Get File Name from Path for any OS in Python


One of the challenges you may encounter when working with file paths is extracting the file name from the path, which can vary depending on the operating system and the format of the path.

In this Byte, we'll explore how to tackle this problem using Python's built-in os.path module. We'll also look at how to handle different path formats used in Windows and Unix-style operating systems.

Using the os.path Module in Python

Python's os.path module provides a set of functions to manipulate file paths. One of these functions is basename(), which returns the last component of a pathname, which is usually the filename.

Let's see how it works:

import os

path = '/home/user/documents/file.txt'
filename = os.path.basename(path)

In this case, the output will be:


The basename() function works by splitting the path at the last slash (/) and returning the part after it. This works regardless of whether the path ends with a slash.

The os.path module functions are designed to be used with paths in the format used by the operating system where your Python code is running. This means that if you're working with paths from a different operating system, you may run into issues. For example, if your code is running on a Unix-like OS, it may have issues parsing a Windows path.

Dealing with Windows File Paths

Windows file paths can be a bit tricky because they use backslashes (\) instead of slashes (/). If you're working with Windows paths in Python, you'll need to escape the backslashes by using double backslashes (\\), or by using raw strings (r'path\to\file').

Here's how you can extract a file name from a Windows path using the os.path module:

import os

path = 'C:\\Users\\user\\Documents\\file.txt'
filename = os.path.basename(path)

And the output will be:


Dealing with Unix-style File Paths

Unix-style file paths, used by Linux and macOS, use slashes (/). This makes them a bit easier to work with in Python.

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Here's an example of how to extract a file name from a Unix-style path:

import os

path = '/home/user/documents/file.txt'
filename = os.path.basename(path)

And, as before, the output will be:


Handling Special Characters in File Names

While working with file paths, you might come across some special characters in file names. These characters can be problematic if not handled correctly. Fortunately, Python's os.path module provides us with the tools we need to handle these special characters effectively.

Let's say we have a file path with special characters like this:

path = "/home/user/Documents/My\ Project\ #1/file.txt"

In this case, the backslashes (\) are used to escape spaces and the hash symbol (#). If we try to extract the file name from this path without considering these special characters, we might end up with an incorrect result.

To handle this, we can use the os.path.basename() function along with the raw string literal (r). The r prefix before the string literal converts the normal string to a raw string. In a raw string, backslashes (\) are treated as literal characters and not as escape characters.

Here's how you can do it:

import os

path = r"/home/user/Documents/My\ Project\ #1/file.txt"
filename = os.path.basename(path)

print(filename)  # Outputs: file.txt

In this example, the basename() function correctly identifies file.txt as the file name, despite the presence of special characters in the path.

Note: When dealing with file paths in Python, it's always a good idea to use raw strings (r) to avoid issues with escape characters.


In this Byte, we've seen how to extract file names from file paths in Python, regardless of the operating system or path format. We've explored how to use the os.path module to handle Windows and Unix-style file paths. We've also seen how to handle special characters in file names to help avoid hard-to-find errors when working with these kinds of files.

Last Updated: September 5th, 2023
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