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What are File Formats, Extensions, and Codecs?
What are File Formats, Extensions, and Codecs?
Written by Ben Keeling
Updated over a week ago

File Formats:

A file format is a standard way in which information is encoded for storage in a computer file. It specifies how bits (the fundamental units of digital data) are used to encode information in a digital storage medium.

File formats are sort of like containers. Each container is designed to hold specific kinds of content. Each type of file (Images, Videos, Documents) has its own ideal type of containers.

File formats are often recognized by their file extensions (the letters after the dot in filenames). For example, .jpg indicates a JPEG image file, .docx indicates a Microsoft Word document, and .mp3 indicates an audio file in MP3 format.

Specific software applications are designed to open specific file formats. For example, Adobe Photoshop might be used to open .psd files, while Microsoft Excel is designed to open .xlsx files.

Some file formats compress data to reduce the file size. For instance, .jpg compresses image data, which can result in a smaller file size but might slightly reduce image quality. In contrast, .png can store images without loss of quality, but the file size might be larger.

File formats can also be used to store additional information about the data, called metadata. For instance, a photograph saved as .jpg might also include metadata about the camera settings, date of capture, and location.

In essence, a file format is a structured way to store and organize data in a file, ensuring that the data can be appropriately accessed, read, and modified by the right software or application.


A codec is a piece of software that encodes and decodes data, primarily used for videos and audio applications, although they can be used for other data types as well. The main goal of a codec is to reduce the size of data files without significantly compromising the quality of the content.

There are countless codecs available, but some of the most popular ones include:

Video Codecs: H.264, H.265 (or HEVC), VP9, AV1

Audio Codecs: MP3, AAC, FLAC, Opus

Different codecs have different strengths and weaknesses. Some are optimized for very high compression rates, while others focus on retaining the highest quality possible. The right codec for a particular application depends on the specific needs and constraints of that application.

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