How to Read and Open .DAT Files in Windows?

Mainly, there are three types of files with the .dat extension, which include VCD videos, the common data file, and the Winmail.dat file.

A .dat file extension represents a file that contains raw data, and does not have any recognizable icon —it simply shows a blank page icon on Windows. When you double-click a .dat file, Windows asks you to select a program to open the file. But you don’t know which program will be appropriate to open such a file.

Open DAT files on Windows

Generally, on Windows, the file extension is used to show what type of data is there in the file and also to determine which application should be used to open the file.

Any file used to store data with the .dat extension is considered a DAT file. It can contain a variety of formats, but most commonly, it’s just plain text. However, since there’s more than one type of file, there’s no shortage of programs you can use to open them.

First, you have to determine whether it’s a video or text-based to figure out how to open a DAT file. That can be tricky since there’s nothing about the file that discloses its format right off the bat. One way to do it is by using a code-reading program.

Sometimes .dat files should be left as they are because they contain vital data related to a piece of software that’s best not tampered with. But other times .dat files can actually be media files, email files, or other file types that Windows or a given software has failed to define for some reason. In these situations .dat files can actually be opened.

By default, .dat files don’t associate with any particular program, and they shouldn’t because the data they contain is often binary and undecipherable. However, if you want to open any DAT file, then the most universal way is to use a text editor like Notepad++, which displays the internal file information far more clearly.

What Is a DAT File?

Generic data files with the DAT extension are meant to store important information related to the program that created them. More often than not, they’re bundled with DLL and other config files. They’re mostly hidden away in data directories, but sometimes you can get one as an email attachment.

What is a DAT file

Each kind of DAT file is created and handled by different software. The data is then used as a blueprint for various system tasks. Since it’s hard to know whether a DAT file includes images, videos, text, or software configuration files, there’s no one way to open them. You’ll have to use a different program each time.

For text-based DAT files, Windows 10 has a built-in text editor – the Notepad ++, but of course, you’re not limited to using a pre-installed program. There are many alternative solutions you can download to your PC for free or even use online alternatives.

However, most devices and programs do not support DAT video files. Instead, you have to use a video player that supports DAT files explicitly if you want to play them without any problems.

How do “.dat” files work?

.Dat files usually work alongside DLL files. They contain configuration settings and other information necessary for a program to run. Depending on what data they contain, their structure will vary.

  1. For example, if the .dat file opens in a media player, it will likely be in video file format.
  2. Some email programs also make use of the .dat files.
  3. Even some games save data in the form of .dat files, such as a player’s progress and other statistics about the game.
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When are you likely to come across “.dat” files?

Here are some most likely cases where you can see .dat files:

  1. You are likely to deal with .dat files when you are dealing with a program’s settings.
  2. 2.     If you back up your email, it is likely that your email program will create .dat files in its proprietary format.
  3. 3.     Sometimes video is also shared in the form of .dat files. The smooth playback of such files depends on whether you have the appropriate codec installed on your PC.

A file with the .DAT file extension is usually a generic data file that stores information specific to the application it refers to. Sometimes you’ll find them by themselves, but often they’re with other configuration files like DLL files.

No specific program is responsible for creating or using every type of DAT file. A wide variety of applications use them as references to certain operations in their respective programs.

Since most DAT files are tucked away from view in an application’s data folders, you’ll probably see .DAT files most often if a video file is being stored this way, or if you’ve received a malformed email attachment with the extension.

Because .DAT files are not as specific as most files, since the file extension doesn’t immediately explain how to open one, you have to do a bit of digging.

.DAT files are unlike most other file types because, as mentioned above, they don’t have an obvious program that opens them. Most other types of files do.

If you think the .DAT file you have should be “opened” or “used” in a specific way, you’ll need to figure out if it’s text-based, video-based, an attachment, or some other kind of .DAT file.

Also, how and where you got the .DAT file usually provides the necessary information to narrow down your investigative work.

