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Internet File Formats

While downloading files and viewing websites, you’ll meet up with many file formats. Most are common, and encountered frequently, others are more obscure and require specialist programs to open or use. Here, we have a list of the file types, along with the applications you’ll need to get them going on your computer.

Clock This page was last updated on 2012-08-21

.AVI — Audio/Video Interleaved

Standard video format supported on the windows platform. They do not stream, however, so you have to download the entire file before you can watch any of it.
Use » Windows Media Player or pick up WinAmp or QuickTime.

.CSS — Cascading StyleSheet

CSS files are a tool in the repertoire of webmasters that take care of how their websites look. To read more about them, see our CSS tutorials.
CSS files can be created or edited in any text-editor, like Notepad. Try » TopStyle Lite too, it includes loads of selectors for easy editing.

.DOC — Microsoft Word DOCument

Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world. You probably won’t come across loads of doc files, but if you do it can be annoying if you haven’t got a program that can open them.
Buy the hideously expensive » Microsoft Word, or just hope that it came with your computer. You can get a “Word viewer” from Microsoft too, which is free. If both of these go against your religion, you could use the free » Open Office suite, which is pretty damn good.

.EXE — EXEcutable file

If you download a program that you need to install, it will likely come as an exe file.
Just double click it to install on your PC. Be careful of viruses!

.GIF — Graphics Interchange Format

The most common image format on the Internet. Good for simple images. Read our Image File Formats page for more.
Your browser can display them, or any image editor.

.HTML/ .HTM — HyperText Markup Language file

Most pages you create for a website will be HTML files — What is HTML?
You’re reading one right now. Sorted.

.JPG/ .JPEG — Joint Photographic Experts Group file

Another very common image file format, mainly used for photos. Again, for more check out the Image File Formats page.
Your browser can show them, or an image editor.

.MIDI/ .MID — Musical Instrument Digital Interface

Midis are sequenced music files made on keyboards. They’re usually really small and often sound great, although it largely depends on your soundcard. Midi collections are one of the few places in the world where you can find classic game and movie music, and for that I salute them.
I use » WinAmp.

.MP3 — MPEG Layer 3 sound file

Singlehandedly caused a revolution. MP3 is a sound file format which is highly compressed, which allows download-happy filesizes and excellent quality. Has caused much grief for the music industry as songs are now small enough to be traded online.
Get the superb » WinAmp for the best player around.

.MPEG/ .MPG — Motion Picture Experts Group file

One of the standards for streaming movies.
» WinAmp can play movies. Or you could use » Windows Media Player, by Microsoft.

.MOV/ .QT — QuickTime MOVie

The QuickTime format was designed by Apple and originated on the Mac, but has made the transition to the PC and is hugely popular.
Get the » QuickTime Player for all your moving picture needs.

.PDF — Portable Document Format

Adobe Acrobat files were invented so that documents could be transferred between computers and indeed platforms, and still look the exact same, something which can’t be said about HTML files...
Get the » Acrobat Reader to make sense of these things. It just reads them, mind. It costs if you want to make your own.

.PNG — Portable Network Graphics

PNGs are a file format designed to be used in place of GIFs. They are usually slightly smaller, and sport advanced features like alpha-channel transparency and 24-bit colour support. Read more on our image formats page.
Your browser can view them.

.RAM — Real Audio Movie

Real Networks created formats for streaming audio and video, and gave away free players for the formats, before allowing themselves to become so smothered in advertising that everyone with sense decided to stop using their programs.
You might still come across real audio files around the net, so hand over all your personal details to get whatever player » Real are trying to sell you this week.

.RAR — RAR archive

This is a compressed file format similar to the popular .zip format. It sports advanced functions like special multimedia compression and has many benefits over zip files.
Get the excellent » WinRAR to take care of your RAR archives, and it can handle other archive types too.

.TIFF — Tagged Image File Format

For really high quality images, TIFFs are used, but cannot be viewed through a browser.
Your only choice is to get a — Hooray! — image editor.

.TXT — TeXT file

The most basic of files, it’s just some text.
You no doubt already have either NotePad, SimpleText, or your browser, which you umm... definitely have.

.WAV — WAVe sound file

A basic, either un- or not very- compressed sound file, usually used for short sound samples.
Your computer will be able to play these anyway (when it turns on and sings it’s playing a .wav). Get » WinAmp for more power.

.ZIP — ZIPped file

Zipped files are really groups of other types of files kept together and compressed a bit. Many downloads will consist of zip collections, so be sure to have something to open them with.
» WinZip is the best shareware program for unzipping files and making your own zips.

Streaming Media

Over the past few years many new file formats were brought in for the reason of allowing streaming — that is, the file starts playing as soon as it begins to be downloaded, and keeps on playing as more of the file makes its way to your computer. The hugely successful mp3 quickly became the most popular of these formats. The proprietary RealAudio and RealVideo formats from » Real are popular among multimedia sites, but are terrible formats that require a truly horrible piece of software to play. Mpeg, AVI and MP4 video are also very popular, and can be played in many programs like Quicktime Player, VLC and Windows Media Player. These type of files are most important when embedding multimedia.