File Format


File Format is a standard way in which the information is stored or encoded in a computer file and specifies how the bits are used to encode the data located on a storage medium. In other words, it tells the computer how to display, print, process and save the data on the system.

For example, a Microsoft .docx file contains both the document’s text and its final form, including color, position, spacing, font, font size and other information, which must be arranged in a standard form inside the file.

File format is assigned by the application program that was used to create the file, and the operating system on which it created and stored. It lets a program to retrieve data, correctly interpret the information and continue with processing. For example, one of the formats that a Web browser program is able to process and display a file is the HTML so that it appears as a Web page, however the web browser cannot display a file that is in a format designed for Microsoft's Word program. Hence, a program that uses the data in a file must be able to recognize and even access data within the file.

Types of Formats

There are actually two types of formats:

  • Proprietary formats: These can be opened only by one or more related programs. For instance: a compressed StuffIt X (.SITX) file can only be opened by StuffIt Expander or Deluxe but doesn’t support StuffIt X archive with WinZip.
  • Universal or Open format: These formats are entirely opposite to the proprietary file format as these are publicly available and are recognized by multiple programs.

Features of File format

A file format defines the structure and type of data stored in a file. The structure of a file typically includes a header, saved content, metadata, and an end-of-file (EOF) indicator. And the file type can be of Plain text or binary data format.

A file format also includes the data encoding process within that minimizes the required storage space. For example, picture and video encoding will contain some embedded algorithms like compression, in which a picture is divided into pixels and thus minimizes the space.

Identify the File Format

Format of the file is often indicated as part of the file’s name by a file name extension i.e. suffix. Usually, the extension is separated by a period from the name and contains three or four letters that identify the format. Each different type of file has a different file format. The file format first specifies whether the file is a binary or ASCII file, and then checks how the information is organized within the file.

There are as many different file formats as there are different programs to process the files. Some of the file formats that are commonly used include:

  • Word documents (.doc or .docx)
  • Adobe Acrobat files (.pdf)
  • Multimedia files (.mp3, .mp4, .m4v, .3gp and others)
  • Images (.giff, .png, jpg and others)
  • Web text pages (.htm or .html)
  • Adobe Postcript files (.ps)
  • Executable programs (.exe)
  • Excel Spreadsheets (.xls or .xlsx)
  • PowerPoint Presentations (.ppt, .pptx, .pps etc.)

There are hundreds of file formats among these, most of them are incompatible with one another and may not be usable by other applications running under the same OS, or the same application running under a different OS.

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