Types of Executables in Windows

  As a Windows user, you must have used .exe files for installing applications, like Mozilla Firefox, VLC Media Player and others. You might also know about other types of executables, such as .msi and .bat. There are several other types of executables and they have their own suitable uses. Do you know about all other types of executables in Windows? Probably not. Hence, you must read this article to know all about the various types of executables in Windows.

Types of Executables in Windows

Types of Executables in Windows

Types of Executables in Windows

  According to an article on Wikipedia –

An executable causes a computer to perform indicated tasks according to encoded instructions, as opposed to a data file that must be parsed by a program to be meaningful.

  The same article states further –

The exact interpretation depends upon the use; while the term often refers only to machine code files, in the context of protection against computer viruses all files which cause potentially hazardous instruction execution, including scripts, are lumped together for convenience.

  Here, we have included all those files which can cause potentially hazardous instruction execution (i.e. can contain viruses). These files are executed directly by the core components of Windows OS i.e. they do not require any third-party applications. The “executables” that require you to install certain applications before their contents can be accessed (e.g. DOCM, OTM) have not been listed here.

List of Executables

  The various types of executables in Windows (and their functionality) have been listed below in alphabetical order:

  1. .BAT (Batch File) – A text file that contains one or more commands. When you double-click the file or type its name at the Command Prompt, the commands listed in it are executed sequentially. It is one of the most common types of executables in Windows.
  2. .CMD (Command Script) – It is quite similar to a .BAT file, with minor differences. Both .BAT and .CMD files are executed by the Command Prompt. These can be used interchangeably.
  3. .COM (MS-DOS Executable) – A .COM executable can run on both MS-DOS and Windows. It is similar to an .EXE in many aspects. However it has a maximum size of about 64 KB and contains no header or metadata. It is mainly used for executing a set of instructions while .EXE files are used for fully developed programs.
  4. .CPL (Control Panel Item) – A .CPL file is a component of the Control Panel, such as Displays, Mouse, Sound, or Networking. It is located in the Windows\System32 folder. These files are meant to be opened by OS as when required (should not be opened manually).
  5. .EXE (Windows Application) – It is one of the most common types of executables in Windows. There are various types of .EXE files. Some of them are setup/installer files for various applications, while others are applications themselves. Some .EXE files act as Self-Extracting Archives.
  6. .GADGET (Windows Gadget) – A .GADGET file is a small program that runs within the Windows Vista or Windows 7 sidebar. It stores several Web-based files in a Zip archive format and may include .HTML, .CSS, .JS files, as well as other Web files. The file is used for small programs such as news feeds, search tools, system utilities, and small games.
  7. .INF (Setup Information File) – It is a plain text configuration file that defines what files are installed with a certain program. It may also list the location of the files and the directories where the files are to be installed.
  8. .INS (Internet Communication Settings) – This types of file s are used by Windows for setting up dial-up and broadband Internet connections. An .INF file contains connection setup information that enables Windows to setup Internet access with an ISP when opened.
  9. .INX (InstallShield Compiled Script) – An .INX contains installation instructions for an InstallShield software installer. It is referenced by the installation program and is not meant to be opened manually.
  10. .ISU (InstallShield Uninstaller Script) – it is an Uninstall script run by the InstallShield software installation program. It locates and removes all files installed with a program when the Uninstall command is run.
  11. .JOB (Windows Task Scheduler Job File) – It is created by Task Scheduler, a Windows utility used to schedule automated tasks;. It contains the name, triggers, actions, and conditions for the task. It is commonly used for scheduling periodic checks for software updates, as well as for running antivirus software system scans.
  12. .JS (JScript Script File) – It is a script written in JScript. It is similar to .JSE. The difference between the two is that .JSE stores its source code in encoded format while .JS doesn’t use any encoding.
  13. .JSE (JScript Encoded Script File) – It is script written in JScript, a programming language used for Windows and Microsoft Internet Explorer scripting. These scripts can be run natively in Windows by the Windows Script Host (WSH) program, which has the filename WScript.exe. They may also be run by the Microsoft command-line utility CScript.exe.
  14. .LNK (File Shortcut) – An .LNK file is a shortcut or link used by Windows as a reference to an existing file. Usually, Windows hides the extension of .LNK files. Therefore, you might never have seen a .LNK file despite having used them. They appear like a typical file icon with a curved arrow in the bottom-left corner.
  15. .MSC (Microsoft Common Console Document) – The .MSC files are used by the Microsoft Management Console (MMC). The MMC handles tasks like Disk Defragmentation, System Monitoring and the DevicerManager.
  16. .MSI (Windows Installer Package) – An .MSI file contains installation information for a particular installer, such as files to be installed and installation locations. It is one of the most common types of executables in Windows.
