Preservation action (Reappraise, Migrate)

Data Formats

The format of a file contains essential information about the data structure and thus determines which software can be used in order to open the file, make its content available, and/or edit it. Typically, you can identify the file format by its specific file extension. A distinction should be made between proprietary data formats and open data formats.

Proprietary data formats are encoded according to software-specific encryption principles, and can therefore be only opened, displayed and/or edited with certain programs. Examples of proprietary formats include those ending in .doc/.docx, .xls/.xlsx. In contrast, open data formats can be opened and edited using software from various manufacturers. Examples of open formats include those ending in .html, .jpg, .mp3, .gif.

Consequently, proprietary data formats (i.e., those encoded using software-specific encryption principles) are not perfectly suitable for long-term archiving. On the other hand, open data formats facilitate preservation activities.

File Format Conversion

Although file formats can be converted without damage, conversion should not be done lightly, as there is always a risk of information loss. In general, it is important to consider that converting larger files into smaller ones may result into reduced information density. Therefore, it is usually necessary to consider whether the advantage of a reduced file size outweighs the disadvantage of potential information loss.

The conversion itself can often be easily done in the software under the ‘Save As’ or ‘Export’ functions, and only in special cases a separate converter is required.