An EXE file contains an executable program for Windows. EXE is short for "executable," and it is the standard file extension used by Windows programs. For many Windows users, EXE files are synonymous with Windows programs, making ".exe" one of the most recognizable file extensions.
EXE files contain binary machine code that has been compiled from source code. The machine code is saved in such a way that it can be executed directly by the computer's CPU, thereby "running" the program. EXE files may also contain resources, such as graphics assets for the GUI, the program's icon, and other resources needed by the program.
On non-Windows platforms, such as macOS and Linux, EXE files are not used for executables. macOS, for example, uses .APP files to run apps. However, if you would like to run an EXE file on a non-Windows platform, you can use a virtual machine, such as Parallels Desktop or VM VirtualBox, which allows Windows to be run within a non-Windows environment.
Common EXE Filenames
Setup.exe - A very common name for software program installers. When opened, it starts the installation process.
Install.exe - Another popular name for software installers.
cmd.exe - The shell program used by Windows 2000 and later, replacing the COMMAND.COM shell.
EXE files are typically legitimate Windows applications, but they may also be used for distributing and executing malware attacks on victims' computers. To protect against malicious Windows executable attacks, never double-click an EXE file you have downloaded or received via an email attachment unless you can verify the legitimacy of the source.