  17. .MSP (Windows Installer Patch) – The .MSP files are used to update the Windows operating system and other Microsoft programs. These are typically included with security updates or Microsoft hotfixes.
  18. .MST (Windows Installer Setup Transform File) – It is Settings file used by the Microsoft Windows Installer msiexec.exe which is a component of the Windows operating system that enables software installations. It contains software configuration options and allows custom parameters to be used for the installation. It is also used in software development and testing for configuring test versions of software. It is used in conjunction with .MSI files.
  19. .PAF (Portable Application Installer File) – It is used as the installer for a portable application stored on a USB flash drive. It can be installed and run on any Windows computer from the USB drive. Some examples of portable software are Firefox Portable, OpenOffice.org Portable, 7-Zip Portable, as well as many other games, programs, and utilities.
  20. .PIF (Program Information File) – A .PIF file contains information used to define how an MS-DOS-based program should run. It can also serve as a shortcut to an executable file, similar to a .LNK file, and is usually created when the user makes a a shortcut to a DOS program or modifies the properties of the program. The .PIF files contain various types of information such as the path for the .EXE file, how much memory to use, font size, screen colors, and the size of the program’s window.
  21. .PS1 (Windows PowerShell Cmdlet) – It is a script, or cmdlet, used by Windows PowerShell, a Windows shell program based on Microsoft’s .NET Framework. A .PS1 file contains a series of lines written in the PowerShell scripting language. In terms of functionality, it is somewhat similar to a .BAT or .CMD file, but it is executed by the Windows PowerShell instead of the CMD.EXE.
  22. .REG (Registry Data File) – A .REG file updates the Windows Registry when run. You can create custom REG files to alter different aspects of Windows. Registry cleaner programs often use .REG files for backing up registry keys.
  23. .RGS (Registry Script) – It is a file that contains the script used by ATL (Active Template Library) C++ projects, Microsoft Visual Studio, Flexera InstallShield, and other software development and deployment programs. A .RGS file contains code that registers the software with Windows.
  24. .SCR (Screensaver Executable) – An .SCR file is a screensaver file for Windows, typically stored in the main Windows directory. We mentioned the .SCR file format in our Visual C# project WCB ScreenSaver.
  25. .SCT (Windows Scriptlet) – It is the Script used to create a Component Object Model (.COM) component; may be written in various scripting languages such as VBScript, JavaScript, or JScript.
  26. .SHB (WIndows Document Shortcut) – It is a shortcut that opens a specific document in Windows when double-clicked. It is  executed by the Windows Shell Scrap Object Handler (shscrap.dll); similar to a .LNK file, but not used so commonly. It is also known as a “Windows Shortcut into a Document.” WARNING: Do not open SHB files that are received as e-mail attachments. They can be used to open viruses or other harmful programs.
  27. .SHS (Shell Scrap Object) – It is a file created by Microsoft Word and Excel when a user drags and drops selected document text onto the desktop. It contains a copy of the highlighted contents in its native document format. It is used to copy portions of a document for insertion into another document.
  28. .U3P (U3 Smart Application) – It is a kind of portable application stored on a U3 Smart Drive, a special type of USB flash drive that includes the U3 Launchpad platform. It contains program executables and configuration data. It enables a program to be run from the flash drive on any Windows computer. It may install some files on the local computer if needed.
  29. .VBE (VBScript Encoded Script) – It is a kind of script written in VBScript. It stores the source code in an encoded format. It runs natively in Windows via the Windows Script Host.
  30. .VBS (VBScript Script) – It contains a script written in the VBScript scripting language. It contains code that can be executed within Windows or Internet Explorer via the Windows-based script host (Wscript.exe).
  31. .VBSCRIPT (Visual Basic Script) – It contains an executable script written in Visual Basic. It is commonly used to automate tasks in Windows.
  32. .WS (Windows Script) – It contains an executable script for Windows that can incorporate JScript and VBScript routines and may include XML elements.
  33. .WSF (Windows Script) – It is similar to a .WS file.
  34. .WSH (Windows Script Host Settings) – It is a text document that contains properties and parameters for a certain script, i.e. a .VB or .VBS file. It is used for customizing the execution of certain scripts. It requires WScript or CScript to run.

  Here, we have listed all the types of executables in Windows. As we have already mentioned, this list contains both machine code files as well as scripts (which exist as text files).

Note – We have tried our best to provide you accurate information regarding the types of executables in Windows and their uses. However, if you do find any errors/omissions, do let us know.

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  • Hi Mohit,

    I didn’t know the most of executables types :p Now going to take it for study.

    • Well, most people know about only two or three types of executables. That’s why I thought it was necessary to list all of them. I hope it would serve the purpose well. 🙂

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