What is File in Computers?

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We frequently use the term file in computers. Do you know what is file in the computer? A computer processes data to give information. Hence, it needs storage space to store data and information.

What is File in Computer?

A file in a computer is a resource for storing information, which is available to a computer program. This storage is durable in nature. A file is “durable” in the sense that it remains available for other programs to use after the program that created it has finished executing. The size of a file in computers is measured in terms of bytes. (kilobytes, megabytes, or gigabytes).

Traditionally paper documents store information in offices, libraries, etc. Similarly, files in computers store information in computers.

The word “file” was first used in February 1950 by RCA (Radio Corporation of America) advertisement in Popular Science Magazine describing a new “memory” vacuum tube it had developed. In fact, the word “file” comes from the Latin filum meaning “a thread”.

As RCA stated:

… the results of countless computations can be kept “on file” and taken out again. Such a “file” now exists in a “memory” tube developed by RCA laboratories.

Later on, “file” was used to refer to information stored on punched cards. With the advent of magnetic storage, people regarded the underlying hardware (rather than contents) as a file. For example, the IBM 350 disk drives were called “disk files”. In about 1961, the Burroughs MCP and the MIT Compatible Time-Sharing System introduced the concept of a “file system”, which managed several virtual files on one storage device, giving the term its present-day meaning.

A file in a computer is identified by filename. A filename or file name is a name used to uniquely identify a file in a computer that is stored in a file system. Different file systems impose different restrictions on filename lengths and the allowed characters within filenames.

A filename of a file in computers typically consists of two parts separated by a period (.). The first part is the name of a file and the second part is the file extension.

what is a file in computer

For example in myfile.txt myfile is the name of a file and txt is its extension.

Here myfile is the name given to a file in computers for identification and txt denotes the type of file (txt means a text file).

Does a File store text or numbers only?

A file in computers does not store text or numbers only, they are used to store many other types of information including music or video. File extensions are used in filenames to define the type of the file. For example in mypicture.jpg, mypicture is a filename and jpg is a file extension. Most of the files have three characters long file extensions. But it can be more or less than three characters.

File extensions are used by the operating system to identify what apps are associated with what file types – in other words, what app opens when you double-click the file. For example, a file named “awesome_pticture.jpg” has the “jpg” file extension. When you open that file in Windows, for example, the operating system looks for whatever app is associated with JPG files, opens that app, and loads the file.

Types of File in Computers

Audio File

An audio file format is a file format for storing digital audio data on a computer system. The bit layout of the audio data (excluding metadata) is called the audio coding format and can be uncompressed, or compressed to reduce the file size, often using lossy compression. The data can be a raw bitstream in an audio coding format, but it is usually embedded in a container format or an audio data format with a defined storage layer.

what is a file in computer

Some of the commonly used audio file formats are:

  • .aif – AIF audio file
  • .cda – CD audio track file
  • .mid or .midi – MIDI audio file
  • .mp3 – MP3 audio file
  • .mpa – MPEG-2  audio file
  • .ogg – Ogg Vorbis audio file
  • .wav – WAV file
  • .wma – WMA audio file
  • .wpl – Windows Media Player playlist

Database files

A database is a collection of data that has been organized to be accessible and manageable to make data access quick and easy. Database Files are data files that are used to store the contents of the database in a structured format into a file in separate tables and fields. Database files are commonly used by dynamic websites (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to store data.

what is a file in computer

Some of the commonly used database file formats are:

  • .csv – Comma separated value file
  • .dat – Data file
  • .db or .dbf – Database file
  • .log – Log file 
  • .mdb – Microsoft Access database file
  • .sav – Save file (e.g., game save file)
  • .sql – SQL  database file
  • .tar – Linux / Unix tarball  file archive
  • .xml – XML file

Email files

Email file formats are used by email applications to store their various data including email messages, attachments, folders, address books, etc. Email file formats are mainly associated with Outlook Express Email Message files. Additional types of files may also be using the Email file extension. There are several common file types used with regard to email. 

what is file

Below is the list of the most popular file formats used by various email clients to store e-mail messages and other related data.

  • .email – Outlook Express e-mail message file
  • .eml – E-mail message file from multiple e-mail clients, including Gmail
  • .emlx – Apple Mail e-mail file
  • .msg – Microsoft Outlook e-mail message file
  • .oft – Microsoft Outlook e-mail template file
  • .ost – Microsoft Outlook offline e-mail storage file
  • .pst – Microsoft Outlook e-mail storagefile 
  • .vcf – E-mail contact file

Executable files

In computing, executable code, an executable file, or an executable program, sometimes simply referred to as an executable or binary, causes a computer “to perform indicated tasks according to encoded instructions”, as opposed to a data file that must be interpreted by a program to be meaningful.

what is a file in computer

Some of the commonly used executable file formats are:

  • .apk – Android package file
  • .bat – Batch file 
  • .bin – Binary file
  • .cgi or .pl – Perl  script file
  • .com – MS-DOS command file
  • .exe – Executable file
  • .gadget – Windows gadget
  • .jar –  Java Archive file
  • .msi – Windows installer package
  • .py – Python file
  • .wsf – Windows Script File

Font files

Font files contain one or more fonts that can be accessed by the operating system and applications. Most modern fonts are stored in either the OpenType or TrueType formats, which can be used by both Macintosh and Windows computers.

what is a file in computer

Some of the commonly used font file formats are:

  • .fnt – Windows font file
  • .fon – Generic font file
  • .otf – Open type font file
  • .ttf – TrueType font file

Image files

Image file formats are standardized means of organizing and storing digital images. An image file format may store data in an uncompressed format, a compressed format, or a vector format.

what is a file in computer

Some of the commonly used image file formats are:

  • .ai – Adobe Illustrator file
  • .bmp – Bitmap Image file 
  • .gif – GIF image file 
  • .ico – Icon file
  • .jpeg or .jpg – JPEG Image file 
  • .png – PNG Image file
  • .ps – PostScript Image file
  • .psd – PSD Image file
  • .svg – Scalable Vector Graphics file
  • .tif or .tiff – TIFF Image file

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In this article, we discuss an important concept in computers – What is File. Also, read about CSV files which are used to store data.

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