The version of Excel, like all major Microsoft Office applications, has been updated for decades. Along with these updates, there have been minor changes to the Excel file extensions to accommodate the differences between these Excel files.
New file extensions not only introduce version differences. Some file extensions refer to a specific file type, such as whether it is an Excel template or an Excel file that contains a macro.
If you understand all the Excel file extensions, you will better understand how to save the file in the save file dialog box.
Why are Excel file extensions important
The Excel file extension provides you with important information about this file before you open it. It also allows you to organize the files you save in your directories as template files, macro-enabled files, and more. Just look at the Excel file extension to learn more about the Excel file and what it is used for.
Excel file extensions tell you:
- Whether macros or VBA are enabled.
- If the file was saved using an older version of Excel.
- Whether the file format was XML-based or binary-based.
- General legacy version with which the file was saved.
- Whether the file is a template.
You can see all file extensions in Excel by choosing File from the menu, choose Save As, and then select the file type dropdown menu below the file name field.
As you can see, each of the file types has a descriptive name that helps you understand what the file extension is used for.
Excel file extensions by version
The first group of file extensions is primarily related to which version of Excel the worksheet was saved in. The following extension types are associated with the versions of Excel shown here:
- Excel 97-2003: * .xls
- Excel 97-2003 template: * .xlt
- XML 2003 Table: * .xml
- Microsoft Excel 5.0 / 95 Workbook: * .xls
- Excel 97-2003 Add-in: * .xlam
- Excel 4.0: * .xlw
- Microsoft Works: * .xlr
As you can see, the * .xls file extension is the legacy default Excel format for all versions of Excel prior to Excel 2007.
Starting in Excel 2007, the default file extension for any Excel file was (and remains) * .xlsx.
The differences between XLS and XLSX
While Microsoft’s move to XLSX after Excel 2007 seems like a superficial change to the naming convention, the truth is that it was more than just a file extension.
XLS stores Excel spreadsheets in a file format known as Binary Interchange File Format. It was a proprietary file format created by Microsoft.
With the release of Excel 2007, Microsoft changed the default to XLSX, which is based on the Office Open XML format. It is a method of storing spreadsheet information in an XML file.
What were the benefits of switching to this new method of saving information in an Excel spreadsheet? A lot of them.
- Compatibility: Office Open XML files can be ported more easily into other applications that can read Office XML formats.
- Extensibility: External applications or programs can manipulate the content of the basic XML format – which means programmers can create software to edit Excel spreadsheets without even opening Excel itself.
- More secure: XML files are less prone to corruption than binary files such as XLS files.
- Smaller: You can store more data in a smaller file when using XLSX format. Microsoft claims XLSX files are 75 percent smaller than XLS files.
If none of these benefits really matter to you, you might be better off sticking with the old default XLS Excel format. This gives you two benefits.
First, XLS files are saved and opened faster. Second, Excel files with the XLS extension can be opened in any version of Excel, regardless of age.
Other Excel file extensions
Now that you understand the difference between XLS and XLSX, it is a little easier to understand what all the other Excel file extensions mean.
- .xlsm: Excel files in XML format that also support Excel macros.
- .xlsb: Excel files in binary format (earlier version) that also support Excel macros.
- .xltx: Excel file saved as a template to be used as a starting point for future Excel workbooks
- .xltm: Excel macro-enabled file saved as a template.
Excel Template Files
If you are not familiar with Excel templates, it might be time to explore and start using them. If you find yourself creating many tables with the same formatting, formulas, or layout, a template can save you a lot of time.
All you have to do to create a template is set up formatting, layouts, and other aspects of the worksheet that you don’t want to recreate every time. Then save the file with one of the Excel file extensions listed above for the template format.
In fact, when you open a new file in Excel, you can search thousands of pre-made templates across many categories.
Opening other file types
Excel is not limited to opening only files with Excel extensions. When you open a file in Excel and select it from the file type dropdown list, you will see a long list beyond what is stated in this article.
This is because there are third party file formats that are also supported in Excel.
- * .xml: Any spreadsheets from applications that store XML Spreadsheet 2003 sheets, or direct XML data. files.
- * .prn: Lotus spreadsheets.
- .txt: Tab-delimited or Unicode text files.
- .csv: Comma delimited text files
- .dif: Data interchange text files
- .slk: Symbolic link text files
- .dbf: dBase data files
- .ods: Opendocument spreadsheets (Google Docs or OpenOffice
- .pdf: Preserves data formatting when PDF data files are opened.
- .xps: XML Paper Specification data files
Keep in mind that depending on the version of Excel you are using, not all of these file types will appear as options when you save or open files.