File Formats Explained

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File formats iconsIf you’ve been working on your PC for a while, you’ve no doubt come across some strange, and in the event that they don’t work, annoying file formats. What exactly is the need for all these file formats, and what do they do? We take you through the file jungle, sort out the most common and important file formats, and show you what they do and what they’re used for.

File Formats Explained

When it comes to working with graphic design, website construction or even on a personal blog, things tend to get a little confusing without the knowledge of file formats. Even sharing a photography or image online can be aggravating unless you are familiar with the different types of file formats. Depending upon the media that you are working with and the action that you are trying to take in regard to that media, there are various file formats that you should be aware of as well as the flexibility and purpose of each. Whether you are uploading a picture to a blog, editing a video for uploading or making your own mix CD the file formats explained below play an important part in understanding and completing the process.

Because of the length and depth of each of these sections, we’ve divided them up into separate pages. Select the file format you’d like to learn about from the list below:

Types of File Formats

File Format Grid

Below is a master grid of some of the most common file formats. Below the image, we outline the name and type of each file. For details, visit one of the respective file format type pages listed above.

Audio File Formats

  • OGG, WAV, MP3, MID

Video File Formats


Image File Formats


Office File Formats


Web File Formats


Comment With Your File Format Questions

Did we miss a file format? Is there some strange, obscure file that you can’t open or run because you don’t know what it is? Comment below or on the page specific to the file format you have a question about (if you know what type of file it is), and we’ll do our best to help you solve the mystery!

Additional File Formats

There are a number of other file format types that have not yet been covered that you may run across at some point, these include: compressed file formats, database file formats, desktop publishing file formats, font files and vector graphics.

Compressed File Formats

On occasion when data files are too large to be transferred in original format they are compressed utilizing a compression program. Each program and compression method used will result in a file extension that resembles one of the following.


.Zip is the most commonly recognized file compression format. This format results when data is compressed and archived to reduce the size of numerous files or folders bundled together. Zip file formatting allows for the use of a number of compression algorithms. This format is one of the oldest compression formats used; it made its debut in 1989.


.RAR is the second most recognized file compression format and often programs offer the option of choosing between .RAR and .Zip compression. RAR stands for Roshal Archive and it supports file spanning and error recovery in addition to data compression. The initial release of the .RAR format was in March of 1993. .RAR files can only be created through the use of specific commercial software due to the licensing requirements for the file format.


.tar files are not as commonly seen as other compression file formats, however, there are still many people who utilize .tar files. .tar file compression was created to be written to I/O devices to allow for tape backup but it is currently used to compress data while allowing for group and user permissions, directory structures and dates all to remain intact.

Database File Formats

Many programs and applications rely upon database systems to run and function properly, due to variation in these programs and applications, database files can be formatted in a variety of methods. Some of the more popularly seen database file formats can be seen below.


ACCDB is a file format used to recognize a Microsoft database such as that utilized by Microsoft Office.


LDB is a file format used to recognize temporary database files; since these files are temporary they only exist during the time that the database itself is open.


DAT is a file format used to recognize DOS basic database files.


DB file formats are used to recognize both Paradox and SQLite database files.


MDB file formats are used to recognize Microsoft database files.


NSF file formats are used to recognize database files for Lotus Notes.


PDB file formats are used to recognize database files for Palm OS.


WDB file formats are used to recognize database files for Microsoft Works.


ADP file formats are used to recognize database files for Microsoft Access; these files are used to access databases that are located on a server.


WMDB file formats are used to recognize database files for Windows Media.

Desktop Publishing File Formats

There are a handful of desktop publishing software applications that allow for the creation of web pages and website files. These software applications offer users the ability to save in “raw” format – that is a file that opens directly in the desktop publishing program in which it was created. Depending upon the desktop publishing software used, you will find that your file has a specific format such as those covered below.


Files with INDD format are files created for the Adobe InDesign desktop publishing software.


Files with PMD format are files created for the Adobe PageMaker desktop publishing software.


Files with PPP format are files created for Serif PagePlus desktop publishing software.


Files with MCR format are files created for FotoInsight Designer desktop publishing software.


Files with PUB format are files created for Microsoft Publisher desktop publishing software.


Files with either SLA or SCD format are files created for Scribus desktop publishing software.


Files with FM format are files created for Adobe FrameMaker desktop publishing software.

Font Files

Font files are formatted differently to other file types and as such they have specific file extensions that define them as font files. The following are the most commonly seen font file formats:


TTF files are recognized as TrueType font files; these are one of the most commonly found font file formats.


