File formats

This resource will detail the different types of file formats, and what they can be used for.

What is a file format?

A file format is the structure of how information is encoded, or stored, in a computer file. A program that uses the data in a file must be able to recognise and access data within the file. For example a Microsoft Excel file (.xlsx) will not be able to be opened in a webpage as it is not saved as a .html file.

Particular file formats are often indicated as part of a file’s name by the file name extension. The extension is separated by a period from the name and contains three or four letters that identify the format. For example .docx is the extension for a Microsoft Word document, and therefore a file name would appear as ‘Document Name.docx’.

Document file formats

File Format ExtensionFile Format NameWhat is it?Programs that use this format

.doc

Microsoft Word Document

  • Microsoft Word document file.
  • Cannot be easily opened by other programs. This problem was resolved when Microsoft began using .docx in 2007.
  • Microsoft Word (all versions, most common in 2003 and earlier)

.docx

Microsoft Word Open XML Document

  • Advanced version of .doc
  • Compatible with software other than the Office Suite.
  • Easier to send .docx files as attachments in emails.
  • Microsoft Word 2007 onwards.

.odt

Open Document Text Document

  • Another form of saving a word processing document other than .docx
  • Serves purpose of providing an open XML-based format that is used as part of the Open Office Program.
  • OpenOffice Writer

.pages

Pages Document

  • Word processing document created by the Apple ‘Pages’ Program and available under the Apple iWork Office Suite.
  • Contains text and page layout tasks (much like Microsoft Word).
  • Pages 4.0, 4.1, 4.2
  • iWork
  • Google Docs

.pdf

Portable Document Format

  • Fixed layout document (much like an image).
  • Universal among all operating systems.
  • Print-ready and easy to share from any device.
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader
  • Adobe Acrobat (for publishing)

.pub

Microsoft Publisher Document File

  • Microsoft publisher file
  • Microsoft Publisher

.rtf

Rich Text Format

  • Mix between rich text files and plaintext files.
  • Offers only basic formatting features like bold, italic, underline, bullet points and different fonts.
  • Microsoft Word
  • TextEdit
  • WordPad

.txt

Raw Text File

  • Contains plain text and is structured in series of lines of text.
  • Corrupted files can be recovered with .txt
  • Little formatting required and universal due to the ability for any text-based program to read .txt files.
  • Notepad
  • WordPad

Presentation file formats

File Format ExtensionFile Format NameWhat is it?Programs that use this format

.key

Keynote Presentation

  • Keynote presentation file that contains the slides for the presentation, images, transition information, and text for the presentation.
  • File Viewer Lite (Windows)
  • Apple Keynote 6.2 (Mac & iOS)

.odp

OpenDocument Presentation File

  • Used for saving presentation documents in the Open Document Presentation Format.
  • Comparable to Microsoft PowerPoint with a few features that are made accessible in .ppt files or vice versa.
  • WordPerfect
  • OpenOffice

.pps

PowerPoint Slide Show

  • Contains slides that feature either text, images, graphs or lists and cannot be edited.
  • Opens directly in presentation mode.
  • Apple Keynote
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • OpenOffice

.ppt

PowerPoint Presentation

  • PowerPoint presentation file.
  • Cannot be easily opened by other programs. This problem was resolved when Microsoft introduced .pptx in 2007.
  • Microsoft Powerpoint (all versions, most common in 2003 and earlier)

.pptx

Microsoft PowerPoint 2007 XML

  • PowerPoint Presentation file that contains slides of images, text, animation, audio, video, transition effects and more.
  • Is an XML-based open source in which can be easily accessible to individuals using a software other than the Office Suite.
  • An extension from .ppt file format.
  • Apple Keynote
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • OpenOffice

Spreadsheet file formats

File Format ExtensionFile Format NameWhat is it?Programs that use this format

.csv

Comma Separated Values File

  • Flat files which store tabular data through numbers and text in plain-text form.
  • Used to collect data from tables to be transported as input to other table-orientated applications such as Microsoft Excel.
  • Microsoft Excel
  • OpenOffice
  • Notepad

.ods

OpenDocument Spreadsheet

  • Used for saving spreadsheet documents under the Open Document Spreadsheet Format.
  • Comparable to Microsoft Excel with a few features that are made accessible in .xlsx files or vice versa.
  • OpenOffice

.xls

Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet

  • Micrsoft Excel spreadsheet file.
  • Cannot be easily opened by other programs. This problem was resolved when Microsoft introduced .xlsx in 2007.
  • Microsoft Office (all versions, most common in 2003 and earlier)

.xlsx

Microsoft Excel Open XML Spreadsheet

  • Is an XML-based open source in which can be easily accessible to individuals using a software other than the Office Suite.
  • Excel file in which it can format and create spreadsheets and graphs, as well as processing complex mathematics queries.
  • An extension from .xls file format.
  • Microsoft Excel 2007 onwards

