File Specifications

Any file can be specified within any Helix Server command in client syntax, depot syntax, or local syntax. Workspace names and depot names share the same namespace; there is no way for the Perforce service to confuse a workspace name with a depot name.

Syntax forms

Local syntax refers to filenames as specified by the local shell or operating system. Filenames referred to in local syntax can be specified by their absolute paths or relative to the current working directory. (Relative path components can only appear at the beginning of a file specifier.)

Helix Server has its own method of file specification which remains unchanged across operating systems. If a file is specified relative to a client root, it is said to be in client syntax. If it is specified relative to the top of the depot, it is said to be in depot syntax. A file specified in either manner can be said to have been specified in Helix Server syntax.

Helix Server file specifiers always begin with two slashes (//), followed by the client or depot name, followed by the full pathname of the file relative to the client or depot root directory.

Path components in client and depot syntax are always separated by slashes (/), regardless of the component separator used by the local operating system or shell.

An example of each syntax:

Syntax Example

Local syntax

/staff/bruno/myworkspace/file.c for Linux

c:\staff\bruno\myworkspace\file.c for Windows

Depot syntax


Client syntax



The Helix Server system allows the use of these wildcards:

Wildcard Meaning


Matches all characters except slashes within one directory.


Matches all files under the current working directory and all subdirectories. (matches anything, including slashes, and does so across subdirectories)

%%1 - %%9

Positional specifiers for substring rearrangement in filenames, when used in views.

Examples of wildcard expressions:

Expression Matches


Files in the current directory starting with J


All files called help in current subdirectories


All files under the current directory and its subdirectories


All files under the current directory and its subdirectories, that end in .c


All files under /usr/bruno_ws



All files in the depot named companytools or the workspace named bruno_ws


All files in the depot (with the default name of "depot")


All files in all depots

//depot/dir1/%%1.%%2 //bruno_ws/filesbytype/%%2/%%1

This example uses positional specifiers in client view mapping to rearrange the sync'd files by file type. The depot files with a given extension, such as .txt, are sync'd into a workspace directory that bears the extension name, such as (/txt):

  • for the depot,
    • specify the file name at position 1 by using %%1
    • specify the file extension at position 2 by using %%2
  • for the workspace,
    • reverse the order so that the extension %%2 is before the file name %%1
    • substitute a forward slash (/) of a directory for the period (.) of a file extension

Get the latest version from the depot into the workspace:

sync -f //depot/dir1/...

Depot file with extension ... results in Workspace directory with file ...



//depot/dir1/ /Users/bruno_ws/filesbytype/md/readme
//depot/dir1/ /Users/bruno_ws/filesbytype/pl/readme
//depot/dir1/readme.txt /Users/bruno_ws/filesbytype/txt/readme

Using revision specifiers

File specifiers can be modified by appending # or @ to them.

The # and @ specifiers refer to specific revisions of files as stored in the depot:

Modifier Meaning


Revision specifier: The nth revision of file.



The nonexistent revision: If a revision of file exists in the depot, it is ignored.

This is useful when you want to remove a file from the client workspace while leaving it intact in the depot, as in p4 syncfile#none.

The filespec #0 can be used as a synonym for #none - the nonexistent revision can be thought of as the one that "existed" before the first revision was submitted to the depot.


The head revision (latest version) of file. Except where explicitly noted, this is equivalent to referring to the file without a revision specifier.


The revision on the current client: the revision of file last p4 synced into the client workspace.


Change number: The revision of file immediately after changelist n was submitted.


Change number: The revision of file at the specified changelist number n.

n can be a submitted or a shelved change number; it can’t be a pending (non-shelved) change number.


Label name: The revision of file in the label labelname.


Client name: The revision of file last taken into client workspace clientname.

Note that deleted files (that is, files marked for delete at their latest revision) are not considered to be part of a workspace.


Date and time: The revision of file at the date and time specified.

If no time is specified, the head revision at 00:00:00 on the morning of the date specified is returned.

Dates are specified yyyy/mm/dd:hh:mm:ss or yyyy/mm/ddhh:mm:ss (with either a space or a colon between the date and the time).

The datespec @now can be used as a synonym for the current date and time.

Revision specifiers can be used to operate on many files at once: p4 sync //myclient/...#4 copies the fourth revision of all non-open files into the client workspace.

If specifying files by date and time (that is, using specifiers of the form file@datespec), the date specification should be parsed by your local shell as a single token. You may need to use quotation marks around the date specification if you use it to specify a time as well as a date.

Files that have been shelved can also be accessed with the p4 diff, p4 diff2, p4 files, and p4 print commands, using the revision specifier @=change, where change is the pending changelist number.

Some Helix Server file specification characters may be intercepted and interpreted by the local shell, and need to be escaped before use. For instance, # is used as the comment character in most UNIX shells, and / may be interpreted by (non-Helix Server) DOS commands as an option specifier. File names with spaces in them may have to be quoted on the command line.

For information on these and other platform-specific issues, see the release notes for your platform.

Using revision ranges

A few Helix Server commands can use revision ranges to modify file arguments. Revision ranges are two separate revision specifications, separated by a comma. For example, p4 changesfile#3,5 lists the changelists that submitted file file at its third, fourth, and fifth revisions.

Revision ranges have two separate meanings, depending on which command you’re using. The two meanings are:

Revision ranges can be very powerful. For example, the command p4 changesfile#3,@labelname lists all changelists that submitted file file between its third revision and the revision stored in label labelname.

Limitations on characters in filenames and entities

When you name files and entities, such as users and clients, be aware of the following limitations.

Character Helix Server Usage Not allowed for the entity you create with




recursive subdirectory wildcard

file matching wildcard

positional substitution wildcard

p4 user, p4 client, p4 depot, p4 label, p4 job, p4 stream


separating pathname components

OK for p4 user, p4 label, and p4 job

p4 client, p4 depot

and not allowed in the name of a file


No special meaning for Helix Server.

(Allowed, but be aware that Microsoft Windows uses the backslash as the separator for pathname components.)


prefix to the identifier of a changelist, label, client, or datespec.

p4 user, p4 client, p4 depot, p4 label, p4 job, p4 stream


specifying the revision number

p4 user, p4 client, p4 depot, p4 label, p4 job, p4 stream

1 or 1234

changelist numbers are purely numeric

A purely numberic identifier is NOT allowed for a user, client, depot, label, job, or stream, so consider something like 1a or 1_234

To refer to files containing the Helix Server revision specifier wildcards (@ and #), file matching wildcard (*), or positional substitution wildcard (%%) in either the file name or any directory component, use the ASCII expression of the character’s hexadecimal value. ASCII expansion applies only to the following four characters:

Character ASCII expansion









To add a file such as status@june.txt, force a literal interpretation of special characters by using:

$ p4 add -f //depot/path/status@june.txt

When you submit the changelist, the characters are automatically expanded and appear in the change submission form as follows:


After submitting the changelist with the file’s addition, you must use the ASCII expansion in order to sync it to your workspace or edit it within your workspace:

$ p4 sync //depot/path/status%40june.txt
$ p4 edit //depot/path/status%40june.txt

Most special characters tend to be difficult to use in filenames in cross-platform environments: UNIX separates path components with /, while many DOS commands interpret / as a command line switch. Most UNIX shells interpret # as the beginning of a comment. Both DOS and UNIX shells automatically expand * to match multiple files, and the DOS command line uses % to refer to variables.

Similarly, although non-ASCII characters are allowed in filenames and Helix Server identifiers, entering these characters from the command line may require platform-specific solutions. Users of GUI-based file managers can manipulate such files with drag-and-drop operations.