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What is an XML File?


Question: What is an XML File?

Did you find an XML file on your computer and wonder what program should open it? Maybe someone emailed you an XML file but you're not sure how to use it. Perhaps you tried to open the XML file but Windows told you that it could not open it.

Before you can open an XML file (assuming it's even a file format that's intended to be viewed or edited), you'll need to determine what kind of file the .XML file extension refers to.

Answer: A file with the XML file extension is an Extensible Markup Language file.

Other types of files may also use the XML file extension. If you know of any additional file formats that use the .XML extension, please let me know so I can update this information.

How To Open an XML File

The easiest way to open an XML file is to double-click on it and let your PC decide which default application should open the file. If no program opens the XML file then you probably don't have an application installed that can view and/or edit XML files.

Warning: Take great care when opening executable file formats received via email or downloaded from websites you're not familiar with. See my List of Executable File Extensions for a listing of file extensions to avoid and why.

Many programs open XML files, including every popular browser. There are several popular programs that can edit XML files as well. Some notable XML editors include Notepad++ and XML Notepad 2007.

Keep in mind, though, that just because an XML file can easily be opened and viewed, it doesn't mean that it'll do anything. Lots of different types of programs use XML as a way to store their data in a standard way, but actually using an XML file for a specific purpose requires that you know what that particular XML file is storing data for.

For example, the XML format is used for MusicXML files, an XML-based sheet music format. You could certainly open one of those XML files in any text editor to see what sort of data is there, but it's only really useful in a program like Finale NotePad.

If you know anything else useful about XML files, please let me know so I can update this page.

Tip: Since XML files are text-based files, any text editor, including Notepad, will be able to properly display and edit the XML file's contents. The dedicated XML editors I discussed in the previous paragraph are better for editing XML files because they understand the file's structure. A standard text editor isn't quite as easy to use for editing XML files.

If you find that an application on your PC does try to open the XML file but it's the wrong application or if you would rather have another installed program open XML files, see my How To Change the Default Program for a Specific File Extension guide for making that change in Windows.

How To Convert an XML File

There are two main ways to attempt to convert an XML file to another file type:

The first option involving opening the XML file in its native program is preferable because it's both easier and will probably result in a more accurate file conversion. Of course if you don't have a program that opens XML files, a third-party file conversion tool (the second option) could be very useful.

Important: You cannot usually change a file extension (like the XML file extension) to one that your computer recognizes and expect the newly renamed file to be usable. An actual file format conversion using one of the methods described above must take place in most cases.

Still Having Problems Opening or Using an XML File?

See Get More Help for information about contacting me on social networks or via email, posting on tech support forums, and more. Let me know what kinds of problems you're having with opening or using the XML file and I'll see what I can do to help.

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