File Naming Conventions


A File Naming Convention is a consistent way to name your files so that they are easier to access and retrieve. The benefits of using a naming convention includes finding files more easily, making sorting more predictable, giving clues to the contents of files and folders without having to open each file, providing a time sequence, and controlling versions. It also contributes to organization when using hierarchical file structures.

As part of Research Data Management, it is important to establish a file naming convention before collecting data or creating/writing files in order to prevent unorganized files that may lead to misplaced or lost data.

File naming best practices:

  • Files should be named consistently using alphanumerics, underscores, and dashes
  • File names should be short but descriptive (<25 characters) (Briney, 2015)
  • Avoid special characters or spaces (!@#$%^&*?), other than underscores and dashes.
  • Use capital letters, underscores, or dashes instead of periods, spaces, or slashes.
  • Use date format ISO 8601: YYY-MM-DD (or YYYYMMDD).
  • Make it extendible by using leading zeros (001, 002, 003, etc.) 
  • Include a README.txt file in your directory that explains your naming convention along with any abbreviations or codes you have use






NameChanger is an open source tool that allows you to rename many files at once using a naming convention. 

Further Resources

In this video, Kristin Briney, Biology & Biological Engineering Librarian at CalTech, explains what a file naming convention is and why a researcher would want to use it. 

This File Naming Convention Worksheet will help researchers build a pattern for a file naming convention based on the metadata specific to their research.

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