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What a Backslash?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2016
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    2003-2016
    Conjecture Corporation
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A backslash is a mark used in typography, rather than punctuation, and is commonly used in a number of different computer programming languages and for various other computer purposes as well. This mark is often used to distinguish various aspects of code, though it can be used for continuation of a line of code as well or to separate directories and sub-directories. In code, it can be used to separate a locator from a command, though this depends on the programming language used. A backslash can be used interchangeably with a forward slash in some instances, though they are grammatically incompatible.

As a typographical mark, the backslash was introduced in the 1960s so it could be combined with a forward slash to create several different options in computer coding. It is typically depicted as “\” and has continued to be used in computer programming; depending on the language, it can serve a number of purposes. Also known as the reverse slash, the backslant, escape, and bash, the backslash is almost solely used in computing and it can sometimes be used interchangeably with a forward slash, though only in computer use and not in grammar.

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One of the most common uses of a backslash is in computer programming, in which it can often be used to extend a line of code. This is typically done to continue one line of code onto a new line, to prevent it from becoming especially long and difficult to read or write. In some computer contexts, the backslash is often used to separate different parts of a file location or address into various directories and sub-directories. A file location indicated as “c:\example\example2\example3” would indicate that the file “example3” is located in a folder named “example2” that is within another folder named “example,” which is on the “c:” drive.

In grammatical contexts, there is no clearly defined usage of the backslash, though it can sometimes be mistakenly used in place of a forward slash. The forward slash, which shares a key with the question mark, is often used to separate ideas or to provide a connection between two words. One common usage of this mark is for the phrase “and/or,” in which the mark indicates that either word could be appropriate in a particular context. Some individuals may use the backslash where a forward slash is appropriate; this has become more common among computer users.

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