What is an EXE File?

by Contributor

EXE files are executable program files written for MS-DOS or Microsoft Windows. When an EXE file is opened, it launches the program contained within without the need for additional software on the user's computer.


EXE files are created by programmers using a software compiler. After the program is written in computer code, the compiler bundles it into a self-contained file which any user can run.


EXE files allow users to launch programs without needing special software to decipher the particular language the program was written in. Self-extracting archives can also be packaged as EXE files, allowing users to unpack the archive without the use of additional software.


EXE files are run by double-clicking them (in Microsoft Windows) or typing the filename into a command prompt (in MS-DOS). EXE files will not run natively on Apple computers, although software emulation tools do allow some EXE files to run on Apples within a virtual environment.

Expert Insight

Most email programs will block EXE file attachments to try and stop the spread of malicious viruses. If you are trying to send an EXE to someone via email, rename the file with a different extension, such as .TXT or .OLD. You will need to inform the recipient that they will need to rename the file back to an .EXE extension before they can run it.


Many computer viruses are packaged as EXE files, which are then re-named to resemble common software packages. It is very important to scan an EXE file before opening it, and you should never open an EXE file if you don't know or trust its source.

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