What is a File Format?

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What is a File Format?

This is a first of a series of posts where I’ll discuss the various technology tools and terms that small business owners come across in their online and techno

This is a first of a series of posts where I’ll discuss the various technology tools and terms that small business owners come across in their online and technology travels.

File Format

You’ve probably heard the term “file format,” and if you don’t know exactly what it means, you probably have some idea. So I thought I’d start this series off with an easy one.

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A file format is the specific way information is encoded so that it can be stored as a computer file. An image might be encoded in the JPG, PNG, GIF or TIF format, among others. A generic text file might be encoded and stored as a TXT file. Every computer application has its own way of encoding and saving files; some of these are proprietary, meaning they are specific to the software application that created it, and can only be opened by that particular application. For example, you can’t use Microsoft Word to open an Adobe Photoshop document (.PSD). Also, even though they are both audio files, an .AUP file can only be opened by Audacity and a .BAND file can only be opened by Garageband. It is only after the audio files are published and saved in generic file formats like .AIFF, .WAV or .MP3, that other applications can also open and import these files.

If an application is unable to open or import and file and you’re uncertain why, your best bet is to do a little research to fin out what type of file you actually have and if the application you are using will support it. You will never be able to memorize which applications can open all file formats because there are simply too many of them. But after you work with an application and particular file formats long enough, you’ll begin to understand which file formats are generic and can be opened or imported by other applications, which file formats are totally proprietary and can only be opened by the application that created it, and which file formats are proprietary, but are encoded in such a way that some other (similar) applications can open it. For example, Google Docs, Apple Pages and of course Microsoft Word can usually open a .DOC file, even though it was encoded as a Microsoft Word document.

As I said, there are simply too many file formats to memorize which software application can open or import which file format. If you ever come across a file that was saved or published in a file format that you don’t recognize or can’t open, you can always visit the Wikipedia article that provides a list of file formats. It doesn’t tell you every application that can open each file format. But it might be able to help.

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