Path Syntax



Full and relative path name formats in the Windows PowerShell



All items in a data store accessible through a PowerShell Provider can be uniquely identified by their path names. A path name is a combination of the item name, the container and subcontainers in which the item is location, and the PowerShell drive through which the containers are accessed.


In PowerShell, path names are divided into one of two types: fully qualified and relative. A fully qualified path name consists of all elements that make up a path. The following syntax shows the elements in a fully qualified path name:




The <provider> placeholder refers to the PowerShell Provider through which you access the data store. For example, the FileSystem provider allows you to access the files and directories on your computer. This element of the syntax is optional and is never needed because the drive names are unique across all providers.


The <drive> placeholder refers to the PowerShell drive that is supported by a particular PowerShell Provider. In the case of the FileSystem PowerShell provider, the PowerShell drives map to the Windows drives that are configured on your system. For example, if your system includes an A drive and a C drive, the FileSystem provider creates the same drives in PowerShell.


After you've specified the drive, you must specify any containers and subcontainers that contain the item. The containers must be specified in the hierarchical order in which they exist in the data store. In other words, you must start with the parent container, then the child container in that parent container, and so on. In addition, each container must be preceded by a backslash. (Note that PowerShell allows you to use forward slashes for compatibility with other PowerShells.)


Once the container and subcontainers have been specified, you must provide the item name, preceded by a backslash. For example, the fully qualified path name for the shell.dll file in the c:\windows\system32 directory is as follows:




In this case, the drive through which the containers are accessed is C, the top-level container is Windows, the subcontainer is System32 (located within the Windows container), and the item is shell.dll.


In some situations, you don't need to specify a fully qualified path name and can instead use a relative path name. A relative path name is based on the current working location. PowerShell allows you to identify an item based on its location relative to the current working location. You can specify relative path names by using special characters. The following table describes each of these characters and provides examples of relative path names and fully qualified path names. The examples in the table are based on the current working directory being set to c:\windows.




Relative path

Fully qualified path

Current working location  




Parent of current working location

..\program files

c:\program files

Drive root of current working location

\program files  

c:\program files


No special characters 




When using a path name in a command, you enter that name in the same way whether you use a fully qualified path name or a relative one. For example, suppose that your current working directory is c:\windows. The following Get-ChildItem command retrieves all items in the c:\techdocs directory:


Get-ChildItem \techdocs


The backslash indicates that the drive root of the current working location should be used. Because the working directory is c:\windows, the drive root is C. Since the techdocs directory is located off the root, you need only to specify the backslash.


You can achieve the same results by using the following command:


Get-ChildItem c:\techdocs


Regardless of whether you use a fully qualified path name or a relative path name, a path name is important not only because it locates an item but also because it uniquely identifies the item even if that item shares the same name as another item in a different container. For instance, suppose that you have two files that are each named results.txt. The first file is in a directory named c:\techdocs\jan, and the second file is in a directory named c:\techdocs\feb. The path name for the first file (c:\techdocs\jan\results.txt) and the path name for the second file (c:\techdocs\feb\results.txt) allow you to clearly distinguish between the two files.



For information about the current working location, enter the following command at the PowerShell command prompt:


help about_location