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Determine whether to use Absolute vs Relative Paths

 This article is suitable for a Process Mapper
Ref: 20041221
Last edited 15th March 2010


When linking from a process map to a document, the link can be relative or absolute and the user needs to specify which is required for each link. There are advantages and disadvantages to both addressing methods, and the purpose of this document is to explain the difference so that a qualified decision can be made.


  • Source file – the file containing the link (in our case the Process Navigator .vdx)
  • Target file – the file being linked to (e.g. a Word document, Excel spreadsheet etc)
  • Root – the home directory of a given network drive
  • Absolute path – a complete listing of the directory path required to navigate to the file from the root directory
  • Relative path – a navigation sequence defining where to find a file in respect of its relative position to the source file (where ‘..’ represents moving up a directory)
  • Mapped drive - Mapped drives are assigned a drive letter and essentially this letter can be substituted for the first segment of the absolute path
  • Central repository – A single network location within which all target documents are located. A prerequisite of relative path addressing

For example where the T drive is mapped to Triaster on ServerA and the following directory structure exists:

Target file in Finance within Documents folder.

Source file in Finance within Process Maps folder.

A link from the source file to the target file could be represented by any of:

Relative ..\..\Documents\Finance\Target.doc
Absolute UNC path \\ServerA\Triaster\Documents\Finance\Target.doc
Absolute with drive mapping T:\ Documents\Finance\Target.doc

The Best Approach

Choosing whether to use absolute or relative addressing is not as simple as it sounds as there are a number of factors that need to be taken into account. Fundamentally absolute paths are easier to implement but more susceptible to broken links than relative paths when making use of a central repository.

Key things to bear in mind are:

  • In any case renaming the target file will break the link
  • In any case moving the target file will break the link
  • When using relative paths moving the source file without the target file will usually break the link
  • Drive mappings should only be considered where these are consistently implemented throughout the organisation (i.e. where your T drive may be mapped to something different on another PC drive mappings should not be used)

The questions in the table below may help you decide which method is most suitable:

    Yes No
1 Will all the linked documents reside within a central repository on a single network drive? Proceed to 2 Use absolute paths
2 Will the top level maps be located at a consistent depth in the directory structure as they progress from draft to published? Proceed to 3 Use absolute paths
3 Will the central repository be duplicated or shared to have the same relative path from the published html pages as from the Process Navigator files? Use relative paths Use absolute paths

When using absolute paths a supplementary question must be asked:

    Yes No
s Are drive mappings consistent throughout the organisation? Use absolute paths with mapped drives Use absolute UNC paths only

Note that in the majority of cases absolute paths are the more appropriate choice. Relative addressing is more difficult to manage but in conjunction with a central repository makes the entire website more portable. From the table above relative paths are only appropriate where all three questions can be answered with a yes.

Need further help? Contact the Triaster Support team by e-mailing or by calling us on 0870 402 1234.
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