If you often have to copy literal file paths in Windows Explorer, you've probably come up with some roundabout way to copy them. You can forget about that workaround if you have Windows Vista. Vista's hidden Copy as Path option lets you copy a path in a single step. If you don't have Vista, all is not lost. You can use Ninotech's Path Copy utility.

I regularly need to copy literal paths to files I’ve found in Windows Explorer. The process of getting a single file path into the clipboard is annoying. You can open a command-shell window and run a command such as

Dir /s /b uniquefilename

from a directory at least one level above the file to get the whole path in the command- shell window. Alternatively, you can copy the complete address for the open folder from the Address bar in Windows Explorer, paste the address into a text editor, type a backslash (\), go back into Windows Explorer and right-click the filename, select rename, press Ctrl+C to copy the filename, press the Esc key to cancel the rename operation, paste the filename into the text editor to complete the path, and finally select and copy the entire string you’ve constructed. Even this approach requires customization to be successful; you have to set up Windows so that it shows complete folder paths in the Address bar and shows file extensions for all file types.

Although it’s hidden, Windows Vista has a context menu option named Copy as Path that lets you copy a path in a single step. After you select the file, you simply hold down the Shift key while right-clicking. This option works with multiple files and folders as well. When you use the Copy as Path option on more than one item, all the paths are resolved, quoted, and put in the clipboard as multiple lines of a single clip, like this:

“C:\Windows\System32\cluster.exe”
“C:\Windows\System32\cmd.exe”

You don’t need to have Vista to easily copy paths from Windows Explorer. Ninotech’s free Path Copy utility (home.worldonline. dk/ninotech) works on Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows NT, and Windows 9x. Path Copy installs an extended context menu item for copying paths. With one or more items selected, you can copy the item’s name, path, or parent folder path either as a full path or short path (8.3 format). If you access the item over a network, Path Copy also lets you convert paths to Universal Naming Convention (UNC) format or Internet format (e.g., \\server\Shared%20Files). There’s also support for custom modifications, which is handy if you’re a scripter or programmer and need to escape backslashes in paths or convert them to forward slashes (/).

Even though I have Vista on my personal PC, I still use Path Copy because I like its flexibility. However, most of my path copying takes place on client PCs, where Path Copy isn’t available. As a built-in convenience, Vista’s Copy as Path option is turning into a big timesaver for me.