What Is an SWF File?

Learn the basics of Shockwave Flash files

What to Know

This article explains what SWF files are, how to open the different kinds that you might have, and which programs are able to convert one to a video format like MP4.

What Is an SWF File?

An .SWF file (pronounced as "Swiff") is a Shockwave Flash Movie file created by an Adobe program that can hold interactive text and graphics. These animation files are often used for online games played within a web browser.

Some of Adobe's own products can create SWF files. However, various non-Adobe software programs can produce Shockwave Flash Movie files as well, such as MTASC, Ming, and SWFTools.

SWF Files

Adobe has officially discontinued Shockwave Flash, meaning it will no longer be developed or supported. Other web technologies, like HTML5 video support and CSS3 animations, have largely replaced SWF.

SWF is an acronym for Small Web Format but is also sometimes called a Shockwave Flash file.

How to Play SWF Files

SWF files are most often played from within a web browser that supports the Adobe Flash Player plugin. With this installed, a web browser like Firefox, Edge, or Internet Explorer is capable of opening SWF files automatically. If you have a local SWF file on your computer, just drag and drop it into a browser window to play it.

Google Chrome doesn't automatically load Flash components but you can explicitly allow Flash on certain websites so that they will load properly.

You can also use SWF files on the Sony PlayStation Portable (with firmware 2.71 onward), Nintendo Wii, and PlayStation 3 and newer. This works similar to a desktop browser by playing the SWF file upon loading it from a website.

Adobe Flash Player doesn't let you open the SWF file through any sort of menu or by double-clicking the file on your computer. To do that requires a different program. However, please know that some SWF files are interactive games while others might be non-interactive advertisements or tutorials, so not every SWF file is supported in all SWF players.

SWF File Player can play SWF games for free; use its File > Open menu to select one from your computer. A couple other free SWF players we like include MPC-HC and GOM Player.

One free SWF file opener for macOS is SWF & FLV Player. Another is Elmedia Player, but since it's mainly a multimedia player for videos and audio files, you probably can't use it to play SWF-based games.

SWF files can also be embedded in PDF files and used by Adobe Reader 9 or newer.

Of course, Adobe's own products can open SWF files, too, like Animate, Dreamweaver, Flash Builder, and After Effects.

Since you might need different programs to open different SWF files, you can change the default program for a specific file extension in Windows if it's automatically opening in a program that you don't want to use it with.

How to Convert an SWF File

Numerous free video file converters can save an SWF file to video formats like MP4, MOV, HTML5, and AVI, and some even let you convert the SWF file to MP3 and other audio file formats. One great example is Freemake Video Converter.

Another is FileZigZag, which works as an online SWF converter to save the file to formats like GIF and PNG.

Adobe Animate can convert an SWF file to EXE so that it's easier for the file to run on computers that don't have Flash Player installed. You can do this through the program's File > Create Projector menu option. SWF Tools is an alternative SWF to EXE converter.

How to Edit SWF Files

SWF files are compiled from FLA files (Adobe Animate Animation files), which makes it not-so-easy to edit the resulting animation file. It's usually a better idea to edit the FLA file itself.

FLA files are binary files where the source files are held for the whole Flash application. SWF files are built by compiling these FLA files with a Flash authoring program.

Mac users might find Flash Decompiler Trillix useful to convert SWF files to FLA for decompiling and converting the different components of the SWF file, and it doesn't even require that Adobe Flash be installed.

One free and open source SWF to FLA converter is JPEXS Free Flash Decompiler.

More Information on the SWF Format

Software that can create SWF files has always been acceptable by Adobe so long as the program displays a message that states "error free in the latest publicly available version of Adobe Flash Player."

However, before May 2008, playing SWF files was restricted to Adobe software only. From that point forward, Adobe removed all limitations for both the SWF and FLV formats.