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What is an Executable File

In order to perform useful tasks, people use computers to run programs such as productivity applications, video games or media players. In any type of computing environment, the executable file is one of the most important elements of a program. The executable file is the file that you ultimately run (execute) to use the program. All programs have an executable file which contains the main code required to run that program as well as information about program resources.

Many smaller programs, such as portable applications which don't need to be installed, consist of only an executable file. In these cases, all of the resources required to run the program are contained within the executable file, such as images for the graphical user interface, any sound effects that the program may have, icons and help files. Larger applications such as the ones which need to be installed in order to work with contain many files. These files contain all of the other data required to run the program in the form of separate files such as image, sound, help and application extension files.

In Microsoft Windows and various other operating systems, executable files generally end in the .exe file extension. In layman's terms, any file ending with this extension is the program itself. The .exe file is also what is linked to in the start menu in the form of a shortcut. Certain other operating systems and devices have different ways of identifying an executable file so that, when opened, they run the program.

Another important thing about executable files is that they need to be compatible with your operating system. In spite of 64-bit computing being the norm these days, most executable are still programmed in 32-bit. Fortunately, these will still run on a 64-bit edition of Windows. Older, 16-bit executable files, however, will not run on a 64-bit operating system, though 32-bit versions of Windows do provide compatibility features to enable them to run. Likewise, a 64-bit executable cannot open in a 32-bit environment.

Other executable file types used in Microsoft Windows include .pe (Portable Executable) and .msi (Microsoft Installer) amongst others.


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