How to Open a DAT File Using a Text Editor

Usually, the .DAT files are text-based and can be read using a code-editing computer program. Windows Notepad ++ is an obvious solution, since it’s already installed on the PC. Here’s how you can open DAT files by using the Windows 10 text editor:

  1. Locate the DAT file on your computer.
  2. Highlight the file with your cursor. Right-click to open the drop-down menu.
  3. Click “Open With” to access a list of recommended programs.
  4. Select “Notepad ++” from the options panel.
    Open DAT file using text editor

If it doesn’t open and instead, a new window appears with the word “NULL” written all over, the DAT file isn’t text-based. You’ll have to try another program.

Windows 10 is compatible with a wide range of third-party text editors you can download for free. Even though Notepad ++ is pretty solid, it’s not immune to glitches. If you think the .DAT file is text-based but still won’t open, try using one of the following alternatives:

  • Atom
  • VS Code
  • Vim
  • Bluefish
  • Komodo Edit

All of these present a solid alternative to Notepad ++ when it comes to handling DAT files.

How to Open Winmail.dat Files

Email servers sometimes translate emails into the .DAT format automatically. This is especially the case with Microsoft Outlook. If you receive an Outlook message but don’t have it installed on your PC, you’ll get a winmail.dat file attached instead. You won’t be able to open the whole email without using a third-party website.

Winmaildat.com is an online service created as a response to the Outlook configuration problems. You can access it with any browser and use it to open the .DAT email attachment. The online tool will show you what the file contains and allow you to convert and download the data. It only takes a few seconds and is pretty straightforward:

  1. Download the email attachment to your local drive.
  2. Open your preferred browser.
  3. Navigate to the search bar at the top of the screen and type Winmaildat.com.
  4. Move your cursor to the “Choose File” tab and click on it.
    How to Open Winmail dat Files
  5. A pop-up window will appear. Browse through your PC and locate the DAT file.
    How to Open Winmail.dat Files 2
  6. Click on the file and then “Open” to upload.
    How to Open Winmail.dat Files 3
  7. Hit the blue “Start” button. Wait a few seconds until Winmaildat.com processes the file.
  8. Once it’s finished, you’ll see the contents of the email on the “Result” page. Click on the file you want to download to your PC.
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How to Open DAT Files in Excel

If you’re sure a particular .DAT file contains plain text, you can view it in an Excel spreadsheet. For example, if a trustworthy email came in the form of a .DAT file attachment, feel free to open it with the Microsoft Office program. The process is pretty similar to uploading other types of files, with a tiny distinction.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Launch Microsoft Excel.
  2. Open a new workbook and click the “Files” tab in the top-left corner of the screen.
  3. A new window will appear. Select “Open” from the panel on the left-hand side.
  4. Click “Browse” from the list of options.
  5. Choose the folder with the .DAT file.
  6. To view it, click on the tab in the bottom-right corner of the screen.
  7. Select “All Files” from the drop-down list.
  8. Next, click on the “Open” option.
  9. A pop-up box will appear. To complete the process, click “Next” when prompted, then “Finish.”

How to Open Video DAT Files

In most cases, video-based DAT files originate in video editing software, so you can usually open them with one. For example, if you have the common Windows multimedia, the CyberLink PowerDirector installed, it’s a safe bet that’s where the file was created, especially if it’s stored in an adjacent directory. However, if you can’t figure out where the file came from, you can try your luck with a regular video player.

As we know, Windows 10 doesn’t have a built-in video player that supports .DAT files. While Windows Media Player is a reliable playback tool, it’s limited to the most common formats. You can download a third-party app like VLC Player and use it for playing DAT files.

To do so, follow the steps below:

  1. Open your favorite browser and go to the official VLC website.
  2. Click the orange “Download” button to get the player.
  3. Once you have installed it, find the .DAT file on your PC.
  4. Right-click on it to open a list of recommended actions.
  5. Click “Open With” and then select the VLC player from the list.

