How to construct a relative path in Java from two absolute paths (or URLs)? – Dev

The best answers to the question “How to construct a relative path in Java from two absolute paths (or URLs)?” in the category Dev.


Given two absolute paths, e.g.


How can one create a relative path that uses the second path as its base? In the example above, the result should be: ./stuff/xyz.dat


Since Java 7 you can use the relativize method:

import java.nio.file.Path;
import java.nio.file.Paths;

public class Test {

     public static void main(String[] args) {
        Path pathAbsolute = Paths.get("/var/data/stuff/xyz.dat");
        Path pathBase = Paths.get("/var/data");
        Path pathRelative = pathBase.relativize(pathAbsolute);





It’s a little roundabout, but why not use URI? It has a relativize method which does all the necessary checks for you.

String path = "/var/data/stuff/xyz.dat";
String base = "/var/data";
String relative = new File(base).toURI().relativize(new File(path).toURI()).getPath();
// relative == "stuff/xyz.dat"

Please note that for file path there’s java.nio.file.Path#relativize since Java 1.7, as pointed out by @Jirka Meluzin in the other answer.


When using you should be aware of Java bug:
JDK-6226081 (URI should be able to relativize paths with partial roots)

At the moment, the relativize() method of URI will only relativize URIs when one is a prefix of the other.

Which essentially means will not create “..”‘s for you.


At the time of writing (June 2010), this was the only solution that passed my test cases. I can’t guarantee that this solution is bug-free, but it does pass the included test cases. The method and tests I’ve written depend on the FilenameUtils class from Apache commons IO.

The solution was tested with Java 1.4. If you’re using Java 1.5 (or higher) you should consider replacing StringBuffer with StringBuilder (if you’re still using Java 1.4 you should consider a change of employer instead).

import java.util.regex.Pattern;


public class ResourceUtils {

     * Get the relative path from one file to another, specifying the directory separator. 
     * If one of the provided resources does not exist, it is assumed to be a file unless it ends with "" or
     * '\'.
     * @param targetPath targetPath is calculated to this file
     * @param basePath basePath is calculated from this file
     * @param pathSeparator directory separator. The platform default is not assumed so that we can test Unix behaviour when running on Windows (for example)
     * @return
    public static String getRelativePath(String targetPath, String basePath, String pathSeparator) {

        // Normalize the paths
        String normalizedTargetPath = FilenameUtils.normalizeNoEndSeparator(targetPath);
        String normalizedBasePath = FilenameUtils.normalizeNoEndSeparator(basePath);

        // Undo the changes to the separators made by normalization
        if (pathSeparator.equals("")) {
            normalizedTargetPath = FilenameUtils.separatorsToUnix(normalizedTargetPath);
            normalizedBasePath = FilenameUtils.separatorsToUnix(normalizedBasePath);

        } else if (pathSeparator.equals("\\")) {
            normalizedTargetPath = FilenameUtils.separatorsToWindows(normalizedTargetPath);
            normalizedBasePath = FilenameUtils.separatorsToWindows(normalizedBasePath);

        } else {
            throw new IllegalArgumentException("Unrecognised dir separator '" + pathSeparator + "'");

        String[] base = normalizedBasePath.split(Pattern.quote(pathSeparator));
        String[] target = normalizedTargetPath.split(Pattern.quote(pathSeparator));

        // First get all the common elements. Store them as a string,
        // and also count how many of them there are.
        StringBuffer common = new StringBuffer();

        int commonIndex = 0;
        while (commonIndex < target.length && commonIndex < base.length
                && target[commonIndex].equals(base[commonIndex])) {
            common.append(target[commonIndex] + pathSeparator);

        if (commonIndex == 0) {
            // No single common path element. This most
            // likely indicates differing drive letters, like C: and D:.
            // These paths cannot be relativized.
            throw new PathResolutionException("No common path element found for '" + normalizedTargetPath + "' and '" + normalizedBasePath
                    + "'");

        // The number of directories we have to backtrack depends on whether the base is a file or a dir
        // For example, the relative path from
        // /foo/bar/baz/gg/ff to /foo/bar/baz
        // ".." if ff is a file
        // "../.." if ff is a directory
        // The following is a heuristic to figure out if the base refers to a file or dir. It's not perfect, because
        // the resource referred to by this path may not actually exist, but it's the best I can do
        boolean baseIsFile = true;

        File baseResource = new File(normalizedBasePath);

        if (baseResource.exists()) {
            baseIsFile = baseResource.isFile();

        } else if (basePath.endsWith(pathSeparator)) {
            baseIsFile = false;

        StringBuffer relative = new StringBuffer();

        if (base.length != commonIndex) {
            int numDirsUp = baseIsFile ? base.length - commonIndex - 1 : base.length - commonIndex;

            for (int i = 0; i < numDirsUp; i++) {
                relative.append(".." + pathSeparator);
        return relative.toString();

    static class PathResolutionException extends RuntimeException {
        PathResolutionException(String msg) {

The test cases that this passes are

public void testGetRelativePathsUnix() {
    assertEquals("stuff/xyz.dat", ResourceUtils.getRelativePath("/var/data/stuff/xyz.dat", "/var/data/", ""));
    assertEquals("../../b/c", ResourceUtils.getRelativePath("/a/b/c", "/a/x/y/", ""));
    assertEquals("../../b/c", ResourceUtils.getRelativePath("/m/n/o/a/b/c", "/m/n/o/a/x/y/", ""));

public void testGetRelativePathFileToFile() {
    String target = "C:\\Windows\\Boot\\Fonts\\chs_boot.ttf";
    String base = "C:\\Windows\\Speech\\Common\\sapisvr.exe";

    String relPath = ResourceUtils.getRelativePath(target, base, "\\");
    assertEquals("..\\..\\Boot\\Fonts\\chs_boot.ttf", relPath);

public void testGetRelativePathDirectoryToFile() {
    String target = "C:\\Windows\\Boot\\Fonts\\chs_boot.ttf";
    String base = "C:\\Windows\\Speech\\Common\\";

    String relPath = ResourceUtils.getRelativePath(target, base, "\\");
    assertEquals("..\\..\\Boot\\Fonts\\chs_boot.ttf", relPath);

public void testGetRelativePathFileToDirectory() {
    String target = "C:\\Windows\\Boot\\Fonts";
    String base = "C:\\Windows\\Speech\\Common\\foo.txt";

    String relPath = ResourceUtils.getRelativePath(target, base, "\\");
    assertEquals("..\\..\\Boot\\Fonts", relPath);

public void testGetRelativePathDirectoryToDirectory() {
    String target = "C:\\Windows\\Boot\\";
    String base = "C:\\Windows\\Speech\\Common\\";
    String expected = "..\\..\\Boot";

    String relPath = ResourceUtils.getRelativePath(target, base, "\\");
    assertEquals(expected, relPath);

public void testGetRelativePathDifferentDriveLetters() {
    String target = "D:\\sources\\recovery\\RecEnv.exe";
    String base = "C:\\Java\\workspace\\AcceptanceTests\\Standard test data\\geo\\";

    try {
        ResourceUtils.getRelativePath(target, base, "\\");

    } catch (PathResolutionException ex) {
        // expected exception