How to open and work with DAT files

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Tip: Open, read, extract, play or identify .dat files

Almost every computer user sooner or later encounters .dat files, either as part of one of the programs installed on the computer or perhaps as e-mail attachment. Most .dat files are ignored, simply because you can't do anything with them and they are usually located within some program folder.

But what about suspicious .dat files found in other folders, what if they are something important or perhaps even dangerous?

Let's check out some options how to open and work with .dat files or even find out from which program they are and what is their purpose.

Check the .dat file for viruses

First and foremost, if you encounter and suspicious .dat file, for example when you get some from e-mail attachment, it is imperative that you run your antivirus software and check the file.

With the crapton of ransomware distributed via e-mail, you can be never careful enough when dealing with with unknown files, but even other malware can be anoying.

Once you are sure your file is safe, you can try one of the following things to open or otherwise access your .dat file.

Do not change Windows files

Curiosity is one thing, but changing .dat files inside Windows folder can compromise your installation and lead to system crash. We strongly advice against opening or otherwise altering .dat files locating in the Windows folder.

How to open .dat files

It's worth mentioning that .dat files are typically not associated with any program in Windows. It's too much of generic format and usually reserved for files that are not meant to be directly opened or accessed by the user - not that it's not impossible.

Just make sure the dat suffix is actual the last ending of the file and not just part of the filename. This can happen when you have file extensions of known file type hidden in Windows and the .dat is just part of the file name. For example a file named as test.dat.txt will be shown as test.dat if the extensions of known file types (txt in this care) is hidden.

If you are not sure how your system is setup at the moment, check another of our article about how to show and hide file extensions in Windows.

Reading text from a .dat file

Most .dat files are compiled in a binary form and thus you cannot read them using a text editor. If your .dat file is pretty small in file size, it may be that is saved in one of the text based formats, for example XML.

Try to manually open (File ► Open) your .dat file using any text editor and see how this goes.

How to extract .dat data files

In case your .dat file is located in one of the folder / subfolder of a particular program, the chances it's just a data resources file and in most cases there is no way to access it.

The exception to this are sometimes computer games, as fans often try to extract the resources from .dat, or similar files and you can find quite a lot of modding tools for various game titles. For example the popular Dragon UnPACKer utility supports several different .dat game files.

You can also try to rename the suffix from dat to zip, cab or similar compression format and check out whenever your .dat file is not just renamed archive. Chances are low, but it never hurts to try.

Movies saved as .dat files

In the past, MPEG format was occasionally saved in .dat files, which you can playback using VLC player or similar program.

So try to open your .dat file using VLC and see whenever that works, if not, your .dat file is not MPEG video.

Opening .dat files from email attachments

Occasionally email attachments can be .dat files, such as winmail.dat or ATT0001.dat, which in most cases are just screwed up versions of the original files that were renamed by email service or client to at least partially preserve the data.

If that's your problem, you can open winmail.dat and or similar files with special recovery utilities, such as Winmail Opener (for Windows) or Klammer (for Mac).

Identify unknown .dat file

If nothing previously mentioned works, your only remaining option is to determine the origin and hopefully also purpose of your .dat files.

The easiest thing you can do, is just Google the file name of your .dat file and see what the results are showing. You might not be the first person looking for this file, so the information you are looking for might already be on the web.

In case your search is fruitless, check out our article about how to identify unknown file types and see if you can open .dat files using information provided by file analysis programs.

Related software and links:

Dragon UnPACKer icon

Dragon UnPACKer    Microsoft Windows platform
A unpacking tool for resource files from computer games

Microsoft Windows icon

Microsoft Windows    Microsoft Windows platform
A series of operating systems produced by Microsoft


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