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This paper is devoted to efficiently modeling the connectivity of distribution networks, which are structurally meshed but radially operated. A new approach, based on the "path-to-node" concept, is presented, allowing both topological and electrical constraints to be algebraically formulated before the actual radial configuration is determined. In order to illustrate the possibilities of the proposed framework, the problem of network reconfiguration for power loss reduction is considered. Two different optimization algorithms-one resorting to a genetic algorithm and the other solving a conventional mixed-integer linear problem-are fully developed. The validity and effectiveness of the path-based distribution network modeling are demonstrated on different test systems.