MIT/GNU Scheme programs need to use names to designate files. The main difficulty in dealing with names of files is that different file systems have different naming formats for files. For example, here is a table of several file systems (actually, operating systems that provide file systems) and what equivalent file names might look like for each one:
System File Name ------ --------- TOPS-20 <LISPIO>FORMAT.FASL.13 TOPS-10 FORMAT.FAS[1,4] ITS LISPIO;FORMAT FASL MULTICS >udd>LispIO>format.fasl TENEX <LISPIO>FORMAT.FASL;13 VAX/VMS [LISPIO]FORMAT.FAS;13 UNIX /usr/lispio/format.fasl DOS C:\USR\LISPIO\FORMAT.FAS
It would be impossible for each program that deals with file names to know about each different file name format that exists; a new operating system to which Scheme was ported might use a format different from any of its predecessors. Therefore, MIT/GNU Scheme provides two ways to represent file names: filenames (also called namestrings), which are strings in the implementation-dependent form customary for the file system, and pathnames, which are special abstract data objects that represent file names in an implementation-independent way. Procedures are provided to convert between these two representations, and all manipulations of files can be expressed in machine-independent terms by using pathnames.
In order to allow MIT/GNU Scheme programs to operate in a network environment that may have more than one kind of file system, the pathname facility allows a file name to specify which file system is to be used. In this context, each file system is called a host, in keeping with the usual networking terminology.1
Note that the examples given in this section are specific to unix pathnames. Pathnames for other operating systems have different external representations.
 This introduction is adapted from Common Lisp, The Language, second edition, section 23.1.