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Definition

file

1) In data processing, using an office metaphor, a file is a related collection of records. For example, you might put the records you have on each of your customers in a file. In turn, each record would consist of fields for individual data items, such as customer name, customer number, customer address, and so forth. By providing the same information in the same fields in each record (so that all records are consistent), your file will be easily accessible for analysis and manipulation by a computer program. This use of the term has become somewhat less important with the advent of the database and its emphasis on the table as a way of collecting record and field data. In mainframe systems, the term data set is generally synonymous with file but implies a specific form of organization recognized by a particular access method. Depending on the operating system, files (and data sets) are contained within a catalog, directory, or folder.

2) In any computer system but especially in personal computers, a file is an entity of data available to system users (including the system itself and its application programs) that is capable of being manipulated as an entity (for example, moved from one file directory to another). The file must have a unique name within its own directory. Some operating systems and applications describe files with given formats by giving them a particular file name suffix. (The file name suffix is also known as a file name extension.) For example, a program or executable file is sometimes given or required to have an ".exe" suffix. In general, the suffixes tend to be as descriptive of the formats as they can within the limits of the number of characters allowed for suffixes by the operating system.

This was last updated in September 2005

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