A program file that can be run by a computer or device.
An executable file contains a set of instructions, which your device interprets and runs when you open that file. For example, when you open the Microsoft Word executable file, it launches the Microsoft Word application.
To run an executable file, you open it the same way you would any other file on your computer. On Windows, that means double-clicking on the executable file’s icon. On most mobile devices, you launch executable icons by tapping the related app’s icon on your home screen or from your programs list.
Frequently Asked Questions
How is an executable file different from other files on my computer?
Most files on your computer are known as data files. A data file does not contain any instructions for opening it. Instead, data files require a specific program to interpret the information contained in them. For instance, a Word document requires a word processor to open it. Each type of data file on your device is associated with a specific executable file, and when you try to open a data file, your device opens that associated program. You can also open a data file directly from its associated program. If there is no program associated with a file type, your device will not be able to open it. Executable files, on the other hand, do not require any other program to run, since they contain specific instructions for your machine to execute.
Are executable files safe?
Most executable files are perfectly safe, but executable files from unknown sources can pose a security risk. Since executable files talk directly to your operating system or computer, opening one can cause any number of things to occur. Safe ones will simply execute or install a program. Unsafe executable files, including viruses and malware, can instruct your computer to do things that may harm your files or expose your personal or confidential information. It’s best to only download and open executable files from sources you trust, such as your device’s app store or a trusted website. This is also why you should never open links contained in emails, as they may lead to malicious executable files. To learn how to protect your device from unsafe executable files, see our guide to Computer Viruses.
How can I tell if something is an executable file?
Depending on the device you’re running and the file-view settings, you may see a unique extension for executable files. Executables in Windows operating systems usually have an .EXE file extension. On Android, executable files usually contain the APK extension. In Macintosh operating systems, the default file extension for executable files is APP. On iOS, it is IPA.
If your computer does not display file extensions, you may need to change the settings within your file explorer to show file name extensions.