What is a file type?

Strictly, a file type is the type of a file. For example for a Microsoft Word document the file type is just that, a Microsoft Word document.

The type of file is indicated by the file extension (the last few letters of the file name after the dot). However, sometimes different file types are denoted using the same file extension. For example, a file called "config.pdf" has the file extension ".pdf" but if you look up the file type ".pdf" you will see that this means that the file type is either:

  1. A PDF or portal document format file. A popular format for documents which allows documents to be viewed but not edited.
  2. A printer description file. Used for configuring some printers.

Both of these are file types and both use the same .pdf file extension. So from the file extension alone it is not always possible to determine the file type.

The terms "file type" and "file extension" are sometimes (unfortunatly) used interchangeable, but the two terms do have different meanings.

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