Audio file formats

File Format ExtensionFile Format NameWhat is it?Programs that use this format

.aup

Audacity Project File

  • Created by the Audacity program to save edited audio file and save them in XML format.
  • Audacity

.mp3

MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 Audio Layer-3

  • Format for compressing audio.
  • Uses lossy compression.
  • Apple iTunes
  • Microsoft Windows Media Player

.m4a

MPEG-4 Audio Layer

  • Popular when using iTunes and can be saved under the extension of .m4a or .mp4 (the difference between the two being that .mp4 is capable of storing video).
  • .m4a files are an improvement on .mp3 files due to the fact that they are capable of undertaking lossless compression as opposed to lossy compression*.
  • Apple QuickTime Player
  • Apple iTunes
  • Microsoft Windows Media Player

.midi

Musical Instrument Digital Interface

  • Developed to ease the transfer of MIDI data between applications for musicians and audio developers.
  • Cues, volume, pitch, velocity and other notations information are carried within the .midi file and they help to synchronize the tempo between multiple devices.
  • User is able to play multiple audio channels from one controller and these files offer ease of modification, compactness and choice of instrument.
  • Separated into two versions: Type 0 which contains a single track and Type 1 which contains a multi-track data.
  • Apple QuickTime Player
  • Microsoft Windows Media Player
  • GarageBand

.wav

WAVE Audio

  • Contains sounds such as effects, music, and voice recordings.
  • .wav files are larger files thus making them less popular than .mp3.
  • Higher quality compared with .mp3 and .mp4 files and they undertake lossless compression.
  • Microsoft Windows Media Player
  • CyberLink PowerDirector
  • Roxio Creator 2009

.wma

Windows Media Audio

  • Capable of the same quality as a .mp3 file.
  • Faster compression rate reaching quality audio at 64kbps (kilobits per second).
  • Files can undertake lossy compression however allows for some form of lossless compression as well.
  • MPlayer
  • VLC Media Player
  • Microsoft Windows Media Player
  • Microsoft Windows Movie Maker

* Lossless compression means that files that are compressed can be converted back to their original format without any loss of quality. Whereas lossy compression can convert compressed files back to the original form however there is loss of quality as a trade-off for file size.

Video file formats

File Format ExtensionFile Format NameWhat is it?Programs that use this format

.avi

Microsoft Audio Video Interleave

  • Contains audio and video information in single file thus allows simultaneous audio with video playback.
  • Uses less compression than formats such as .mov and .mpeg.
  • Maximum size is 2GB.
  • Microsoft Windows Media Player
  • Apple QuickTime Player
  • VideoLAN VLC Media Player

.f4v

Flash MP4 Video File

  • Flash Video Format.
  • Referred to as a container format as it uses boxes for data storage.
  • Adobe FlashPlayer 13
  • Adobe Flash Professional CC
  • VideoLAN VLC Media Player

.m4v

iTunes Video File

  • Operates in the same way as the .mp4 videos.
  • Plays both video and audio data.
  • Videos that are downloaded from iTunes are obtained in .m4v format.
  • Apple QuickTime Player
  • Apple iTunes
  • VLC Media Player

.mod

Camcorder Recorded Video (Modul) File

  • Used and created by Panasonic and JVC for digital video recording with tapeless camcorders.
  • .mod data is recorded onto a hard disk or SD card.
  • Any computer or device that can reproduce .mp2 video files can view .mod files and .mod files can be viewed on DVD players as well.
  • QuickTime Player
  • VLC Media Player
  • Windows Media Player

.mov

QuickTime Movie

  • Used to save video files with a proprietary compression algorithm designed by Apple.
  • Capable of holding multiple media types such as videos, video effects, text, images, subtitles and audio.

Apple QuickTime Player

.mp4

MPEG-4 Video Stream (Motion Picture Experts Group File)

  • Capable of storing multimedia such as audio, video and subtitles.
  • Often used in online streaming of videos.
  • Real Media Player
  • Windows Media Player
  • iTunes

.swf

Shockwave Flash Movie

  • Used for displaying animated vector graphics, multimedia and Action Script with text.
  • Files contain animations with varying degrees of interactivity and function.
  • Adobe Flash Player

.wmv

Windows Media Video

  • Contained by the Advanced Systems Format (ASF) container.
  • High definition capabilities making them ideal for HD DVD and Blu-ray disks.
  • MPlayer
  • Microsoft Windows Media Player
  • RealPlayer
  • VideoLAN VLC Media Player

Image file formats

File Format ExtensionFile Format NameWhat is it?Programs that use this format

.ai

Adobe Illustrator File

  • Represents a vector^ graphic on a single page typically stored in .pdf format.
  • Image quality is not lost if the user enlarges the image.
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Adobe Reader
  • Adobe Photoshop

