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When adding media such as pictures and documents to a gallery in Gramps, you are given the option between an "absolute path" and a "relative path" for linking the media to the source location on the computer.

In simple terms (if possible), what is the difference between these two options, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

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Absolute and relative pathnames are used in many different types of software.

I found a good explanation of the difference in the Help of ArcGIS Desktop (a specialty of mine) on a page titled Paths explained: Absolute, relative, UNC, and URL, but it should apply equally to Gramps:

Absolute, or full, path

An absolute, or full, path begins with a drive letter followed by a colon, such as D:.

Relative path

A relative path refers to a location that is relative to a current directory. Relative paths make use of two special symbols, a dot (.) and a double-dot (..), which translate into the current directory and the parent directory. Double dots are used for moving up in the hierarchy. A single dot represents the current directory itself.

The advantage of relative pathnames is that they promote portability. Let's say you have something located beneath C:\Gramps and you decide to move your Gramps folder to become D:\Gramps. If you used absolute pathnames then Gramps would not be able to locate it. If you used relative pathnames then it still would.

On the Gramps list a user says:

Enno has emphasized the benefits of the relative path to me both on and off list and thus far, I agree with him completely. So much so, that I'm wondering under what circumstances users would prefer the absolute path? I'm sure that there is a very valid reason, but with my own workflow I'm just not seeing it. Of course, it's always possible that I'm doing something very wrong.

and the response from Enno was:

I can’t imagine having a preference for absolute paths, but I gather that Gramps will use those anyway, if you try to add media outside the default path.

  • Ahh, ArcGIS, my old nemesis from college...... For some reason it caused me nothing but grief. Nonetheless, a useful summary of the differences, +1 – Jack Aug 13 '17 at 2:59
  • Possibly absolute paths were the original style and have therefore been retained for compatibility?? But I also find that a relative path to a directory that isn't underneath the current directory, can be incredibly obscure. – AdrianB38 Aug 13 '17 at 17:57
  • Absolute paths may be useful if you prefer to keep programs and data on separate drives. For example, Gramps may be installed on C:, but your genealogical data files on D:. This can make it easier to keep backups of data but not programs (which can be reinstalled instead of restored from backup), and can isolate data from any problems with the C: drive. Larger drives and more sophisticated backup software have probably made this approach rather less useful on a modern PC. – AndyW Aug 18 '17 at 8:34

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