What Is an XNK File?

How to open XNK files and make them work in newer versions of Outlook

What to Know

  • An XNK file is an Exchange shortcut that opens a folder in a Microsoft Exchange client.
  • Outlook is one example of a program that can open XNK files.

This article describes what an XNK file is and how to use one.

What Is an XNK File?

A file with the XNK file extension is a Microsoft Exchange shortcut used to quickly open a specific folder or other item in Microsoft Outlook. It's also called an Exchange Link.

XNK files are created by dragging the object directly out of Outlook and placing it on the desktop. Instead of moving the item out of Outlook and onto the desktop, a reference, or shortcut, is built so that you can quickly access that same thing again through the XNK file.

XNK files in Windows XP that open with MS Outlook 2003

How to Open an XNK File

Since XNK files are just shortcuts for opening items in Microsoft Outlook, double-clicking on one will do just that...assuming you have Outlook installed.

For security reasons, Microsoft removed XNK support beginning in Microsoft Outlook 2007.

Normally, if you have trouble opening the file in Outlook 2007 or newer, you'll see an error like one of these:

  • Cannot open file
  • Cannot start Microsoft Outlook. The command line argument is not valid. Verify the switch you are using.

One workaround you can try is to make some specific changes in the Windows Registry, outlined in this guide at MSOutlook.info.

You need to know whether you're running a 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows before you can use that registry tweak. See How to Tell if You Have Windows 64-Bit or 32-Bit for help figuring this out if you're not sure.

While it's not very likely, if some program other than Outlook tries to open the XNK file, see our How to Change File Associations in Windows tutorial for instructions on changing what program is linked to that extension, which should fix that problem.

Still Can't Open It?

The most likely reason for why your file won't open, given that you've followed the directions above, is that you're confusing a different file for this one. Some file extensions look a lot alike, but that doesn't mean they can be used with the same software applications.

For example, the XNK file extension closely resembles XNB, but the two formats don't actually have anything in common. XNT is another that's related to QuarkXPress, but they, too, aren't at all related to XNK files.

It's best to re-read the file extension of your file and make sure it says as ".XNK." If it doesn't, research the real file extension to see which programs are able to open or convert your specific file.

Can You Convert an XNK File?

With most file formats, a free file converter can be used to save it to some other format. This is useful if you want to use the file in another program that doesn't support the original file type.

However, this isn't something that can be done with XNK files, since they're just shortcuts that point to something else at another location. There is no "convertible" data contained in the XNK file that a conversion tool could use to make the file compatible with any other program but Outlook.

Other Shortcuts Used in Windows

XNK files are shortcuts used explicitly for the Microsoft Outlook program while a similar file type, LNK (Windows file shortcut), is a shortcut used to open folders, programs, and other files on a hard drive, flash drive, etc.

For example, an LNK file on the desktop can point directly to the Pictures folder so you can quickly open that folder to see all your pictures without having to go through several steps just to find the folder. Programs you install to your computer often ask you if they can create a shortcut on the desktop so you can quickly open the program from the desktop instead of having to sift through dozens of folders to find the right application file that starts the program.

So while XNK files are shortcuts used to open folders and files inside MS Outlook, LNK files are used throughout the rest of Windows to open folders and files that exist elsewhere.

A mapped drive is another type of shortcut, but doesn't have its own file extension—it's just a virtual hard drive that refers to folders located on other computers within a network. Similar to other shortcuts, mapped drives provide a quick way to open folders on shared network drives.

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