The diverse uses of the backslash and the forward slash

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The use of the backslash and the forward slash

The slash is one of those funny little marks that always seems to get a bad rap. It's not typical or even necessary to use the backslash and the forward slash in your writing. But if you want to use them correctly, it helps to know how they work.

How to use the backslash

The backslash ( \ ) is a typographic mark that is used in computing and programming languages.

You have to use this mark to write the location of a local folder or as a directory separator in the Windows operating system. For example: 

  • D:\Books\Autobiography & Memoir
  • C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office20

However, Unix convention-based operating systems like Linux, Android, and Mac use the forward slash instead for file paths. For example: /System/Library/Wallpapers. 

Backslashes are used in programming languages like Java and C++ in escape sequences. For example:

  • \n — for inserting a new line
  • \' — for inserting a single quote character

How to use the forward slash

The forward slash is a punctuation mark used in informal writing. It has multiple use cases, including:

To refer to "or" a choice between two alternatives: 

Lily wants a burger and a Coke/Pepsi. (Coke or Pepsi)

To show a connection between two things: 

I should get out of this toxic love/hate relationship. (love-hate)

For abbreviations: 

The party was dull w/o you. (without)

To write dates: 

Mike was born on 12/25/1995. (December 25, 1995)

To write a web address: 

https://www.theguardian.com/

To write fractions: 

He will get ⅓ of the property. (one-third)

To indicate the line break in poetry or songs: 

I hold it true, whate'er befall;/ I feel it when I sorrow most;/'Tis better to have loved and lost/ Than never to have loved at all./ — from Alfred Tennyson's In Memoriam A.H.H.

FAQs about the backslash and the forward slash

How do you remember backslash vs. forward slash?

The hint is in their names. A backslash tilts backward while a forward slash tilts forward. To make it easier, imagine a stick figure. When it leans forward, it looks like a forward slash ( / ), and leaning backward makes it look like a backslash ( \ ).

Which is a forward slash?

A forward slash, or a slash, is a punctuation mark that looks like a right-tilted line. You will primarily find it in informal documents and our day-to-day writing. Its multiple usages include writing dates in a number format, separating two words, expressing fractions or ratios, etc.

What do two backslashes mean?

Double backslashes are usually used as a server name or hostname prefix. For instance, an address like "\\jat3\c\backlog" is the path to the BACKLOG folder on the C: drive of the JAT3 server. 

What is the difference between \ and \\ in a file path?

The use of \ and \\ in a file path creates the same result because Windows ignores requests made with double backslashes. So, double backslashes in a file path with still work, but you should use a single backslash.

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