Crate relative_path

source ·
Expand description


Portable relative UTF-8 paths for Rust.

This crate provides a module analogous to std::path, with the following characteristics:

  • The path separator is set to a fixed character (/), regardless of platform.
  • Relative paths cannot represent a path in the filesystem without first specifying what they are relative to using functions such as to_path and to_logical_path.
  • Relative paths are always guaranteed to be valid UTF-8 strings.

On top of this we support many operations that guarantee the same behavior across platforms.


Add relative-path to your Cargo.toml:

relative-path = "1.9.0"

Start using relative paths:

use serde::{Serialize, Deserialize};
use relative_path::RelativePath;

#[derive(Serialize, Deserialize)]
struct Manifest<'a> {
    source: &'a RelativePath,

Serde Support

This library includes serde support that can be enabled with the serde feature.

Why is std::path a portability hazard?

Path representations differ across platforms.

  • Windows permits using drive volumes (multiple roots) as a prefix (e.g. "c:\") and backslash (\) as a separator.
  • Unix references absolute paths from a single root and uses forward slash (/) as a separator.

If we use PathBuf, Storing paths in a manifest would allow our application to build and run on one platform but potentially not others.

Consider the following data model and corresponding toml for a manifest:

use std::path::PathBuf;

use serde::{Serialize, Deserialize};

#[derive(Serialize, Deserialize)]
struct Manifest {
    source: PathBuf,
source = "C:\\Users\\udoprog\\repo\\data\\source"

This will run for you (assuming source exists). So you go ahead and check the manifest into git. The next day your Linux colleague calls you and wonders what they have ever done to wrong you?

So what went wrong? Well two things. You forgot to make the source relative, so anyone at the company which has a different username than you won’t be able to use it. So you go ahead and fix that:

source = "data\\source"

But there is still one problem! A backslash (\) is only a legal path separator on Windows. Luckily you learn that forward slashes are supported both on Windows and Linux. So you opt for:

source = "data/source"

Things are working now. So all is well… Right? Sure, but we can do better.

This crate provides types that work with portable relative paths (hence the name). So by using RelativePath we can systematically help avoid portability issues like the one above. Avoiding issues at the source is preferably over spending 5 minutes of onboarding time on a theoretical problem, hoping that your new hires will remember what to do if they ever encounter it.

Using RelativePathBuf we can fix our data model like this:

use relative_path::RelativePathBuf;
use serde::{Serialize, Deserialize};

#[derive(Serialize, Deserialize)]
pub struct Manifest {
    source: RelativePathBuf,

And where it’s used:

use std::fs;
use std::env::current_dir;

let manifest: Manifest = todo!();

let root = current_dir()?;
let source = manifest.source.to_path(&root);
let content = fs::read(&source)?;


Conversion to a platform-specific Path happens through the to_path and to_logical_path functions. Where you are required to specify the path that prefixes the relative path. This can come from a function such as std::env::current_dir.

use std::env::current_dir;
use std::path::Path;

use relative_path::RelativePath;

let root = current_dir()?;

// to_path unconditionally concatenates a relative path with its base:
let relative_path = RelativePath::new("../foo/./bar");
let full_path = relative_path.to_path(&root);
assert_eq!(full_path, root.join("..\\foo\\.\\bar"));

// to_logical_path tries to apply the logical operations that the relative
// path corresponds to:
let relative_path = RelativePath::new("../foo/./bar");
let full_path = relative_path.to_logical_path(&root);

// Replicate the operation performed by `to_logical_path`.
let mut parent = root.clone();
assert_eq!(full_path, parent.join("foo\\bar"));

When two relative paths are compared to each other, their exact component makeup determines equality.

use relative_path::RelativePath;


Using platform-specific path separators to construct relative paths is not supported.

Path separators from other platforms are simply treated as part of a component:

use relative_path::RelativePath;


assert_eq!(1, RelativePath::new("foo\\bar").components().count());
assert_eq!(2, RelativePath::new("foo/bar").components().count());

To see if two relative paths are equivalent you can use normalize:

use relative_path::RelativePath;


Additional portability notes

While relative paths avoid the most egregious portability issue, that absolute paths will work equally unwell on all platforms. We cannot avoid all. This section tries to document additional portability hazards that we are aware of.

RelativePath, similarly to Path, makes no guarantees that its constituent components make up legal file names. While components are strictly separated by slashes, we can still store things in them which may not be used as legal paths on all platforms.

  • A NUL character is not permitted on unix platforms - this is a terminator in C-based filesystem APIs. Slash (/) is also used as a path separator.
  • Windows has a number of reserved characters and names (like CON, PRN, and AUX) which cannot legally be part of a filesystem component.
  • Windows paths are case-insensitive by default. So, Foo.txt and foo.txt are the same files on windows. But they are considered different paths on most unix systems.

A relative path that accidentally contains a platform-specific components will largely result in a nonsensical paths being generated in the hope that they will fail fast during development and testing.

use relative_path::{RelativePath, PathExt};
use std::path::Path;

if cfg!(windows) {

if cfg!(unix) {