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Thread: File extensions - what are they? how to see them in Explorer

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    dBpoweramp Guru ChristinaS's Avatar
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    Apr 2004
    Montreal, Canada

    Exclamation File extensions - what are they? how to see them in Explorer

    A file name usually comprises two parts, separated by a period: the name proper and an extension, which is usually 3 characters. Examples are .mp3 , .wma, .ram, .exe , and so on.

    For the sake of simplicity I will say that generally each file extension corresponds to a particular file type. Some file types may be similar, belonging to a family of file types, for instance the Real Media family, with the extensions .rm, .ra, etc. Some times regrettably the same extension may be used to represent different file types, but i won't confuse the issue with this here now.

    Usually when you first install any version of Windows on a PC, by default you will not see extensions for most files in Windows Explorer. Instead you will see an icon next to the file name which may or may not tell you much about the type of file it is. You will also see a text description of the file type in another column. All this is not very useful when you want to work with specific types, like for instance when you want to convert audio files to different formats. The icon that you see really only refers to the application program that is associated with that file type. The Windows Media Player application alone is associated with up to 17 different file types (a.k.a. here as extensions), at last count. Visually all those files will appear to be the same type, whereas all that this means that they all get played by the same application.

    This is a big problem since we always refer to the file type by its extension, especially in the context of file conversions.

    The first thing to do is make sure that you can see the file extensions in Windows Explorer.

    In the menu appearing at the top of Windows Explorer select the following:

    Tools > Folder Options > View and uncheck Hide file extensions for known file types> OK.

    You can see a description of all files extensions your system recognizes by selecting File Types from Folder Options. Don't play around with these file types here, as you can mess up associations if not careful. But this is a good place to see what your system associates with what type of file. By clicking on a file type there you might see, for instance, that .mp3 files may have ended up being associated with Real Player right after installing it, rather than Windows Media Player which you may have had originally - or some other player that you'd set for that. You can modify this again more easily and safely from within the player in which you want them to be played.

    Renaming file extensions - when, why and how
    Sometimes you have a file with an extension which makes it part of a family of media files but for which the required codec only understands one particular file extension. Frequent examples of this are encountered in the Real Media family. You have .ra, .rm that are understood by dMC with the Real Media codec, but other files may appear such as .rmj or .rax. Often you can just rename such a file to one of the known extensions. Note that .ram is normally a meta-file, subject to different handling usually.

    In Windows Explorer, right click on the file to be renamed and select Rename. Type in the new name and extension. Don't forget the period that separates the name from the extension.

    For renaming file extensions you can also download and use the AF5 program described here.

    One word of caution: do not rename extensions indiscriminately and always stay within the same family of files. Do not rename .mp3 to .wma or to .rm because they are totally different families of files and you will eventually get confused as to what file it what. Always be prepared to rename back to the original, especially if your conversion did not work or the expected player did not play the file - that may indicate that the extension is wrong, unless the file is protected and you don't have the right key for it.
    Last edited by ChristinaS; 11-02-2004 at 01:36 AM.

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