What is a File?

What Does File Mean

We explain what a computer file is and what it is for. Characteristics of a file. File formats and examples.

What is a file?

In computing , an organized set of information units (bits) stored in a device is known as a file or file . They are called that way as a metaphor based on traditional office files, written on paper, since they would be its digital equivalent.

Each file has a unique identification or name, which can be modified or assigned at will of the user or the programmer, and an extension that determines what type of file it is and what functions it performs. Usually both terms of your name are separated by a period , for example: Command.com

Within the files there are small data packages expressed in bits (the smallest computing unit that exists) and which are arranged in registers or lines, being individually different but with some common feature. The way this information is grouped depends on who makes the file, so there are many simpler and more complex file structures that are more or less standardized today.

These minimum units of operation and organization of an Operating System, which are files, can then be created, deleted, relocated, compressed, renamed and activated ( execute , in computer language), along with other basic organizational operations.

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What is a file for?

Files can have many functions. From simply containing information in an orderly way, such as text files , and allowing access to it by certain programs , to executable files that trigger a certain sequence of actions (and other files) that result in a specific action.

From turning off the computer to starting a video game, everything that happens in a computer system happens through interconnected files running in turn in the computer's memory.

What is a folder?

All files necessarily exist within a folder.

The files of a traditional computer system are organized into folders (or directories) and subfolders (or subdirectories), as a way of categorizing them and distinguishing those that belong to one application or program from those that belong to another. Folders are nothing more than labels to represent compartments of information .

This is what the file organization system is all about : a complex cataloging that at the same time allows a simple interface with the user, since the transit of some files between two supports (say: a hard disk and a pendrive ) can be so Simple as telling the system to move them from the mother folder to the destination folder, without undergoing any modification on the way or running the risk of getting lost.
All files necessarily exist within a folder .

General characteristics of a file

In general, the files of a computer system are:

  • Representable. The files usually have a name of maximum 255 characters and are usually represented in graphical interface operating systems (such as Windows ) by a specific icon.
  • Unique per directory. Two identical files with the same name cannot exist in the same folder or directory. When this happens one of the two will have to change their name slightly or in any case one will be replaced by another.
  • Modifiable. Except for those that have been expressly protected against modification, such as the vital files of the computer system, which should not undergo changes as it would be destabilized, the common thing is that the files can be deleted, created, modified, renamed at will or need .
  • They have a size. According to the amount of information that a file contains, it will have a size or "weight", measurable in Kb, Mb or even Gb. The larger the file, the more capacity the media should have where it is.

File format

The way in which the information is encoded and arranged within the files is known as the format, and it responds to various existing standards. Depending on these formats, there will be compatibility or incompatibility when accessing said information, since it is a form of distribution that responds to a specific pattern.

This is because within the files on any medium there can only be bits , since computer systems must be able to convert that information into binary code (ones and zeros) in order to process it. Thus, each type of file can be stored in various possible formats.

File examples

Some typical file examples are:

  • Text files. Usually identified with extensions .doc, .txt, .rtf or .odt, they contain sequences of alphanumeric characters arranged in specific sequences, which we call “documents”.
  • Executable files. Usually ending in .exe ( executable , "executable" in English), .com ( command , "command") or .bat ( batch , "batch"), they are those that trigger actions, such as running an application or a video game.
  • Image files. Last names .jpg, .gif or .tiff are usually images whose recomposed information is translated into an image, illustration or photograph .
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