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What Is a File?

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At its core, a file is a contiguous set of bytes used to store data. This data is organized in a specific format and can be anything as simple as a text file or as complicated as a program executable. In the end, these byte files are then translated into binary 1 and 0 for easier processing by the computer.

Files on most modern file systems are composed of three main parts:

  1. Header: metadata about the contents of the file (file name, size, type, and so on)
  2. Data: contents of the file as written by the creator or editor
  3. End of file (EOF): special character that indicates the end of the file

What this data represents depends on the format specification used, which is typically represented by an extension. For example, a file that has an extension of .gif most likely conforms to the Graphics Interchange Format specification. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of file extensions out there.

michelnakhla on Aug. 25, 2019

Excellent videos with crisp clear explanations.

billlittlewood on Nov. 6, 2019

sorry to nit-pick, but rather than being a contiguous set of bytes used to store data, I’d like to suggest a different description: a contiguous series of bytes used to store data.

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