.bmp

Microsoft Windows Bitmap

  • Represents a raster^^ image that is used for the storage of bitmap digital images separate from the display device.
  • Stored as 2D images of various dimensions, colours, and colour depths.
  • Not compressed or they undertake lossless compression thus making them large files and generally undesirable for uploading, sending or downloading files.
  • The term ‘bitmap’ derives from the computer programming idea of a map of bits.
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Microsoft Paint
  • Microsoft Photo Editor

.gif

Graphics Interchange Format

  • Popular due to their abilities to animate bitmap images.
  • Not all .gif files are animated; many logos and images with sharp, defined lines and edges, and a transparent background utilize the .gif extension.
  • Undertake lossless compression.
  • File can be converted to another file type without loss of quality.
  • The number of colours needed in the image is reduced by removing the colour not being used in the image thus fewer colours lead to more efficient compression of the file.
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Microsoft Windows Photo Gallery Viewer
  • Apple Preview

.jpeg

Joint Photographic Experts Group

  • Provide convenience when sending over the internet due to their lossy compression.
  • Images are reordered in a way that only a small part of the image is downloaded thus presenting a hazy view of the entire image rather than a crisp part or just a small part of the image.
  • The degree of compression can be adjusted to achieve the desired trade-off between file sizes and visual quality.
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Corel Paint Shop Pro
  • Apple Preview
  • Microsoft Windows Photo Gallery Viewer

.png

Portable Network Graphics

  • Is a bitmapped image format that is lossless compressed.
  • Originally formatted to take over the .gif format as they both have the ability to display transparent backgrounds however .png does not support animation.
  • Microsoft Windows Photos
  • Microsoft Paint
  • Adobe Photoshop CC

.psd

Adobe Photoshop Document

  • Allows users to edit images using layers.
  • These layers are used to allow elements to be added and removed easily as well as different filter, effects, transparencies and more to be applied to an image.
  • When image is complete, Photoshop allows the user to flatten the layers and converts the flat image into a .jpeg, .gif, .tiff or other non-proprietary file formats so it can shared.
  • Once flattened by conversion it cannot be converted back to the .psd file format.
  • Adobe Illustrator CS6
  • Adobe InDesign CS6

.tiff

Tagged Image File Format

  • Stores raster images and is able to support colour depths from 1-24bits and both lossy and lossless compression.
  • Microsoft Windows Photos (Windows)
  • Apple Preview (Mac)
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements & Illustrator (Windows & Mac)

^Vector images are based on mathematical formulas that define geometric primitives such as polygons, lines, curves, circles and rectangles. They are best used to represent more structured images such as line art graphics with flat, uniform colours including logos, letterheads, and fonts.

^^Raster images is an image file that is defined by a pixel that has one or more numbers associated with it. The number defines the location, size or colour of the pixels.

Internet related file formats

File Format ExtensionFile Format NameWhat is it?Programs that use this format

.html

Hypertext Markup Language with a client-side image map

  • HTML is used to create electronic documents (called pages) that are displayed on the World Wide Web and contains hyperlinks that connects other pages.
  • Every web page is written using one version of HTML code and ensures the proper formatting of text and images so that the Internet browser may display them as they are intended to look.
  • HTML provides a basic structure of the page upon which Cascading Style Sheets+ (.css) are overlaid to change its appearance.
  • Internet Explorer
  • Mozilla Firefox
  • Google Chrome

.jsp

Java Server Page

  • Allows for the generation of dynamic web pages using the Java Programming Language and is server-generated.
  • Adobe Dreamweaver (Windows & Mac)
  • Apple Safari (Mac)
  • Mozilla Firefox & Google Chrome (Windows, Mac & Linux)

+Cascading Style Sheets (.css) refers to a language used to specify the presentation of a document on web page thus being able to change the layout, colour, font, images and more. This allows improved content management, flexibility and accessibility of the webpage information. Also a single .css file can be linked to multiple pages allowing the same formatting, organization and appearance of all the pages at the same time.

Compressed file formats

File Format ExtensionFile Format NameWhat is it?Programs that use this format

.7z

7-zip Compressed Archive File

  • Free, open source software used to compress and uncompress files.
  • Useful for the storage and sending/receiving of large files or groups of files.
  • 7Zip
  • WinRAR
  • WinZip

.rar

Roshal Archive

  • Used for data compression, error recovery and file spanning.
  • Most common file extensions are .rar (for compressed files) and .rev (for recovery files).
  • 7Zip
  • WinRAR
  • WinZip

.zip

ZIP Compression

  • Archive file format utilized for the lossless compression of one or more pieces of data.
  • Each file in a Zip compressed folder is compressed individually not as the whole archive.
  • StuffIt
  • WinRAR
  • WinZip