You’ll be able to open the file, but keep in mind most .DAT files are just computer codes. There’s hardly any point in opening it with a video player.

How to Convert DAT Files to Other Formats

If you have a preferred program, you can use a file converter to change the .DAT file to a corresponding format. Of course, the steps vary depending on the type.

There are several online tools you can use to do this. We already mentioned Winmail.dat which helps you decode broken Outlook messages.

If you want to change a video-based .DAT file to an MP4 format, it’s more convenient to download a desktop program. For Windows 10, one of the more popular solutions is Win FF. It’s entirely free to download and very user-friendly.

The steps below will guide you on how to download and use it to convert the file:

  1. Open up your preferred browser.
  2. Then download the program from the free Win FF software.
  3. Locate the .DAT file on your computer.
  4. Right-click the DAT file and delete the.DAT extension;
  5. Replace it with.MP4 or to the format of your desire;
  6. Next, launch the Win FF program.
  7. In the toolbar above, click the “+Add” button.
  8. Find the .DAT file and open it.
  9. Hit “Convert to” and select MP4;
  10. Choose the right video quality as well as settings
  11. Hit “Convert” once you’re done.
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If the file is used to store config data, there’s no need to convert it to another format. Also, keep in mind that, sometimes converting a .DAT file can make it unusable in the program that created it.

In some cases, if you’re sure you know the source of your DAT file (such as whether it was a video file), you can try to open .DAT in other formats, such as audio or video.

VCD files (which use the .mpg format), for example, can end up stored in the .dat format.

In a case like this, you can just right-click the .dat file, click Properties, then replace the “.dat” in its name with “.mpg” or whatever format you believe the original file was in. We strongly recommend doing this on a copy of the original .dat file, rather than the original, because it could break the file.

Convert DAT files

When you’re done, click OK, and the .dat file will be in a media format and will, with a bit of luck, it will actually work.

Other .DAT Files

Another program that uses the .DAT file is DriveImage XML and its purpose is entirely different from the ones mentioned above. DriveImage XML is a backup program and its .DAT file keeps the entire backup and an XML file accompanies it. You can’t view this file in any other program except DriveImage XML that created that file. Not to forget, Windows Registry also stores hives and other registry information in .DAT files.

These are just a few examples of the DAT files that are not meant to be opened manually. If you do, they will become corrupt and useless. If you want to open these files, you will have to open them with the programs that created them in the first place.

Conclusion

For the most part, .dat files are a byword for a vast, diverse range of software-critical files that aren’t to be tinkered with and tampered with. They’re obscured for a reason and normally contain complex piles of binary data that isn’t readily modifiable, and are obscure for a reason.

But if you believe that a given .dat file contains some kind of playable media, which is sometimes possible, then create a copy and by all means play around with it to see if you can open it in the relevant format. But we stress again, tinker around on a copy, not the original file.

In most cases, the .DAT files contain configuration data Windows OS uses for running particular tasks. Other times they are just plain text. Either way, you can use Notepad ++ to open them. If you’re not keen on the built-in text editor, you can turn to third-party websites and apps.

When it comes to video-based DAT files, you don’t have the option to use a pre-installed program. Instead, download a third-party video player or consider converting the file to a Windows Media Player-friendly format.

Lastly, Microsoft Outlook has a particular glitch where it converts regular email attachments into .DAT files. If that happens, there’s a custom-made online solution in the form of the Winmail.dat website.

The .Dat files are not likely to have executable code in them, so they pose a very low risk. However, it is still advisable to open such files from trusted sources only because they might contain harmful attachments if the file is an email message.

You can’t usually change a file extension to one that your computer recognizes and expect the newly renamed file to be usable. However, in the case of a .DAT file you received via email that you know is supposed to be, maybe, a Word document file, but it instead ends in the .DAT extension, try renaming it to the correct extension and give that a try.

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