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What are file Extensions

File formats are something most people won’t ever think about in their daily lives. When you’re scrolling through your file manager you rarely see them. But when you do see them, for example a website is very picky about what files you can upload, or your Word editor says that the file is in the wrong ‘format’ this is where you might start to wonder what’s going on. Well lets explore some of the different file extensions you might find and what they mean for you and your computer.

Lets consider some of the file extensions you may frequently use without realising it shall we? First off lets list a few and then consider what they mean:

Now lets look at some of these and discuss what this actually means.

PDF (Portable Document Format)

The first one, a pdf, is something we will all have heard of, in fact it’s the name we give to those particular files. This format is widely used as a method to send documents from one person to another when they are not intending on editing it. The big benefits to a pdf file are Ease of opening (you don’t need any additional software to open a pdf as you can just open it in your browser if you need to) and how difficult it is to edit. This can mean that if you send an important document needing signing you can safely send it to the signer and they will only be able to edit where you want them to edit. Perfect for something like a contract or important work documents you’re needing around the office.


The flip side of this coin is the second file extension I mentioned. Docx files are really commonly used but not often recognised from seeing the file extension because it’s not the part of the name you focus on. This file extension identifies a Word document created and edited on Microsoft Word. The difference between these files and pdf’s is the edit-ability factor. With a Word document anyone can edit it with the right software. This is where the limiting factor comes into play because you can only edit a word document on a suitable text editor, this doesn’t mean it has to specifically be a Word editor but it is safer for you to do; you don’t want a corrupt file.

HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language)

You’re actually using one of these files right now, you just don’t know it yet because this is a file you might not even find on your computer. This is the file extension for a website, any website you see will be shown to you from a html file. The reason you won’t have one of these on your computer is because it will be stored where the rest of the website is stored, on the website’s server, you just see a version of this file. So next time you open a website up you’ll be able to tell what you’re looking at, it’s just a ‘Browsers’ interpretation of a html file.

EXE (Executable)

This is a file you may have heard warnings about. Quite often if a scammer is trying to get you to open malicious files on your computer they’ll send you an exe file. This file is just a simple file that can execute a program to produce a desired outcome, and this is what a lot of applications use to run their program. But don’t worry about all your applications, they are completely safe, it’s not the exe file you need to be scared of, only the person who’s created it.

What does a file extension do

So now we’ve explored what some of the different file extensions are lets talk a little bit about what they’re even doing there. So other than a helpful guide for what file it is, this also lets the computer know what application is able to run this file. You wouldn’t want to try and open a Word document in your image viewer because it simply wouldn’t work. The contents of the file are stored in a way that only the correct sort of application will be able to understand what it’s reading, and subsequently, only that application will be able to show you what you want to see. Next time you’re able to, try opening a docx file in a simple Text editor like Notepad, or TextEdit, all you will be able to see it’s a bunch of garbled nonsense but in a Word Editor, or similar, it shows what you’d expect to see in the document.


So lets go over what a file extension is then shall we?

So if you ever want to see what file extensions your computer is using go into your file manager and enable ‘File Extensions’ in the settings.

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