Network Working Group M. V. Kerwin
Internet-Draft QUT
Intended status: Standards Track July 2013
Expires: January 02, 2014

The 'file' URI Scheme


This document specifies the file Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) scheme that was originally specified in [RFC1738]. The purpose of this document is to keep the information about the scheme on standards track, since [RFC1738] has been made obsolete, and to promote interoperability by resolving disagreements between various implementations.

Note to Readers

This draft should be discussed on its github project page [github].

Status of This Memo

This Internet-Draft is submitted to IETF in full conformance with the provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Note that other groups may also distribute working documents as Internet-Drafts. The list of current Internet-Drafts is at

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This Internet-Draft will expire on January 02, 2014.

Copyright Notice

Copyright (c) 2013 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the document authors. All rights reserved.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

The 'file' URI scheme has historically had little or no interoperability between platforms. Further, implementers on a single platform have often disagreed on the syntax to use for a particular filesystem. This document attempts to resolve those problems, and define a standard scheme which is interoperable between different extant and future implementations. Additionally, it aims to ease implementation by conforming to a general syntax that allows existing URI parsing machinery to parse file URIs.

URIs were previously defined in [RFC1738], which was updated by [RFC3986]. Those documents also specify how to define schemes for URIs.

The first definition for many URI schemes appeared in [RFC1738]. Because that document has been made obsolete, this document copies the 'file' URI scheme from it to allow that material to remain on standards track.

1.1. History

This section is non-normative.

The 'file' URI scheme was first defined in [RFC1630], which, being an informational RFC, does not specify an Internet standard. The definition was standardised in [RFC1738], and the scheme was registered with the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) [IANA-URI-Schemes]; however that definition omitted certain language included by former that clarified aspects such as:

The Internet draft [I-D.draft-hoffman-file-uri] was written in an effort to keep the 'file' URI scheme on standards track when [RFC1738] was made obsolete, but that draft expired in 2005. It enumerated concerns arising from the various, often conflicting implementations of the scheme. It serves as the basis of this document.

The 'file' URI scheme defined in [RFC1738] is referenced three times in the current URI Generic Syntax standard [RFC3986], despite the former's obsoletion:

  1. Section 1.1 uses "file:///etc/hosts" as an example for identifying a resource in relation to the end-user's local context.
  2. Section 1.2.3 mentions the "file" scheme regarding relative references.
  3. Section 3.2.2 says that '...the "file" URI scheme is defined so that no authority, an empty host, and "localhost" all mean the end-user's machine...'.

Finally the WHATWG defines a living URL standard [WHATWG-URL], which includes algorithms for interpreting file URIs (as URLs).

1.2. Conventions and Terminology

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in [RFC2119].

2. Scheme Definition

The 'file' URI scheme is used to identify and retrieve files accessible on a particular host computer, where a "file" is a named resource which can be accessed through the computer's filesystem interface. These file names are interpreted from the perspective of the user of a reference, rather than in relation to a globally-defined naming authority, so care ought to be taken when distributing file URIs to ensure that such references are actually intended to be interpreted in relation to the end user's filesystem interface.

This scheme, unlike most other URI schemes, does not identify a resource that is universally accessible over the Internet.

The mechanism for retrieving a representation of a dereferenced file URI is through the computer's filesystem interface; for example using the POSIX open, read and close functions [POSIX].

Also note that file and ftp URIs are not the same, even when the target of the ftp URI is the local host.

2.1. Components


The 'file' URI scheme conforms with the generic structure defined in [RFC3986], and can be described in terms of its components:

The literal value file
The authority component of a file URI describes the machine or system on which the file is accessible. If the authority refers to a remote system, from the point of view of the user of the URI, the implication is that the file system cannot be accessed, or perhaps that some other mechanism must be used to access the file. It does not imply that the file ought to be accessible over a network connection. No retrieval mechanism for files stored on a remote machine is defined by this specification.

The authority component is optional in a file URI.

If present it is either: one of the special values localhost or the empty string (""); or the host name of the system on which the file is accessible.

