.EXE File Extension

.EXE File Extension

File Type 1

Windows Executable File

Developer Microsoft
4.2  |  4944 Votes
Category Executable Files
Format Binary

What is an EXE file?

An EXE file is an executable program that can be run in Microsoft Windows. Most EXE files contain either Windows applications or application installers. Windows users can run the program an EXE file contains by double-clicking the file.

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Screenshot of a .exe file in Microsoft Windows 11
EXE file open in Microsoft Windows 11

EXE might be the most recognizable Windows file extension. EXE files contain data that Windows uses to recognize, read, and run the program the file contains. This data is saved in a compiled, binary format, sometimes referred to as machine code. EXE files also often contain additional program resources, such as the program's application icon and its GUI graphics assets.

What happens when I double-click an EXE file in Windows?

In Windows, all EXE files can be run by double-clicking them. If the EXE file contains an application, the application will open. If the EXE file contains an application installer, the installer will open and begin the installation process. If the EXE file contains a different kind of executable program, that program will run (which can potentially be dangerous; refer to the Warning section below).

How do I run an EXE file outside Windows?

The EXE file format is designed specifically for use with Windows. As such, non-Windows operating systems, such as macOS and Linux, cannot natively run programs saved as EXE files.

However, macOS, Linux, and other non-Windows users can run Windows programs on their PCs by creating a Windows virtual machine. For example, Parallels Desktop for Mac allows macOS users to create Windows virtual machines and run Windows programs on their Macs.

What is the difference between EXE files and MSI files?

Windows application installers are sometimes saved as .MSI files instead of EXE files. MSI files are very similar to EXE files, except they always contain application installers. They never contain Windows applications or other programs. Windows always uses the Windows Installer program to open MSI files.

Common EXE Filenames

setup.exe - A common name for application installers. When opened, it begins the installation process.

install.exe - Another popular name for app installers.

cmd.exe - The shell program used by Windows 2000 and later, replacing COMMAND.COM.

How do I open an EXE file?

In Windows, to run the program an EXE file contains, locate the file and double-click it. However, do not double-click the file unless you can verify its legitimacy.

In macOS, you can use a Windows virtual machine created by Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion to run the program an EXE file contains.

In Linux, you can use a Windows virtual machine created by Oracle VM VirtualBox to run the program an EXE file contains. You can also use Wine, an application designed specifically to allow users to run Windows applications without installing Windows.

In Android, you can use the Android version of Wine to run Windows applications. However, Wine for Android is limited by Android devices' architecture, and it can run only some Windows programs.


EXE files are typically legitimate Windows applications, but they can also be used to distribute and execute malware attacks. To protect against malicious Windows executable attacks, do not double-click an EXE file you have downloaded or received via email unless you trust the file's source.

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Programs that open EXE files

Updated January 13, 2022
File Type 2

PortableApps.com Application

Developer Rare Ideas
3.6  |  615 Votes
Category Executable Files
Format Binary

What is an EXE file?

Computer program that can run from a portable device such as a USB flash drive, iPod, or portable hard drive; contains user settings on the portable device, allowing the program to run the same on multiple computers.

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Portable apps use the compound file extension .PAF.EXE.

Programs that open EXE files

Updated June 17, 2008

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