements. If you have many files you may want to test your computer or storage system search to see if dashes and underscores are treated as spaces or if you have to search for files but their exact name (ex: will you need to search for "final_paper_2018" or will it find your paper if you search for just the words "2018 final paper").

Or use spaces... 

Spaces in file names are often preferred by people with low-vision or dyslexia because they're easier to read than file names that use dashes (-) or underscores (_). Modern computer systems are also much better at reading files and folders with spaces in them and programs such as Advanced Renamer can be used to remove or replace spaces if they cause problems later.

More information

Joseph Scott's "Things That Shouldn’t Be in File Names for $1,000 Alex." is a good summary of file naming practices to avoid.

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