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Free file format

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Free file format

An open file format is a published specification for storing digital data, usually maintained by a standards organization, which can therefore be used and implemented by anyone. For example, an open format can be implemented by both proprietary and free and open source software, using the typical software licenses used by each. In contrast to open formats, closed formats are considered trade secrets. Open formats are also called free file formats if they are not encumbered by any copyrights, patents, trademarks or other restrictions (for example, if they are in the public domain) so that anyone may use it at no monetary cost for any desired purpose.[1]

Specific definitions

Sun Microsystems

Sun Microsystems defines the criteria for open formats as follows:[2]

  • The format is based on an underlying open standard
  • The format is developed through a publicly visible, community driven process
  • The format is affirmed and maintained by a vendor-independent standards organization
  • The format is fully documented and publicly available
  • The format does not contain proprietary extensions

US government

Within the framework of Open Government Initiative, the federal government of the United States adopted the Open Government Directive, according to which: "An open format is one that is platform independent, machine readable, and made available to the public without restrictions that would impede the re-use of that information".[3]

State of Minnesota

The State of Minnesota defines the criteria for open, XML-based file formats as follows:[4]

  • The format is interoperable among diverse internal and external platforms and applications
  • The format is fully published and available royalty-free
  • The format is implemented by multiple vendors
  • The format is controlled by an open industry organization with a well-defined inclusive process for evolution of the standard

Commonwealth of Massachusetts

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts "defines open formats as specifications for data file formats that are based on an underlying open standard, developed by an open community, affirmed and maintained by a standards body and are fully documented and publicly available."[5]

The Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM) classifies four formats as "Open Formats":

  1. OASIS Open Document Format For Office Applications (OpenDocument) v. 1.1
  2. Ecma-376 Office Open XML Formats (Open XML)
  3. Hypertext Document Format v. 4.01
  4. Plain Text Format

The Linux Information Project

According to The Linux Information Project, the term open format should refer to "any format that is published for anyone to read and study but which may or may not be encumbered by patents, copyrights or other restrictions on use"[1] – as opposed to a free format which is not encumbered by any copyrights, patents, trademarks or other restrictions.

Examples of open formats

In alphabetical order:


  • ALAC — lossless audio codec, previously a proprietary format of Apple Inc.
  • APNG - It allows for animated PNG files that work similarly to animated GIF files.
  • CMML — timed metadata and subtitles
  • DAISY Digital Talking Book — a talking book format
  • FLAC — lossless audio codec
  • GIF – CompuServe's Graphics Interchange Format (openly published specification, but patent-encumbered by a 3rd party; became free when patents expired in 2004)
  • JPEG 2000 — an image format standardized by ISO/IEC
  • Matroska (mkv) — container for all type of multimedia formats (audio, video, images, subtitles)
  • MNG — moving pictures, based on PNG
  • Musepack — an audio codec
  • Ogg — container for Vorbis, FLAC, Speex and Opus (audio formats) & Theora (a video format), each of which is an open format
  • OpenEXR — a high dynamic range imaging image file format, released as an open standard along with a set of software tools created by Industrial Light and Magic (ILM).
  • Opus[6] - a lossy audio compression format developed by the IETF. Suitable for VOIP, videoconferencing (just audio), music transmission over the Internet and streaming applications (just audio).
  • PNG — a raster image format standardized by ISO/IEC
  • SMIL — a media playlisting format and multimedia integration language[7][8]
  • Speex — speech codec
  • SVG — a vector image format standardized by W3C
  • Theora - a lossy video compression format.
  • Vorbis - a lossy audio compression format.
  • VRML/X3D — realtime 3D data formats standardized by ISO/IEC
  • WavPack — "Hybrid" (lossless/lossy) audio codec
  • WebP — image format developed by Google
  • WebM — a video/audio format
  • XSPF — a playlist format for multimedia


  • Plain text encoded in numerous non-proprietary encodings, such as ASCII
  • HTML - HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is the main markup language for creating web pages and other information that can be displayed in a web browser.
  • Unicode Transformation Formats — text encodings with support for all common languages and scripts
  • DVI — device independent (TeX)
  • ePub — open e-book standard by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF)
  • FictionBook — open XML-based e-book format, which originated and gained popularity in Russia
  • LaTeX — document markup language
  • Office Open XML — a formatted text format (ISO/IEC 29500:2008);[9] see Licensing for details
  • OpenDocument — a formatted text format (ISO/IEC 26300:2006).[10]
  • OpenXPS — open standard for a page description language and a fixed-document format
  • Various subsets of PDF are open standard for documents exchange (ISO 15930-1:2001, ISO 19005-1:2005, ISO 32000-1:2008).[11] PDF started out a proprietary standard, but was later submitted through standardization
  • PostScript — a page description language and programming language. PostScript started out as a proprietary standard, but was later submitted[by whom?] through standardization
  • XHTML - XHTML (Extensible HyperText Markup Language) is a family of XML markup languages that mirror or extend versions of the widely used Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the language in which web pages are written.

Archiving and compression

  • 7z — for archiving and/or compression
  • bzip2 — for compression
  • gzip — for compression
  • lzip — for compression
  • MAFF — for web page archiving, based on ZIP
  • PAQ — for compression
  • SQX — for archiving and/or compression
  • tar — for archiving
  • xz — for compression
  • ZIP — for archiving and/or compression; the base format is in the public domain, but newer versions have some patented features[12][13][14]


  • CSS — style sheet format usually used with (X)HTML, standardized by W3C
  • CSV — comma separated values, commonly used for spreadsheets or simple databases
  • DjVu — file format for scanned images or documents
  • EAS3 — binary file format for floating point data
  • ELF — Executable and Linkable Format
  • FreeOTFE — container for encrypted data
  • GPX — GPs eXchange format — for describing waypoints, tracks and routes
  • Hierarchical Data Format — multi-platform data format for storing multidimensional arrays, among other data structures
  • HTML/XHTMLmarkup language for web pages (ISO/IEC 15445:2000)
  • iCalendar — calendar data format
  • JSON — object notation, subset of YAML and correct ECMAScript statement
  • LTFS — Linear Tape File System
  • NetCDF — for scientific data
  • NZB — for multipart binary files on Usenet
  • PHPscripting and markup language for web development
  • RSS — syndication
  • SDXF — the Structured Data eXchange Format
  • SFV — checksum format
  • TrueCrypt — container for encrypted data
  • WebDAV — Internet filesystem format
  • XML — a general-purpose markup language, standardized by W3C[15]
  • YAML — human readable data serialization format
  • IFC — data model describing building and construction industry data

See also

Free software portal


External links

  • OpenFormats
  • Practical Advice for using Free Formats from Ubuntu Community Documentation
  • Study on the: Economic impact of open source software on innovation and the competitiveness of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector in the EU, 2006 EU report in favor of adopting open source software
  • Free File Format Definition
  • Definition of Free Cultural Works

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