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A binary file is a computer file that is not a text file. Binary files are usually thought of as being a sequence of bytes , which means the binary digits bits are grouped in eights. Binary files typically contain bytes that are intended to be interpreted as something other than text characters. Compiled computer programs are typical examples; indeed, compiled applications are sometimes referred to, particularly by programmers, as binaries.
But binary files can also mean that they contain images, sounds, compressed versions of other files, etc. Some binary files contain headers , blocks of metadata used by a computer program to interpret the data in the file.
The header often contains a signature or magic number which can identify the format. For example, a GIF file can contain multiple images, and headers are used to identify and describe each block of image data. If a binary file does not contain any headers, it may be called a flat binary file. To send binary files through certain systems such as email that do not allow all data values, they are often translated into a plain text representation using, for example, Base The increased size may be countered by lower-level link compression, as the resulting text data will have about as much less entropy as it has increased size, so the actual data transferred in this scenario would likely be very close to the size of the original binary data.
See Binary-to-text encoding for more on this subject. A hex editor or viewer may be used to view file data as a sequence of hexadecimal or decimal, binary or ASCII character values for corresponding bytes of a binary file. If a binary file is opened in a text editor , each group of eight bits will typically be translated as a single character, and the user will see a probably unintelligible display of textual characters. If the file is opened in some other application, that application will have its own use for each byte: Other type of viewers called 'word extractors' simply replace the unprintable characters with spaces revealing only the human-readable text.
This type of view is useful for quick inspection of a binary file in order to find passwords in games, find hidden text in non-text files and recover corrupted documents. If the file is itself treated as an executable and run, then the operating system will attempt to interpret the file as a series of instructions in its machine language.
Standards are very important to binary files. For example, a binary file interpreted by the ASCII character set will result in text being displayed. A custom application can interpret the file differently: Binary itself is meaningless, until such time as an executed algorithm defines what should be done with each bit, byte, word or block.
Thus, just examining the binary and attempting to match it against known formats can lead to the wrong conclusion as to what it actually represents. This fact can be used in steganography , where an algorithm interprets a binary data file differently to reveal hidden content. Without the algorithm, it is impossible to tell that hidden content exists. Two files that are binary compatible will have the same sequence of zeros and ones in the data portion of the file.
The file header, however, may be different. The term is used most commonly to state that data files produced by one application are exactly the same as data files produced by another application. For example, some software companies produce applications for Windows and the Macintosh that are binary compatible, which means that a file produced in a Windows environment is interchangeable with a file produced on a Macintosh.
This avoids many of the conversion problems caused by importing and exporting data. One possible binary compatibility issue between different computers is the endianness of the computer. Some computers store the bytes in a file in a different order. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For double stars, see Binary star. For the CD image format, see Disk image. This article does not cite any sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources.
Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. April Learn how and when to remove this template message. For binary code executable file compatibility, see Binary compatible. Open Close Read Write. File comparison File compression File manager Comparison of file managers File system permissions File transfer File sharing File verification.