If the authority component is omitted, or has either of the special values localhost or the empty string (""), it is interpreted as "the machine from which the URI is being interpreted".
The path component of a file URI describes the hierarchical directory path to the file, using the slash ("/") character to separate directories. Implementations Section 3.1)

Some systems allow file URIs to refer to directories. In this case, the path usually (but not always) includes a terminating slash character, such as in: file URI refers to a directory, but the absence of a slash does not necessarily indicate that it refers to a filesystem object other than a directory. Implementations ought to use other mechanisms to detect directories, if and when such detection is required.
The query component of a file URI contains non-hierarchical data that, along with data in the path component, serves to identify a file. For example, in a versioning file system, the query component might be used to refer to a specific version of a file.

Few implementations are known to use or support query components in file URIs.
The semantics of a fragment component are undefined by this specification. A protocol that employs file URIs

Previous definitions of the 'file' URI scheme required two slashes between the scheme and path, so implementations that wish to remain interoperable with older implementations ought to include an authority component in any file URIs they generate.

2.2. Syntax

The file URI syntax is defined here in Augmented Backus-Naur Form (ABNF) [RFC5234], including the core ABNF syntax rule 'ALPHA' defined by that specification, and borrowing the 'host', 'path-absolute' and 'segment' rules from [RFC3986] (as updated by [RFC6874]).

fileURI       = "file" ":" ( auth-file / local-file )

auth-file     = "//" ( host-file / nohost-file )

host-file     = hostpart path-absolute
                               ;   file://<host>/<path>
                               ;   file://localhost/<path>

nohost-file   = path-abs       ; begins with "/"
              / path-abs-win   ; begins with drive-letter
                               ;   file:///<path>
                               ;   file:////<bad-UNC-path>
                               ;   file://c:/<path> *

local-file    = path-absolute  ;   file:/<path>
              / path-abs-win   ;   file:c:/<path>

hostpart      = "localhost" / host

path-abs      = 1*( "/" segment )

path-abs-win  = drive-letter path-absolute
drive-letter  = ALPHA [ drive-marker ]
drive-marker  = ":" / "|"

* The 'no-host-file' rule allows for dubious URIs that encode a Windows drive letter as the authority component. See Section 3.3 of RFC XXXX. [Note to RFC Editor: please replace XXXX with the number issued to this document.]

Systems exhibit different levels of case-sensitivity. Implementations file URIs to and from the local system's representation of file paths, and any systems or devices that transport file URIs file URIs they transport.

3. Implementation Notes

3.1. Hierarchical Structure

Most implementations of the 'file' URI scheme do a reasonable job of mapping the hierarchical part of a directory structure into the slash ("/") delimited hierarchy of the URI syntax, independent of the native platform's delimiter.

For example, on Microsoft Windows platforms, it is typical that the file system presents backslash ("\") as the file delimeter for file names, yet the URI's forward slash ("/") can be used in file URIs interpreted on those platforms. Similarly, on (some) Macintosh OS versions, at least in some contexts, the colon (":") is used as the delimiter in the native presentation of file path names. Unix systems natively use the same forward slash ("/") delimiter for hierarchy, so there is a closer mapping between file URI paths and native path names.

In accordance with Section 3.3 of [RFC3986], the path segments . and .., also known as dot-segments, are only interpreted within the URI path hierarchy and are removed as part of the resolution process ([RFC3986], Section 5.2). Implementations operating on or interacting with systems that allow dot-segments in their native path representation may be required to escape those segments using some other means when translating to and from file URIs.

3.2. Absolute and relative file paths

The conventions for specifying absolute file paths differ from system to system. For example, in a UNIX-based system an absolute file path begins with a slash ("/") character, denoting the root of the filesystem, whereas on a Microsoft DOS- or Windows-based system an absolute file path begins with a drive letter (e.g. "c:\").


As relative references are resolved into their respective (absolute) target URIs according to Section 5 of [RFC3986], this document does not describe that resolution. However, a fully resolved URI may contain a non-absolute path. For example, using a generic parser, the URI: charlie, in directory bravo, in directory alpha, on the machine on which the URI is being interpreted (i.e. localhost); however there is no indication of the location of the directory alpha on that machine. By convention an absolute file path would begin with a slash ("/") character on a Unix-based system, or a drive letter (e.g. "c:\") on a Microsoft Windows system, etc.

