Command-line environments like the Windows Command Prompt and PowerShell use spaces to separate commands and arguments—but file and folder names can also contain spaces. To specify a file path with a space inside it, you’ll need to “escape” it.
Command Line 101: Why You Have to Escape Spaces
“Escaping” a character changes its meaning. For example, escaping a space will cause the shell to treat it like a standard space character rather than a special character that separates command-line arguments.
For example, let’s say you have a text file that you want to see the contents of. You can do that with the type command. Assuming the text file is at
C:\Test\File.txt, the following command in Command Prompt will show its contents:
Great. Now, what if you have the same file at
C:\Test Folder\Test File.txt? If you try running the below command, it won’t work—those spaces in the file path are getting in the way.
type C:\Test Folder\Test File.txt
The command line thinks you’re trying to look for a file called
C:\Test and says it “cannot find the path specified.”
Three Ways to Escape Spaces on Windows
There are three different ways you can escape file paths on Windows:
- By enclosing the path (or parts of it) in double quotation marks ( ” ).
- By adding a caret character ( ^ ) before each space. (This only works in Command Prompt/CMD, and it doesn’t seem to work with every command.)
- By adding a grave accent character ( ` ) before each space. (This only works in PowerShell, but it always works.)
We’ll show you how to use each method.
Enclose the Path in Quotation Marks ( ” )
The standard way to ensure Windows treats a file path properly is to enclose it in double quotation mark ( ” ) characters. For example, with our sample command above, we’d just run the following instead:
type "C:\Test Folder\Test File.txt"
You can actually enclose parts of the path in quotation marks if you prefer. For example, let’s say you had a file named File.txt in that folder. You could run the following:
type C:\"Test Folder"\File.txt
However, that isn’t necessary—in most cases, you can just use quotation marks around the whole path.
This solution works both in the traditional Command Prompt (CMD) environment and in Windows PowerShell.
Sometimes: Use the Caret Character to Escape Spaces ( ^ )
In the Command Prompt, the caret character ( ^ ) will let you escape spaces—in theory. Just add it before each space in the file name. (You’ll find this character in the number row on your keyboard. To type the caret character, press Shift+6.)
Here’s the problem: While this should work, and it does sometimes, it doesn’t work all the time. The Command Prompt’s handling of this character is strange.
For example, with our sample command, you’d run the following, and it wouldn’t work:
type C:\Test^ Folder\Test^ File.txt
On the other hand, if we try opening our file directly by typing its path into the Command Prompt, we can see that the caret character escapes the spaces properly:
C:\Test^ Folder\Test^ File.txt
So when does it work? Well, based on our research, it seems to work with some applications and not others. Your mileage may vary depending on the command you’re using. The Command Prompt’s handling of this character is strange. Give it a try with whatever command you’re using, if you’re interested—it may or may not work.
For consistency, we recommend you stick with double quotes in the Command Prompt—or switch to PowerShell and use the grave accent method below.
PowerShell: Use the Grave Accent Character ( ` )
PowerShell uses the grave accent ( ` ) character as its escape character. Just add it before each space in the file name. (You’ll find this character above the Tab key and below the Esc key on your keyboard.)
type C:\Test` Folder\Test` File.txt
Each grave accent character tells PowerShell to escape the following character.
Note that this only works in the PowerShell environment. You’ll have to use the caret character in Command Prompt.
If you’re familiar with UNIX-like operating systems like Linux and macOS, you might be used to using the backslash ( \ ) character before a space to escape it. Windows uses this for normal file paths, so it doesn’t work—-the caret ( ^ ) and grave accent ( ` ) characters are the Windows version of backslash, depending on which command-line shell you’re using.