What Is a DAT File?

There are lots of uses for DAT files, including as a video or generic data file

What to Know

  • Most DAT files are generic data files.
  • Some can be opened with a text editor like Notepad++.
  • That same program can convert one to CSV, HTML, or other text formats.

This article discusses the different kinds of DAT files, how to open each kind, and the programs needed to convert them depending on the exact type.

What Is a DAT File?

A file with the DAT file extension is usually a generic data file that stores information specific to the application it refers to. Sometimes you'll find them by themselves, but often they're with other configuration files like DLL files.

No specific program is responsible for creating or using every type of DAT file. A wide variety of applications use them as references to certain operations in their respective program.

Since most are tucked away from view in an application's data folders, you'll probably see DAT files most often if a video file is being stored this way, or if you've received a malformed email attachment with this extension.

Because DAT files aren't as specific as most files, since the file extension doesn't immediately explain how to open one, you have to do a bit of digging. For example, an MP3 file immediately tells you that you're dealing with an audio file, a TXT file explains a plain text file, etc. The data behind a DAT file isn't so obvious.


How to Open and Read DAT Files

DAT files are unlike most other file types because, as mentioned above, they don't have an obvious program that opens them. Most types of files do.

If you think the file you have should be "opened" or "used" in a specific way, you'll need to figure out if it's text-based, video-based, an attachment, or something else.

How and where you got the file usually provides the necessary information to narrow down your investigative work, but here's a lot more help to figure it all out.

Text-Based DAT Files

DAT file in Windows 10

Some DAT files are text-based and are very easy to read with a text editor. For example, one on your computer might be located here:

C:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files\Adobe\XMP\...\FileInfo_pt_BR.dat

Or (as the image shows above):

C:\Program Files\Common Files\microsoft shared\ink\hwrlatinlm.dat

Since you're not sure what program should be used to open this kind of DAT file, your first try should be with a text editor. Windows Notepad is the basic text editor built-in to Windows, but there are more advanced text editors you can use instead.

Screenshot of Windows 10 window showing Notepad text editor.

In this example, you're able to see all the text in the file and easily understand what it's used for. It's also obvious in this example that the file is associated with an Adobe program, hence the "Adobe" folder within the file's path (located in the title bar).

DAT text file called FileInfo_pt_BR.dat

However, other DAT files may not be text files—it depends entirely on what the file is being used for. These types of DAT files may be locked files that aren't easy to delete, move, or edit. You'll probably only find a locked DAT file if it's a configuration file that's always in use by a program, like those found in the program's installation directory. These files will probably never need to be manually opened or manipulated in any way.

Video DAT Files

Some are actually video files that are saved from programs like VCDGear or CyberLink PowerDirector, among others, and can, therefore, be opened with one of those programs.

The idea is to see where the DAT file is on your computer. Just like with the Adobe example above, if it's in a program folder that appears to be associated with a CyberLink product, there's a good chance that's the program that will open it.

If you're sure it's a video, but you don't know what program to use to play it, try VLC.

Again, most DAT files located in program directories on your computer are going to be rather useless because most (if not all) of it will be gibberish computer code.

DAT Files as Email Attachments

A DAT file you receive as an email attachment usually comes in the form of a winmail.dat or ATT0001.dat file. These are probably malformed attachments from a Microsoft product like Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Live Mail, or Microsoft Exchange.

In this scenario, you should save the file to your computer and either upload it to Winmaildat or import it into Winmail Opener to extract out the actual attachment. Klammer can open winmail.dat files on macOS.

That attachment might ultimately end up being any other kind of file, like a document, an image, etc.

Other Types of DAT Files

DriveImage XML is an example of another program that uses DAT files for an entirely different purpose than all the scenarios mentioned above. In this particular backup program, a mirror image backup is created, so the entirety of the backup is stored in a single DAT file, accompanied by an XML file.

This file could in no way be viewed in a text editor, video editing program, or anything like that. Instead, because DriveImage XML is the creator of this particular file, the same program is needed to actually use it.

In this case, that means restoring the DAT file to a hard drive using the associated XML file:

Screenshot showing DriveImage XML restoring a backed up hard drive

There are so many other programs that use DAT files, too:

  • Bitcoin Core uses a file by the name of wallet.dat as the Bitcoin client wallet file.
  • Minecraft and SimCity use DAT files for a variety of purposes.
  • The Porteus Linux OS keeps container files saved with the DAT file extension.
  • Piriform applications store portability and registration information in DAT files.
  • The Windows Registry uses DAT files to store hives and other registry information.
  • GameMaker Studio stores sound effects in a DAT file.
  • Games built using Clickteam Fusion store images, music, and other game data in a DAT file.
  • Various programs that utilize Inno Setup use a DAT file to store uninstaller information.

No doubt there are dozens or hundreds of others.

Some files look similar to this one, even though they really aren't related. If your file doesn't open with these suggestions, double-check the file extension. You could be confusing something else, like a DAR or BAT file, with this one.

How to Convert a DAT File

Most files can be converted using a free file converter, but as you can see above, DAT files aren't like most files. The steps to convert one completely depend on the type of file you're working with.

There's really no reason at all to convert one to a different format if it's being used by a specific program to store configuration information. A conversion would probably render the file, and possibly even the program, unusable.

Video files can be opened in the video editing software that created it, and then exported or saved as a different format, likely ones like MP4, AVI, WMV, or FLV. Remember the advice about winmail.dat and ATT0001.dat files several paragraphs above if an email attachment is the source of your DAT file.

You can't usually change a file extension to one that your computer recognizes and expect the newly renamed file to be usable. However, in the case of a DAT file you received via email that you know is supposed to be, say, a Word document file, but it instead ends in the DAT extension, try renaming it to the correct extension and give that a try.

For example, rename the DAT file to DOC or DOCX for a Microsoft Word file, JPG, or PNG for an image, etc. Before you can rename a file extension, you'll have to make sure that Windows is configured to show file extensions.

  • How do you open DAT files on Mac?

    Just like in Windows, you'll need to know what kind of DAT file you're working with. Then, you can find a program on Mac that reads those kinds of files. For example, like you might try to open a DAT file on Windows with Notepad, you can try the same thing with TextEdit on Mac.

  • What is a Winmail DAT file?

    Winmail DAT files are DAT files created and used by Microsoft Outlook. These files traditionally contain email formatting information to be used by Outlook to properly display emails when being viewed.

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