M3U File (What It Is & How to Open One)

How to open, edit, & convert m3u files

What to Know

  • An M3U file is an Audio Playlist file.
  • Open one with VLC, Winamp, iTunes, and other media players.
  • Convert to other playlist formats like M3U8 or XSPF with VLC.

This article describes what M3U files are, how to use one to queue up music in a compatible player, and how to convert one to a different playlist format that works with your media player.

What Is an M3U File?

An M3U file is an Audio Playlist file that stands for MP3 URL, and as such, isn't an actual audio file in and of itself.

An M3U file just points to audio (and sometimes video) files so that a media player can queue them for playback. These text-based files can contain URLs and/or absolute or relative pathnames to the media files and/or folders.

M3U files that are UTF-8 encoded are instead saved in the M3U8 file format.

Screenshot of several M3U files in Windows 10

How to Open an M3U File

VLC is my favorite free media player because of its support for a huge variety of audio and video formats. Plus, it supports not only the M3U format but also similar playlist file types you may run into, like M3U8, PLS, XSPF, WVX, CONF, ASX, IFO, CUE, and others.

Though Winamp was one of the first programs to support them, other media players can open M3U files too, like Windows Media Player, iTunes, and Audacious.

Keep in mind that the M3U file itself is not a media file. So while the files that the M3U points to may open just fine in a different media player than those I've linked to above, it's possible that the program can't understand the playlist file, and therefore won't know what to do with it when you try to open it.

M3U files can, of course, be opened with any text editor since the files are text-based.

How to Build an M3U File

M3U files are usually not built from scratch. In media players like VLC, for example, you can use the Media > Save Playlist to File option to save the list of currently open songs to an M3U file.

However, if you do want to build your own M3U file, it's important that you use the proper syntax. Here is an example of an M3U file:

#EXTINF:105, Example artist - Example title
C:\Files\My Music\Example.mp3
#EXTINF:321, Example Artist2 - Example title2
C:\Files\My Music\Favorites\Example2.ogg

All M3U files will have similarities, but also differences, to this example. The number following the "#EXTINF" sections is the length of the audio in seconds (you might see a -1 here if the audio is being streamed online and has no set length). Following the time is the title that should display in the media player, with the location of the file below that.

The example above is using absolute pathnames to the files (the whole path is included), but they can also use a relative name (e.g. just Sample.mp3), a URL (https://www.lifewire.com/Sample.mp3), or an entire folder (C:\Files\My Music\).

The benefit of using relative paths over absolute paths is that you can move the media files and the M3U file to another computer and still use the playlist without having to make changes to it. This works so long as the media files and M3U file remain relative to one another just as they were on the originating computer.

You can sometimes point to another M3U file from within one M3U file, but the media player you're using may not support it.

How to Convert an M3U File

As you can see in the previous section, an M3U file is just a text file. This means you cannot change or convert the file to a playable MP3, MP4, or any other media format. All you can do with an M3U file is convert it to another playlist format.

You can convert M3U to M3U8, XSPF, or HTML using VLC by opening the M3U file in the program and then using the Media > Save Playlist to File... menu option to pick which format to save it in.

You can also convert an M3U file to text if you just want to open the file in a text editor to see the files it's referencing. Open the M3U file in a text editor from the list above, and then save it to TXT, HTML, or another text-based format. Another option is to rename the extension to .TXT and then open it with a text editor.

This technically isn't an M3U file conversion, but if you want to gather all the audio files that an M3U file is referencing, and copy them to a single folder, download and use the M3UExportTool. Once you have them together, free file converter software can be used on the files to convert them to the format you want them to be in, like MP3 to WAV, MP4 to AVI, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I create an M3U playlist in Windows Media Player? First, create a new playlist in WMP and add songs. Start the playlist, then go to File > Save Now Playing list as. Give the playlist a file name, choose M3U as the file type, and select Save.
  • What's the best M3U player for Android? Download the VLC app on Google Play to listen to a large number of media format files, including M3U files.
  • How can I play my M3U files on Roku? The Roku Media Player supports M3U playlists that are on a USB drive. The media in the playlist needs to have an extension that indicates what type of media it is (.mp3, .mkv, .jpg, etc.). If the Roku Media Player doesn't work, you can try a third-party app like TVCast.
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