Max file-name length in an EXT4 file system.

A recent discussion at work brought up the question “What can be the length of a file name in EXT4”. Or in other words, what would be the maximum character length of the name for a file in EXT4?

Wikipedia states that it’s 255 Bytes, but how does that come to be? Is it 255 Bytes or 255 characters?

In the kernel source for the 2.6 kernel series (the question was for a RHEL6/EXT4 combination), in  fs/ext4/ext4.h, we’d be able to see the following:

#define EXT4_NAME_LEN 255

struct ext4_dir_entry {
    __le32 inode;             /* Inode number */
    __le16 rec_len;           /* Directory entry length */
    __le16 name_len;          /* Name length */
    char name[EXT4_NAME_LEN]; /* File name */

* The new version of the directory entry. Since EXT4 structures are
* stored in intel byte order, and the name_len field could never be
* bigger than 255 chars, it's safe to reclaim the extra byte for the
* file_type field.

struct ext4_dir_entry_2 {
    __le32 inode;             /* Inode number */
    __le16 rec_len;           /* Directory entry length */
    __u8 name_len;            /* Name length */
    __u8 file_type;
    char name[EXT4_NAME_LEN]; /* File name */

This shows that there are two versions of the directory entry structure, ie.. ext4_dir_entry and ext4_dir_entry_2

A directory entry structure carries the file/folder name and the corresponding inode number under every directory.

Both structs use an element named name_len to denote the length of the file/folder name.

If the EXT filesystem feature filetype is not set, the directory entry structure falls to the first method ext4_dir_entry, else it’s the second, ie.. ext4_dir_entry_2.

By default, the file system feature filetype is set, hence the directory entry structure is ext4_dir_entry_2 . As seen above, in this case, the name_len field is set to 8 bits.

__u8 represents an unsigned 8-bit integer in C, and can store values from 0 to 255.

ie.. 2^8 = 255 (0 t0 255 == 256)

ext4_dir_entry has a name_len of __le16, but it seems that the file-name length can only go to a max of 256.


  1. The maximum name length is 255 characters on Linux machines.
  2. The actual name length of a file/folder is stored in name_len in each directory entry, under its parent folder. So if the file name length is 5 characters, 5 would be the value set for name_len for that particular file. ie.. the actual length.
  3. A character will consume a byte of storage, so the number of characters in a file name will map to the respective number bytes. If so, a file with a name_len of 5 will be using 5 bytes of memory to store the name.

Hence, name_len denotes the number of characters that a file can have. Since U8 is 8-bits, name_len can store a file name with upto 255 chars.

Now the actual memory being consumed for storing these characters is not denoted by name_len. Since the size of a character translates to a byte, the maximum size wrt memory that a file name can have is 255 Bytes.


The initial dir entry structure ext4_dir_entry had __le16 for name_len, it was later re-sized to __u8 in ext4_dir_entry_2 , by culling 8 bits from the existing 16 bits of name_len.

The remaining free space culled from name_len was assigned to store the file type, in ext4_dir_entry_2. It was named file_type with size __u8.

file_type helps to identity the file types such as regular files, sockets, character devices, block devices etc..


  1. RHEL6 kernel-2.6.32-573.el6 EXT4 header file (ext4.h)
  2. EXT4 Wiki – Disk layout

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