Resolution of relative file paths is undefined by this specification. A protocol that employs file URIs

3.3. Drive Letters



Historically drive letters have been mapped into the top of a file URI in various ways. On systems running some versions of Microsoft Windows the drive letter may be specified with a colon (":") character, however sometimes the colon is replaced with a pipe ("|") character, and in some implementations the colon is omitted entirely. The three representations drive-letter rule in Section 2.2). For example, the following URIs:


Note that some systems running some versions of Microsoft Windows are known to omit the slash before the drive letter, effectively replacing the authority component with the drive specification; for example, file://c:/TMP/test.txt. In line with Postel's robustness principle ("an implementation must be conservative in its sending behavior, and liberal in its receiving behavior" [RFC791]) implementations that are likely to encounter such a URI

3.4. UNC File Paths

UNC        = "\\" hostname "\" sharename *( "\" objectname )
hostname   = <NetBIOS name, FQDN, or IP address of a server>
sharename  = <name of a share or resource to be accessed>
objectname = <the name of an object>

The Microsoft Windows Universal Naming Convention (UNC) [MS-DTYP] defines a convention for specifying the location of resources such as shared files or devices, for example Windows shares accessed via the SMB/CIFS protocol [MS-SMB2]. The general structure of a UNC file path, given in Augmented Backus-Naur Form (ABNF) [RFC5234], is:

Note that this syntax description is non-normative.


            hostname      sharename+objectnames

The canonical representation of a UNC file path as a file URI copies the UNC hostname into the URI host field, and the UNC sharename and objectnames, concatenated with forward slash ("/") characters, into the path. For example, the following UNC path: file URI canonically as:

                  translated UNC path

                  translated UNC path

Historically some implementations have translated UNC file paths entirely into the path segment of a file URI, including both leading slashes, and the Firefox web browser even prefixes the UNC file path with another slash. For example, the UNC path given above might be translated as:

The 'file' URI scheme is unusual in that it does not specify an Internet protocol or access method for shared files; as such, its utility in network protocols between hosts is limited. Examples of file server protocols that do define such access methods include SMB/CIFS [MS-SMB2], NFS [RFC3530], and NCP [NOVELL].

3.5. Namespaces

The Microsoft Windows API defines Win32 Namespaces [Win32-Namespaces] for interacting with files and devices using Windows API functions. These namespaced paths are prefixed by \\?\ for Win32 File Namespaces and \\.\ for Win32 Device Namespaces. There is also a special case for UNC file paths [MS-DTYP] in Win32 File Namespaces, referred to as "Long UNC", using the prefix \\?\UNC\.

This specification does not define a mechanism for translating namespaced file paths into file URIs.

4. Encoding and Character Set Considerations

As specified in [RFC3986], the 'file' URI scheme allows any character from the Universal Character Set (UCS) [ISO10646] encoded as UTF-8 [RFC3629] and then percent-encoded in valid ASCII [RFC20].

If the local file system uses a known non-Unicode character encoding, the file path [UTR15]).

Before applying any percent-encoding, an application MUST ensure the following about the string that is used as input to the URI-construction process:

5. Security Considerations

There are many security considerations for URI schemes discussed in [RFC3986].

File access and the granting of privileges for specific operations are complex topics, and the use of file URIs can complicate the security model in effect for file privileges. Under no circumstance should software using file URIs grant greater access than would be available for other file access methods.

6. IANA Considerations

In accordance with the guidelines and registration procedures for new URI schemes [RFC4395], this section provides the information needed to update the registration of the 'file' URI scheme.

6.1. URI Scheme Name


6.2. Status


6.3. URI Scheme Syntax

See Section 2.2 of RFC XXXX. [Note to RFC Editor: please replace XXXX with the number issued to this document.]

6.4. URI Scheme Semantics

See Section 2 of RFC XXXX. [Note to RFC Editor: please replace XXXX with the number issued to this document.]

6.5. Encoding Considerations

See Section 4 of RFC XXXX. [Note to RFC Editor: please replace XXXX with the number issued to this document.]