FON files are recognized as Bitmapped font files used by Microsoft Windows.


FNT files are recognized as bitmapped fonts through the Graphical Environment Manager.


OTF files are recognized as OpenType font files, these are another of the more commonly found font file formats.


BMF files are recognized as ByteMap font formats.


BDF files are recognized as Bitmap distribution format fonts.


TDF files are recognized as TheDraw font file formats.


PCF files are recognized as portable compiled font files.

Vector Graphics Files

Vector graphics are file types that utilize geometric elements to represent images, these types of graphics are often required in the printing and promotional industries. The extensions used for vector graphics vary depending upon the software used to create them. Below you will find some of the most commonly recognized vector graphics files.


AWG file extensions refer to vector graphics that have been created using Ability Draw software.


AI file extensions refer to vector graphics that have been created using Adobe Illustrator software.


CDR file extensions refer to vector graphics that have been created using CorelDraw software. There is also a CMX file extension which refers specifically to a vector image created using CorelDraw software.


ODG file extensions refer to vector graphics that have been created in OpenDocument software.


SVG files are vector image files that use XML to create images.


CGM files are also recognized as Computer Graphics Metafile files and are an ISO standard file type.


WMF file extensions refer to vector graphics that are Windows Meta Files.

About The Author:

Amy grew up in England and in the early 1990's moved to North Carolina where she completed a bachelors degree in Psychology in 2001. Amy's personal interest in writing was sparked by her love of reading fiction and her creative writing hobby. Amy is currently self employed as a freelance writer and web designer. When she is not working Amy can be found curled up with a good book and her black Labrador, Jet.

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May 18, 2012 2:32 pm

This was very informative. It reads more like an index than an article, but the purpose of the article makes this a more readily useable method. I have clients that like to use a variety of formats and I don’t always know the details about the format or how to use it. For me, this is the perfect way to simplify things. I would much rather save this article and come back to it as needed than to attempt to Google format names.

Personally, I just stick with .doc. Some companies still aren’t using .docx files. In fact, my own school doesn’t even use .doc or .docx files at all. They prefer our work be submitted in rich text (.rtf). Since I deal primarily with text files, I can easily go between these formats. Excel though…that’s a whole other story. I don’t even speak that language!

April 25, 2012 5:31 am

The article was very useful and informative, but the beginning fell a bit short for me. I appreciated the list of file formats under the heading of what the important uses are for each, but I thought that there should be at least a miniature explanation of what the differences are between the file types in each category. This way I could get the gist of what the advantages were of each file type without having to click through twenty-five separate links. The links, incidentally, were not included in the version I read, and I would have greatly appreciated it if they had been. There were many file formats listed that I was vaguely familiar with but wanted to know more. I think a good change for this article would be to create a table with columns listing what type of file it is, which programs open it, and what the main feature of that file type is. The table would give a quick guide that could be used for reference even after reading the more detailed information provided in the link pages.

The updated portion I found to be presented well, and in some way I wished that the first part of the article were presented in a similar fashion. I really liked how the article listed which programs would open certain file types, although I know at least .RAR files cannot be opened on a Macintosh without a special program. This got me to wondering what other types of files are operating system-specific, such as .PAGES, which I have on iWorks for my Mac but up until recently was unaware that they could not be opened in Windows or Linux. However, the article had a lot of depth and credibility in its own right when the more unusual database file formats were explained. These are all file formats I and probably most people have seen on in database or utility folders but never really understood. The desktop publishing format descriptions were likewise very useful, since I was not familiar with them but many of them I have seen before. Some of the fear I would otherwise have about opening or saving to one of these formats was alleviated just by having a working knowledge of what the file format actually is and how to open it. Finally, I had no idea how many font file formats really existed. This makes sense with how many different programs use font files, but I would have liked to know more about which font file formats were compatible with which programs, and better yet, if any of them were incompatible with Mac.

The vector graphics piece was not especially relevant to me personally right now, but I did like that it was included in the article. This seems like the type of information I might file away and save for a time when it could be needed; a foreseeable possibility.

Overall a very useful article and I will keep it on hand.

November 10, 2011 4:59 pm

Thanks for the obscure file format information.



Cel Financial Services

September 7, 2011 10:08 am

Second that for adding more file formats to this article. Maybe even include a file search based on file extensions?

September 1, 2011 9:29 pm

This is a good start – any change you’ll be adding some of the more obscure file formats to your lists in the near future?

Keep on rockin’!