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Computers know thousands of different file formats. A short suffix, the file extension, which is added to the end of the file name, reveals the file type and allows you to associate and open different file types with matching programs.

Sometimes, both Windows and the user are clueless as to how to open a strange file 8 Ways To Identify Unknown File Types 8 Ways To Identify Unknown File Types The problem with unknown file types is not their obscurity. The concern is that they may be dangerous. Identification before action should be the way to go for the nimble witted. Identifying unknown file types... Read More . A Google search or an online tool like FILExt will quickly shed light on the kind of file you’re dealing with. But what’s the best way to open it?

Warning: Depending on the source, the file you are trying to open could contain malware! If you have doubts about the origin or content, check the file using your malware scanner before you proceed.

Find Out The File Extension

The file extension may be enough to ring a bell. And if not, you will need it to search Google for more details about the file type. By default, Windows hides file extensions for known file types. So if you’re dealing with an extension Windows cannot open, you should always see it.

If you come across a strange file with a hidden file extension, you can find out what it is without opening it. Right-click the questionable file and select Properties. In the General tab, the full file name, including its suffix, is revealed. This will help you on your quest.

Find File Extension

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As you can see in the screenshot above, this is also where you can Change a file association that has gone wrong.

Identify The File By Opening It In A Text Editor

When you have no clue what kind of file you’re dealing with or what software will run it and if Windows doesn’t know how to open it, try opening it with the native Windows tools Notepad or WordPad. You can also try Notepad++, an advanced text editor 3 Handy Built-In Notepad++ Features For Beginners [Windows] 3 Handy Built-In Notepad++ Features For Beginners [Windows] This summer, I’ve used Notepad++ for my internship quite a bit, so I can see why almost all developers and programmers I know actually prefer it, not to mention, the thousand of Notepad++ fans that... Read More often used by developers and programmers.

While you select your preferred text editor, be sure to uncheck the option “Always use the selected program to open this kind of file“.

Open Strange File

Typically, haphazardly opening a strange file with WordPad will bring up a bunch of random looking characters and spaces. If you’re lucky, the file format includes a legible program name or description in the first couple of rows. This might tell you something about the nature of the file and what software you need to open it.

Identify File Type

If you’re not so lucky and the description isn’t present or helpful, look for the file’s “magic number“. The magic number is a hex signature used to identify the content of the file. You can compare the signature to this list of file signatures on Wikipedia or this file signatures table.

Magic Number

Analyze & Identify The File Using TrID

Alternatively, let TrID analyze the binary signature to identify the file. You can download the command line utility or upload the file to TrID Online. We have previously reviewed TrID as a way to identify unknown files Identify Unknown Files with TrID [Windows/Linux] Identify Unknown Files with TrID [Windows/Linux] Read More and although that has been a while, the interface hasn’t changed much. The database, however, has been growing and presently contains 5267 file type / extension definitions.

TrID

Use A Universal File Opener

Maybe the file is strange to you, but it might not be completely uncommon. Remember that Windows can only open a file, if the program required to run it was installed. In any case, you might be able to open the file using a tool like Free Opener or Universal Viewer. We have previously reviewed the multi file format tool Free Opener, which supports 80+ file extensions. Universal Viewer will let you view over 100 different file formats.

Free Opener

Pay attention during installation. Select a custom installation because you don’t want to end up with a set of useless toolbars or other bloatware Begin The Fight Back Against Toolbar Installer Bloatware! [Opinion] Begin The Fight Back Against Toolbar Installer Bloatware! [Opinion] Recently I had cause to install some free video conversion software and was amazed to find so many attempts to fool me into installing additional software, not to mention attempts to upsell at the end... Read More , bundled into some installers.

How To Open These File Types

Some file types are more commonly causing our readers trouble than others. The following ones have been the subject of questions and discussions on MakeUseOf Answers.

DAT

DAT files are tricky. This file extension indicates that the file contains arbitrary data. In other words, it could be anything.

To find out what kind of data your DAT file contains, try opening it in Notepad or analyze it with TrID as described above. If you have an idea what it might be, you can try the respective program, for example Windows Media Player or VLC if you suspect it contains media files. A DAT file may also contain compressed data, meaning you might be able to successfully open it using an archive tool like WinRAR or 7Zip.

INK

Unless you own a Microsoft Tablet PC, it’s very unlikely that you are really trying to open an INK file. If you have run into an issue with .lnk file associations and read the .lnk as INK, you now know that it’s really called LNK. Please refer to the respective entry below.

LNK

This is a shortcut file type used to point to another file. You can’t actually open LNK files and thus they should never be associated with a particular program. This does, however, happen quite a bit by accident, making this one of the most asked questions on Answers. Those who have had this accident know that broken .lnk file association How To Change & Fix Broken File Type Associations In Windows 7 How To Change & Fix Broken File Type Associations In Windows 7 This article will discuss what file type associations are, how you can change them in general, and why so many people have issues with .lnk file associations in Windows. If you have been running into... Read More can create havoc on your desktop.

The easiest way to fix this issue, is to run the LNK file association registry fix found on WinHelpOnline. Note that running this tool requires Administrator rights. Once the fix was applied, reboot your computer and the headache should be gone.

MSG

This is possibly the most searched for file of all. It contains MS Outlook messages, so you should be able to open it with Outlook. If you’re looking for a way to open this file without Outlook, you can try converting it to a text document using this Free Online Mail Converter. Since it’s a text file, you could also try opening it in Notepad.

Have you run into issues with any of the file types specified above or have you had trouble opening other strange files? Which types of files have puzzled you in the past and how did you finally manage to open them?

  1. Alex
    September 17, 2016 at 7:34 am

    Hi, thanks you for this. I did the one with the .bat file etc. but I think my norton's is stopping my phone from using the shared wifi. It connects fine but no transfer of data/bandwidth.

    Can you help?

    • Tina Sieber
      September 17, 2016 at 9:58 am

      Alex, are you sure you responded to the right article? This is an article on strange file types in Windows. The post has nothing to do with BAT files or shared Wi-Fi.

      MakeUseOf recently installed endless scrolling, so as soon as you get to the bottom of a post, a new, related post will load. Maybe that's how you ended up commenting on the wrong article. Please go back and find the right one. Thank you!

  2. Aliza Carvor
    February 20, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    If you have internet then also you can open your file without software. in this post the most using extension are explained but there are more user who are not aware about this. Thank for the information.
    Thank You
    Fix My Computer Dude

  3. Ed
    February 17, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    As a side note, there are many file types, that when temporarily renamed to a .zip file, can be looked at inside.

    If you don't have Word, rename a docx file to a .zip. You can look inside the zip file and read the contents of the docx file.

    If you rename an android apk file to .zip, you can look inside that file.

    Same thing with an epub file. Rename to .zip and have a look inside.

    • Tina S
      February 18, 2014 at 11:48 pm

      That's a really good trick to know. Thanks for sharing, Ed!

  4. Jo-anne P
    February 13, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    Omg you people are brilliant! Where do you come up with this stuff. I have encountered a few and just out of curiosity wanted to know what it was what it contained. My technique never worked (yelling at my laptop while shaking my fist open damn you) go figure huh lol. Thank you for this interesting and entertaining post.

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