6.6. Applications/Protocols That Use This URI Scheme Name

Web browsers:

Other applications/protocols:

6.7. Interoperability Considerations

Due to the convoluted history of the 'file' URI scheme there a many, varied implementations in existence. Many have converged over time, forming a few kernels of closely-related functionality, and RFC XXXX attempts to accommodate such common functionality. [Note to RFC Editor: please replace XXXX with the number issued to this document.] However there will always be exceptions, and this fact is recognised.

6.8. Security Considerations

See Section 4 of RFC XXXX [Note to RFC Editor: please replace XXXX with the number issued to this document.]

6.9. Contact

Matthew Kerwin,

6.10. Author/Change Controller

This scheme is registered under the IETF tree. As such, the IETF maintains change control.

6.11. References


7. Acknowledgements

This specification is derived from RFC 1738 [RFC1738], RFC 3986 [RFC3986], and I-D draft-hoffman-file-uri (expired) [I-D.draft-hoffman-file-uri]; the acknowledgements in those documents still apply.

8. References

8.1. Normative References

[RFC20] Cerf, V., "ASCII format for Network Interchange", RFC 20, October 1969.
[RFC3629] Yergeau, F., "UTF-8, a transformation format of ISO 10646", STD 63, RFC 3629, November 2003.
[RFC2119] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.
[RFC3986] Berners-Lee, T., Fielding, R. and L. Masinter, "Uniform Resource Identifier (URI): Generic Syntax", STD 66, RFC 3986, January 2005.
[RFC5890] Klensin, J., "Internationalized Domain Names for Applications (IDNA): Definitions and Document Framework", RFC 5890, August 2010.
[RFC5892] Faltstrom, P., "The Unicode Code Points and Internationalized Domain Names for Applications (IDNA)", RFC 5892, August 2010.
[RFC6874] Carpenter, B., Cheshire, S. and R. Hinden, "Representing IPv6 Zone Identifiers in Address Literals and Uniform Resource Identifiers", RFC 6874, February 2013.
[ISO10646] International Organization for Standardization, "Information Technology - Universal Multiple-Octet Coded Character Set (UCS)", December 2003.
[UTR15] Davis, M. and K. Whistler, "Unicode Normalization Forms", August 2012.

8.2. Informative References

[I-D.draft-hoffman-file-uri] Hoffman, P., "The file URI Scheme", Internet-Draft draft-hoffman-file-uri-03, January 2005.
[RFC791] Postel, J., "Internet Protocol - DARPA Internet Program, Protocol Specification", RFC 791, September 1981.
[RFC1630] Berners-Lee, T., "Universal Resource Identifiers in WWW: A Unifying Syntax for the Expression of Names and Addresses of Objects on the Network as used in the World-Wide Web", RFC 1630, June 1994.
[RFC1738] Berners-Lee, T., Masinter, L. and M. McCahill, "Uniform Resource Locators (URL)", RFC 1738, December 1994.
[RFC3530] Shepler, S., Callaghan, B., Robinson, D., Thurlow, R., Beame, C., Eisler, M. and D. Noveck, "Network File System (NFS) version 4 Protocol", RFC 3530, April 2003.
[RFC4395] Hansen, T., Hardie, T. and L. Masinter, "Guidelines and Registration Procedures for New URI Schemes", BCP 35, RFC 4395, February 2006.
[RFC5234] Crocker, D. and P. Overell, "Augmented BNF for Syntax Specifications: ABNF", STD 68, RFC 5234, January 2008.
[WHATWG-URL] WHATWG, "URL Living Standard", May 2013.
[MS-DTYP] Microsoft Open Specifications, "Windows Data Types, 2.2.56 UNC", January 2013.
[MS-SMB2] Microsoft Open Specifications, "Server Message Block (SMB) Protocol Versions 2 and 3", January 2013.
[NOVELL] Novell, "NetWare Core Protocols", 2013.
[IANA-URI-Schemes] Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, "Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) Schemes registry", June 2013.
[POSIX] IEEE, "IEEE Std 1003.1, 2013 Edition", 2013.
[Win32-Namespaces] Microsoft Developer Network, "Naming Files, Paths, and Namespaces", June 2013.
[github] Kerwin, M. V., "file-uri-scheme GitHub repository", n.d..

Author's Address

Matthew Kerwin Queensland University of Technology Victoria Park Rd Kelvin Grove, QLD 4059 Australia EMail: