Decyphering File Types and File Type Support

File Types

One of the things people are most confused about are the lists of various file types they see on the technical specifications pages for the ereaders they are interested in. How do these translate to ebook retailer lists that list a few ereaders or software programs instead of the file extrensions? What do these file types translate to in the real world?

Sometimes you will hear the term “native support” used when talking about file formats and ereaders. All this means is that the ereader in question can accept and display the file format in question without having to manually or even automatically translate that file format into a different file format. In general, native support is preferable because of the errors and problems possible when file formats require translation.

Another thing to bear in mind is that when books are made available in a particular file format, merely being in a format your reader can accept does not guarantee that the file will display correctly. Sometimes the book has not been published correctly by the publisher and sometimes the file may have been corrupted during transmission.

Below is a list of the file types mostly commonly referred to and a brief explanation of what they are:

  • Epub (.epub) – The Epub file format is a widely used ebook format. The Epub file format is an open standard.
  • eReader (.pdb)- The eReader file format is the format that used to be known as the Palm Digital Media format. The eReader format is a proprietary (non-open) file standard.
  • Hypertext Markup Languauge (.htm or .html) – The Hypertext Markup Language file format is the format used by most web browsers. Hypertext Markup Language files are one of the largest file formats but they also allow for images, embedded video, etc. Hypertext Markup Language is an open file standard.
  • Kindle (.azw) – The Kindle file format is based on the mobipocket standard but with some changes and its own Digital Rights Management format. The Kindle file format is a proprietary (non-open) file standard and meant to run only on the Kindle devices or Kindle software.
  • Microsoft Reader (.lit) – The Microsoft Reader file format is a proprietary file format designed to be read with the Microsoft Reader software and is a proprietary (non-open) file standard. Many readers can read un-protected Microsoft Reader files.
  • Mobipocket (.mobi and .prc) – The Mobipocket file format is a widely-used file format and is considered an open standard.
  • Portable Document (.pdf) – The Portable Document file format is designed to emulate a printed page and these files can cause problems on ereaders if not properly marked for reflow when the files are created. The Portable Document file format is considered to be an open file standard.
  • Rich Text (.rtf) – Rich text files allow for more options in formatting and do allow embedded images but still do not offer advanced security. The Rich Text file format is an open file standard.
  • Text (.txt) – The Text file format is often called the “plain text” file format. This is one of the most basic file formats available and offers one of the smallest file sizes but the trade off for that is that plain text files do not allow for attractive formatting, embedded images or advanced security. The Text file format is an open standard file format.


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