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File formats

Choosing the right file format can help ensure research data remains usable and accessible and will make sharing data easier.

Choosing file formats

In order to ensure that your research data remains accessible in the medium and longer term, the file format you choose should ideally have the following features:

  • Common/popular usage by the relevant research community
  • Standard representation (ASCII, Unicode)
  • Unencrypted
  • Uncompressed
  • Open documented standard/publicly available technical specifications.
  • Be suitable for extracting as well as viewing data
  • Be easy to annotate with metadata

For the long term accessibility of data files, ‘non-proprietary’ or ‘open’ formats are recommended. If the code is publicly available then the format is likely to be supported and maintained over a reasonable period by the user community.

The UK Data Service maintain a list of recommended and acceptable file formats for the most common types of data.

Technical information about file formats

PRONOM, the National Archives' online registry of technical information, is a resource for anyone requiring impartial and definitive information about the file formats, software products and other technical components required to support long-term access to electronic records and other digital objects of cultural, historical or business value.

Currently there is no authoritative comprehensive catalogue of formats, but there is a dynamic listing of 100 scientific data formats which may be consulted. 

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