by on 2011-04-11 10:48:34

Identifying unknown file formats

Many file extensions are used for two or even more file formats, that can be, but in majority of cases are not related with each other at all. Throughout the years, many software programs and applications shared the same file extensions for their files, but saved data in completely different structure and with different content and as such are not compatible.

One of the best examples is for this "problem" is the DAT file extension. Many programs use .dat files to store their program specific data, which are usually used only for internal processes. But there are hundreds of other such examples in our databases that share same extension.

So what can you do when you have one of such files and have not the slightest idea for which program it is? The answer is simple, to analyze the file.

How to analyze files

Install FileAlyzer

FileAlyzer option in content menu screenshot.To analyze the file, you will need to get a file analyzer application first. We recommend FileAlyzer, a tool for basic analysis of files in Windows. Its a free and safe application that you can simply download and install to your computer.

Once you have installed the application, a new content menu option,  "Analyze file with FileAlyzer", will appear when you right click on any file in Windows Explorer.

Whenever you analyze a file, FileAlyzer will show you the basic properties of the file. It will also show you the format identifiers in HEX dump.

Each individual file format has same initial hex code, that helps applications to identify it, regardless of its file extension.

For example a ZIP file or any file that is in ZIP format, no matter its file extension starts with "PK"or "50 4B" in Hex. Those two values indicate, that the file is compressed with ZIP compression method and can be decompressed with most, if not all archivers.

In our database, we try to include the information about HEX codes which should help users to identify their files. Once you have your file analyzed, simply check our database for the file extension and look for the same HEX Code in different formats. That should help you identify the origin and usage of the file.

FileAlyzer ZIP file Hex Dump screenshot
FileAlyzer screenshot with analyze results for a ZIP file with DAT file extension.

Files with unknown file extension

Sometimes, you can find files with file extension that is not included in our database and even searching on internet yields you no good results. The best thing you can do is to again analyze such file and search for the HEX strings results on internet. Chances are that the file format can also have different file extension, that can lead you to its origin and hopefully to the program you need to open or otherwise work with them.

If you find anything that we do not have in our database, please do not forget to send us information about the unknown file extension so we can update information in our database. With that you can ensure that other users with same problem will find information about their unknown file extensions.

Please use our forums, or write a note in the discussion on relevant file extension page. The more information available, the more accurate are database is for our visitors.

Related software and links:

FileAlyzer icon

FileAlyzer    Microsoft Windows platform
A free utility for file analysis


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