What is a Computer file? [EXPLAINED]

With respect to computers, a file is a piece of information. It can be accessed by the operating system or individual programs. The name is derived from the physical paper documents that were used in offices. Since computer files serve the same purpose, they are called by the same name. It can also be thought of as a computer object that stores data. If you are using a GUI system, files will be displayed as icons. You can double click on an icon to open the corresponding file.

What is a Computer file?

What is a Computer file?

Computer files can vary in their format. Files that are similar in type (of information stored) are said to be of the same format. The file’s extension which is a part of the filename will tell you its format. The different types of files are – text file, data file, binary file, graphic file, etc…The classification is based on the kind of information stored in the file.

Files can have certain attributes too. For example, if a file has a read-only attribute, new information cannot be appended to the file. The filename is also one of its attributes. The filename signifies what the file is about. So, it is better to have a meaningful name. However, the name of the file in no way affects the file’s contents.

Computer Files are stored on various storage devices – hard drives, optical drives, etc… How files are organized is called the file system.

Within a directory, 2 files with the same name are not allowed. Also, certain characters cannot be used while naming a file. The following are the characters that are not accepted in a filename – / , \, <, >, :, *, ?, |. Also, certain reserved words cannot be used while naming a file. The name of the file is followed by its extension (2-4 characters).

Every OS has a file system in place to provide security to data in the files. File management can also be done manually or with the help of third-party tools.

There is a set of operations that can be performed on a file. They are:

  1. Creating a file
  2. Reading data
  3. Modifying the file content
  4. Opening the file
  5. Closing the file

File formats

As mentioned before, the format of a file signifies the kind of content it stores. The common formats for an image file are JPEG, JPG, PNG. Text documents may have the extension docx or txt. Audio files usually belong to formats such as wav and mp3 while mp4 is an extension that video files carry. Certain files are stored in a compressed format. A zip file contains other files and folders. However, it is still considered a single file. An ISO file is used to hold information found on a disk. It is a representation of a physical disk. This is also considered as a single file.

Can a file be converted from one format to another?

It is possible to convert a file in one format to another. This is done when the previous format is not supported by a software or if you want to use the file for a different purpose. For example, a file in doc format is not recognized by a PDF reader. To open it with a PDF reader, it has to be converted to PDF format. If you want to set an mp3 audio as a ringtone on your iPhone, the audio has to be first converted to m4r so that the iPhone recognizes it as a ringtone.

Many free online converters convert files from one format to another.

Creating a file

Creation is the first operation the user performs on a file. A new Computer file is created using a pre-installed software on the computer. For example, if you want to create an image file, an image editor is used. Similarly, you would need a text editor to create a text file. After creating the file, it has to be saved. You can either save it in the default location suggested by the system or change the location according to your preference.

Also Read: What Exactly Is a File System?

To make sure that an existing file opens in a readable format, it has to be opened only through supporting applications. If you are not able to ascertain a suitable program, take note of its extension and refer online for programs that support that particular extension. Also, in Windows, you get an ‘open with’ prompt along with a list of possible applications that may support your file. Ctrl+O is the keyboard shortcut that will open the file menu and let you choose which file to open.

File storage

Data stored in files and folders are organized in a hierarchical structure. Files are stored on a variety of media ranging from hard drive to disk (DVD and floppy disk).

File management

Windows users can make use of the Windows Explorer to view, organize, and manage files. Let us now see how to perform basic operations on files like – copying, moving, renaming, deleting, and listing the files in a directory/folder.

What is a File

1. Obtaining a list of files by directory/folder

Open Windows Explorer/Computer, go to the C: drive. This is where you will find the files and folders in the root directory of your primary hard drive. Search for your files in the program files folder or My Documents as these are the 2 common folders where the majority of your programs/documents can be found.

2. Copying files

Copying a file will create a duplicate of the chosen file. Go to the files/folders that need to be copied. Select them by clicking them with the mouse. To select multiple files, press the shift or ctrl keys. You may also draw a box around the files that need to be selected. Right-click and select copy. Ctrl+C is the keyboard shortcut used for copying. The copied content will be stored in the clipboard and you can paste the file(s)/folder(s) in the location of your choice. Again, right-click and select paste or use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+V to paste the copied files.

Since no two files in the same directory can have the same name, the duplicate file will have the name of the original with a numerical suffix. For example, if you make a copy of a file named abc.docx, the duplicate will bear the name abc(1).docx or abc-copy.docx.

You can also sort the files by type in the Windows Explorer. This is helpful if you want to copy files of a certain type only.

3. Moving files and folders

Copying is different from moving. While copying, you duplicate the selected file while retaining the original. Moving implies that the same file is being shifted to a different location. There is only one copy of the file– it is moved to a different location in the system. There are several methods to do this. You can simply drag the file and drop it in its new location. Or you could cut (shortcut Ctrl+X) and paste. One more way is to use the move to folder command. Select the file, click on the Edit menu and select the Move to folder option. A window opens up where you can select the new location of the file. Finally, click on the Move button.

4. Renaming a file

The name of a file can be changed using different methods.

  • Select the file. Right-click and select Rename. Now, type the new name.
  • Select the file. Press F2 (Fn+F2 on some laptops). Now type the new name.
  • Select the file. Click on File from the menu at the top of the window. Select rename.
  • Click on the file. Wait for 1-2 seconds and click again. Type the new name now.
  • Deleting a file

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Again, there are a couple of methods for deleting a file. Also, keep in mind that if you delete a folder, all the files in the folder get deleted as well. These methods are described below.

  • Select the file you wish to delete and press the Delete key.
  • Select the file, right-click, and select delete from the menu.
  • Select the file, click on File from the menu at the top. Click on delete.


  • A computer file is a container for data.
  • Files are stored on various media like hard drives, DVD, floppy disk, etc…
  • Each file has a format depending on the kind of content it stores. The format can be understood by the file extension which is the suffix of the filename.
  • Many operations can be performed on a file such as creation, modification, copying, moving, deletion, etc.

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