What Are the Different Types of File Formats?

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File Formats

Ever wondered what a JPEG file is? Or the difference between a PDF and the DOCX format?

We send and receive dozens of files every day like images, spreadsheets, and videos yet we don’t know how they work. Sometimes a warning appears stating that the file has an unknown extension. We panic and shut the window, too afraid to know what lies under the hood.

There’s no need to fear any longer!

This article offers a simple guide to file extensions and the different types of file formats.

Learn what a file format is and why it matters. Discover the different types in our common list of file formats. See how simple it is to convert one file to another on both a PC and Mac.

Read on to finally come to grips with file formats and how to make them work for you.

What Is a File Format?

File formats tell an operating system what application should open and display the contents.

For example, a PowerPoint slideshow should open in Microsoft PowerPoint or a similar slide editor but not in Word or Excel.

The computer knows this by examining the file extension.

These are the last x3-4 letters of the name of the file and are separated by a period, e.g. file-name.jpg

Each type of file has its own unique extension or reference. The operating system keeps a database of these along with the associated program to open them.

Different Types of File Formats

Files come in a variety of formats like images, documents, CAD drawings, ebooks, and music.

If you want to know what type of file you’re about to open then go to www.fileinfo.com.

This website lets you search for file extensions and returns associated information as well as online examples. Entering ‘mp3’, for instance, tells you all about the audio format and includes an mp3 player with instructions on how to download files.

File Formats on PC

If you’re a Windows user you might be wondering what a file extension is.

The reason for this is Windows hides all extensions by default. This prevents accidental changes to the file which can stop it from opening.

To view file extensions for your files do the following:

  1. Open File Explorer (shortcut is Windows Key + E)
  2. Click the View tab in the explorer ribbon at the top
  3. Check the box beside ‘File name extensions’
  4. You can also view hidden files by checking the box beneath this

All the files will now show their extensions which you can edit if you wish.

However, don’t expect to change .doc to .pdf to convert your Word documents into a PDF. We’ll reveal how to that momentarily.

Image File Formats

There are hundreds of different types of file formats but one of the main groups is images.

We work with images every day, from taking photos on our phones to seeing graphics on web pages. Each image format is specialized to perform a particular task. Some offer features like transparency while others can scale without losing their sharpness.

Below are three of the most common file formats: .jpg, .png, and .gif.

JPEG for Photos

Pronounced Jay-Peg, the JPEG format was created to compress photographs without losing quality.

The official term is a lossless image format. JPEG quality range from 1-100%, with one-hundred offering the best results but at the expense of larger file sizes.

JPEGs use the .jpg or .jpeg file extension and are part of a format called raster images.

This means that every pixel gets saved individually. The smart code behind the .jpg saves that data in such a way that the entire file reduces in size.

PNG for Transparency

The Portable Networks Graphics or PNG format works like a JPEG but adds transparency.

All JPEGs are rectangular or square but .png can offer the illusion of different shapes due to this feature. They can stack as layers over each other and even fade onto other graphics and text.

GIF for Animation

The Compuserve GIF has managed to survive for decades due to one simple fact: it offers animation.

Animated GIFs are all over the web and even reach our mobile phones. Many are free to download from websites like Giphy.com but the animation means large file sizes. Colors are limited too.

Office File Formats

Most computer users are aware of Microsoft Office, especially Word and Excel. Microsoft uses two main formats for its app suite, with the latest version adding an ‘x’ to the end.

Docx for Word Documents

Word documents traditionally used a .doc extension but now come as .docx.

The new file format compresses the document and you can actually open it as an archived file. You can test this by changing the extension to .zip and opening it.

Xlsx for Excel Spreadsheets

Excel spreadsheets come in .xls and .xlsx flavors.

Microsoft also lets you save your spreadsheet files in the Open Office XML format .ods. CSV files are simplified versions and come with a .csv extension.

Look at the ‘Save as..’ option when you save your new file for all available options.

PDF for Universal File Sharing

Portable Document Format or PDFs retain their style no matter the device, platform, or app that opens them.

They’re perfect for sending documents via email because they’re usually a smaller file size. And the other person doesn’t need to have e.g. MS Word to open them.

Converting your Office documents into a .pdf is simple.

Use an online conversion tool to upload your file. PC users can drag and drop or hit browse and hit convert. This excellent PDF to Word converter for Mac users lets you change formats with ease.

More Advice on Different Types of Files

Different types of file formats and their relevant extensions reflect the nature of a computer system.

Documents saved as a .docx or .doc file lets Office know to open them in Microsoft Word. PDF files go one step further and can open in many apps including web browsers. Images such as .gif and .jpg will load in a web page just as easily as in GIMP or Photoshop.

Don’t be afraid to view your file extensions. Then you know exactly what file types you have and convert them into another format like PDF if required.

Learn more about the different types of files in our Technology section. And don’t forget to subscribe to our social media pages to comment on this article.