What is a DAT file?

Computer programs create DAT files to store specific information or data. The information in the file is only relevant to the programme that created it, though almost any programme can create DAT files.

What does DAT stand for?

DAT might look like an acronym, but the extension name is actually short for ‘data’ - so the name is more or less descriptive.

The reason files using .DAT format are not simply called ‘.data’ is that general convention reduces an extension’s file name to three letters. This makes it easier to remember, type out and read. If were no limits to naming conventions, you could find yourself facing hard-to-read alternatives such as ‘.DATACREATEDBYSPECIFICPROGRAMS’.

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History of the DAT file.

Because programmes create DAT files to hold data and only they can read those .DAT files, there have been countless versions of these over the years.

However, the term was in use as far back as 1964 - only six years after the invention of the computer chip and at a time when computers were used primarily by academics and researchers. While its format has no doubt changed, the purpose of the DAT file has remained much the same.

What are DAT files used for?

What data a .DAT file includes and the format it takes, can be almost endless in possibility. DAT files can contain anything from video to audio to PDF information. As such, you’re likely to see DAT files produced by programmes of all shapes and sizes. Whether it’s on your desktop or your mobile, a video game or an email attachment, DAT files are everywhere.

That said, many DAT files typically contain text, so don’t be surprised if most of the DAT files you happen to see are text-based.

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Pros and cons of DAT files.


  • Flexible file formatting. Able to contain information of almost any kind, DAT files are a great way for programmes to store anything they need.
  • Easy to identify. There’s no mistaking a DAT file. Even if the file contains a PDF or MP3, you won’t have to sift through your DAT files while looking for a lost document.
  • Automatically created. If you’ve ever had trouble selecting the right file type, compatibility or knowing where to save a file, .DAT has you covered. Automatically created by programmes, you don’t need to worry about how they’re made or where they’re saved.


  • Programme-reliant. As a file that’s interpreted by a specific programme, to get the most out of the data you’ll need to retain and utilise the programme that built it.
  • Uncertain contents. The contents of a DAT file aren’t always obvious. Though you can often open them in notepad or similar programmes, you won’t know what’s inside until you read the .DAT file.
  • Not always user-friendly. DAT files are purposely designed by specific programmes, which means it can be harder to access the contents of the file.

How to open a DAT file.

If you want to open a DAT file, you’ll need to first understand what kind of data is inside the file.

The vast majority contain plain text and can usually be opened with a text editing programme such as Notepad or TextEdit. If that option isn’t available, you can right click the file and select ‘Open with’, before choosing a specific programme.

If the data inside your DAT file is audio or video, then select a media player to open your file. If the information is in PDF format, then Adobe Acrobat will be able to open the file.

How to create and edit a DAT file.

Creating a DAT file is easy with Notepad. Simply:

1. Type in your desired text.

2. Head to ‘File’ followed by ‘Save As’.

3. Choose ‘All Files’ as the file type and add the ‘.dat’ on the end of the file name before pressing save.

To edit a DAT file, either open one you’ve created or one made by a programme and edit it as you would any other file. Just make sure you use an appropriate programme to do so.

How to convert a DAT file to PDF

If the DAT file you want to open contains a PDF, you should be able to open it using Adobe Acrobat. If it doesn’t contain PDF data, there’s still the option of converting your DAT file to a PDF. For example, if you first convert your DAT file to Word format, you can then convert from Word to PDF using Adobe’s free online converter.

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DAT Files: FAQs.

What programme opens a DAT file?

The contents of a DAT file determine what will be able to open it. DAT files are mostly plain text based - if so, these can be opened with text editors such as Notepad or TextEditor. You might find that when you open your DAT file the text is incoherent and full of symbols. If this happens, then your DAT file does not contain plain text. If the data contained within is audio or video, you will need a relevant programme to open it.

How do I open a DAT file in Word?

You can try to open a DAT file in Word by double clicking the file. If that doesn’t work, you might need to convert the file type into one that Word can read. You should be able to convert your DAT file into .doc or .docx.

Can Excel open DAT files?

Excel can open DAT files, depending on the content. If your DAT file contains plain text, Excel should be able to open it if you save it as a .CSV file. You can do this by heading to the ‘Save As’ function under ‘File’ and selecting ‘Save As Type’ before choosing CSV or Comma Separated Values.

Is a .DAT file a virus?

DAT files aren’t by definition viruses. In fact, you might even see DAT files used by your anti-virus software. Some malicious users might choose to use DAT files to hide dangerous data, however, so always be sensible with what you download and take recommended precautions.