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Stealth Glitch: Accidental Accents in Filenames

When Mac users and Windows users need to share the same files, it’s important to use “lowest common denominator” types of filenames to avoid platform-specific problems with special characters. The Mac is  perfectly fine with, say, a “greater than” symbol (OurLayout>v2.indd), while Windows most definitely is not. And when files are saved to and opened from a Windows server, making sure their names comply with the server OS’s rules is even more important.

When you run into an issue where users on one platform can check out stories from a layout or assignment, but users on the other platform cannot, look at the filenames to make sure they’re not the root of the problem. (After making sure everyone’s server permissions are correct, of course.)

Recently, a user was describing this exact same situation in a thread on the Adobe InCopy forums on Adobe’s web site. Actually, what he reported was that the links to some of an assignment’s stories were being reported as “Missing” (a red stop sign) by the Windows InCopy users, but were fine for the Mac InDesign users—even though all files were stored on a central file server. Weird, huh?

Early on, one of the people trying to help him out asked him, “Are there any non-Lower-ASCII characters in any of the filenames? Accented characters can get remapped on servers, so that’s something to watch out for.” The user said no, the InDesign users employ a strict naming convention for assignments and layouts, always avoiding accented characters. After a few more bouts of “try this” and “try that,” all unsuccessful, he posted a screen shot of his InCopy’s Links panel showing the missing story links. I don’t think he’d mind if I showed some of it here:


Can you spot the problem? The two missing stories have accented characters in their filenames, right near the ends of the names. When the user unlinked those stories from the layout, and re-exported them with new filenames (sans accents), InCopy had no problem finding the filenames and the “missing link” issue was solved.

How Did It Happen?

The InDesign users, while careful not to name assignments or layouts with accented characters, had no control over how InDesign automatically named stories when using one of the InCopy > Export All Stories to Assignment commands. As you know, in that situation, InDesign uses the name of the layout as a prefix, inserts a hyphen, and appends the first word or two from each text frame to keep the filenames unique. (If the text frame is empty, it adds “Text 1” “Text 2” and so on.)

In this case, some of the text frames the Mac-based InDesign users were exporting to InCopy format had a first or second word that contained an accented character, and that character in the filename was getting remapped on the Windows server.

It would be nice if InDesign would strip out high-ASCII characters when using them as filenames, but it doesn’t.

Adobe’s Advice

It was heartening to see a couple Adobe engineers jump into the forum discussion to help out, especially since the forums are expressly not supposed to be an official resource for tech support. One helpful Adobe guy offered some insight into exactly how InDesign autonames InCopy files as it exports text frames, even though I think he got his file types confused at one point (so I’m editing this quote to correct it):

InDesign automatically names .icml files that it creates in the Contents folder while generating InCopy Assignment files (.icma), using this formula:

Trim to 26 characters ([.indd file name] + [story text]) + .icml

If the INDD filename is 26 characters or greater, then the story text never contributes to the names of the .icml, and the subsequent .icml files in the same Assignment file will be clipped and incremented.

In other words, if the INDD filename is 26 characters (“AbcdefGhijkLmnopQRstuvwxyz.indd”) or more, InDesign doesn’t grab a word or two from the text frame for filenames. It just uses the layout name, like so


Thus, to avoid the “accidental accents” problem entirely, you could rename the layout so it has at least 26 characters before you start exporting stories to InCopy format.

Otherwise, you could comb through the layout and either remove (perhaps Convert to Note) any first words in frames that have unusual characters before exporting all stories, or export each problem child frame individually to InCopy format (InCopy > Export > Selection), in which case you get a chance to name the ICML file yourself. Do either one of these actions, and then you can use the Export All Stories commands as before, since it won’t re-export frames that are already linked to external ICML files.

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie “Her Geekness” Concepción is the co-founder (with David Blatner) and CEO of Creative Publishing Network, which produces InDesignSecrets, InDesign Magazine, and other resources for creative professionals. Through her cross-media design studio, Seneca Design & Training, Anne-Marie develops ebooks and trains and consults with companies who want to master the tools and workflows of digital publishing. She has authored over 20 courses on on these topics and others. Keep up with Anne-Marie by subscribing to her ezine, HerGeekness Gazette, and contact her by email at or on Twitter @amarie
Anne-Marie Concepcion

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