What Is a DBF File?

This is a dBASE database file that's compatible with lots of software programs

What to Know

  • A DBF file is most likely a database file.
  • Open one with dBase, Excel, or Access.
  • Convert to CSV or Excel formats with those same programs.

This article describes DBF files, including how to open one and how to save one to a different format, such as CSV, XLS, etc.

What Is a DBF File?

A file with the .DBF file extension is most likely a database file used by the data management system dBASE. Data is stored within the file in an array with multiple records and fields.

Since the file structure is pretty straightforward, and the format was used early on when database programs first arose, it's been considered a standard format for structured data.

Esri's ArcInfo stores data in files that end in .DBF, too, but it's called the shapefile attribute format instead. These files use the dBASE format to store attributes for shapes.

Free tables created by Microsoft Visual FoxPro are also stored as files that use this extension. Confusingly, database files used by that program are saved as DBC files. There's more on Microsoft's site about Visual FoxPro terminology.

DBF Files
DBF Files.

DBF is also short for a number of technology terms that have nothing to do with the file formats discussed on this page. Some examples include digital beam-forming, double byte font, and the distributed Bellman-Ford algorithm.

How to Open DBF Files

dBASE is the primary program used to open DBF files. However, the file format is supported in other database and database-related applications too, like Microsoft Access and Excel, Quattro Pro (a part of Corel WordPerfect Office), OpenOffice Calc, LibreOffice Calc, HiBase Group DBF Viewer, Astersoft DBF Manager, DBF Viewer Plus, DBFView, and Alpha Software Alpha Anywhere.

You should save Microsoft Works database files in the dBASE format if you want to open them in Microsoft Excel.

Use Dbase DB Opener for an online option. It runs in your browser, so it works on any OS to display the contents of the database without having to download anything.

GTK DBF Editor is one free DBF opener for macOS and Linux, but NeoOffice (for Mac), multisoft FlagShip (Linux), and OpenOffice work as well.

Xbase mode can be used with Emacs to read xBase files.

ArcInfo from ArcGIS uses DBF files in the shapefile attribute file format.

The discontinued Microsoft Visual FoxPro database software is another way to open these files.

How to Convert a DBF File

Most of the software from above that can open or edit this file type can most likely convert it, too. For example, Excel can save one to any format supported by that program, like CSV, XLSX, XLS, PDF, etc.

The same company that releases DBF Viewer, mentioned above, also has DBF Converter, which converts the file to CSV, Excel formats like XLSX and XLS, plain text, SQL, HTM, PRG, XML, RTF, SDF, and TSV.

DBF Converter can only export 50 entries in the free trial version. You can upgrade to a paid edition if you need to export more.

dbfUtilities exports DBF to JSON, CSV, XML, and Excel formats. It works through the dbfExport tool included in the software suite.

You can convert this file online at DBFconv.com, which supports exporting to formats like CSV and TXT.

Still Can't Open the File?

If your file isn't opening with the suggestions from above, double-check the file extension to make sure it actually says DBF (you might need to show hidden file extensions to see this). Some file formats use an extension that's spelled a lot like other ones, even when the formats are completely unrelated.

One example is DBX. They might be Outlook Express email folder files or AutoCAD database extension files, but either way, they can't open with the same tools mentioned above. If your file doesn't open with those database programs, check to make sure you're not actually dealing with a DBX file.

If what you have is really a DBK file, it might be in the Sony Ericsson Mobile Phone Backup file format. It can probably open with a tool like 7-Zip, but it won't work with the database applications above.

Other examples that you could easily confuse for this one include DB, DBA, PDB, and MDE.

More Information on dBASE

DBF files are often seen with text files that use the .DBT or .FPT file extension. Their purpose is to describe the database with memos or notes, in raw text that's easy to read.

NDX files are single index files that store field information and how the database is to be structured; it can hold one index. MDX files are Multiple Index files that can contain up to 48 indexes.

All the details on the header of the file format can be found on the dBASE website.

The release of dBASE in 1980 made its developer, Ashton-Tate, one of the biggest business software publishers in the market. It originally ran only on the CP/M microcomputer operating system but was soon ported over to DOS, UNIX, and VMS.

Later that decade, other companies began releasing their own versions of dBASE, including FoxPro and Clipper. This prompted the release of dBASE IV, which came around the same time as SQL (Structured Query Language) and the growing use of Microsoft Windows.

By the early 1990s, with xBase products still popular enough to be the leader in business applications, the top three firms, Ashton-Tate, Fox Software, and Nantucket, were purchased by Borland, Microsoft, and Computer Associates, respectively.

  • How do I repair a DBF file?

    To repair a corrupt DBF file, use a tool like DBF Recovery Toolbox. Download the program or upload your file to the website, then try opening the repaired DBF file in your program of choice.

  • How do I encrypt a DBF file?

    Use a tool like DBF Commander Professional to encrypt and decrypt DBF files. Some other programs that open DBFs have an option to password-protect files.

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