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What Does File Mean?

A file is a container in a computer system for storing information. Files used in computers are similar in features to that of paper documents used in library and office files. There are different types of files such as text files, data files, directory files, binary and graphic files, and these different types of files store different types of information. In a computer operating system, files can be stored on optical drives, hard drives or other types of storage devices.


Techopedia Explains File

In most operating systems, a file must have a unique name within a given file directory. However, while creating a filename, certain characters are considered illegal, and hence cannot be used. A filename is comprised of a name with a suffix, which is also known as a file extension. The file extension is two to four characters following the period in the complete filename. The file extension helps in identifying the type of file, file format and the attributes associated with the file.

Most modern computer systems provide security or protection measures against file corruption or damage. The data contained in the files could range from system-generated information to user-specified information. File management is done with the help of operating systems, third-party tools or done manually at times with the help of the user.

The basic operations that can be performed on a file are:

  • Creation of a new file
  • Modification of data or file attributes
  • Reading of data from the file
  • Opening the file in order to make the contents available to other programs
  • Writing data to the file
  • Closing or terminating a file operation

In order to read or modify data in a file, specific software associated with the file extension is needed.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.