The National Archives
Search our website
  • Search our website
  • Search our records
Image of software box and CD PRONOM
Welcome (PRONOM  home page) About PRONOM Add an entry
Search Help - opens in a new window Information resources - opens in a new window

*Details: File format summary



Search by keyword Search by file format Search by PUID Search by software Search by vendor Search by lifecycles Search by Migration Pathway

Details for:

Save as... XML | CSV Printer friendly version


Name Windows Portable Executable
Other names Common Object File Format, COFF, EXE
Identifiers MIME:  application/
Apple Uniform Type Identifier:
PUID:  x-fmt/411
Description A Windows Portable Executable (PE) is synonymous with a program or application that can potentially be run on Microsoft Windows. An executable is a file-format object that is compiled from source code files written in languages such as C, C++, Golang, or Rust among others. A PE is native to Windows and like other executables or programs, provided a means of distributing applications that performed a certain task or tasks for a specific operating system. Executables are compiled to a certain register width, e.g. 8-bit, 16-bit, 32-bit or 64-bit; which impacts the size of variables in memory, and may impact compatibilty on older or newer versions of an operating system, respectively. Executables might require external libraries or configuration to function and so the technical environment needed to run an executable should be documented and understood in order to preserve functionality over time and to protect future potential users of these files. The Windows Portable Executable format is used for the 'executable' component of a program, as well as external libraries such as dynamic link libraries (DLLs) other potential extensions are listed as '.acm, .ax, .cpl, .dll, .drv, .efi, .exe, .mui, .ocx, .scr, .sys, .tsp, .mun') ( Despite the name, PE files will not run on other operating systems such as MacOS and Linux. Application programs must be compiled to a specific operating system architecture to run on different environments, and PE files will have been compiled to a specific Windows architecture, e.g. 32-bit (fmt-899) or 64-bit (fmt-900).
Orientation Text
Byte order  
Related file formats Has lower priority than Windows Portable Executable (32 bit)
Has lower priority than Windows Portable Executable (64 bit)
Has priority over MS-DOS Executable  
Has priority over Windows New Executable  
Technical Environment  
Supported until  
Format Risk  
Developed by None.
Supported by None.
Source Digital Preservation Department / The National Archives
Source date 17 Feb 2006
Source description 04/2024 (v.117): Description added as part of PRONOM Research Week 2023. Submitted by Ross Spencer.
Last updated 17 Apr 2024
Note This specification describes the structure of executable (image) files and object files under the Windows family of operating systems. These files are referred to as Portable Executable (PE) and Common Object File Format (COFF) files, respectively-
Top of page Top of page
The National Archives Newsletter Icon

Send me The National Archives’ newsletter

A monthly round-up of news, blogs, offers and events.