A User Guide To Understand DAT Files

DAT files serve an important role across several industries as the format bundles together media or data much like ZIP files. Whether you’ve received a DAT file containing text that needs reviewing or found old DAT backups with precious archived projects, unlocking the contents can be confusing without context.

This guide serves both as DAT file format 101 and a how-to reference for non-technical users needing to access data stored within DAT files. While dealing with unfamiliar DAT packages may seem intimidating initially, having an overview of what the file type represents and proper handling best practices helps users extract contents seamlessly across common scenarios. 

What is a DAT File

A DAT file, short for “data file,” is a generic file extension used to store various types of data from text and graphics to images and video. The term itself does not specify a particular format or content structure. 

Instead, DAT files serve different purposes depending on the application generating or utilizing them. Various programs and applications generate DAT files to store configuration settings, user preferences, logs, or any other form of structured or unstructured data. 

Some common examples include email clients, web browsers, and database applications. As a matter of fact, some multimedia applications, such as video editing software or games, use DAT files to store project-related data, game settings, or additional resources.

Moreover, the internal structure of DAT files isn’t as obvious as most files – it depends on the software that creates them. For example, an MP3 file clearly tells you that it is an audio file. 

However, understanding the structure or content within a DAT file often requires knowledge of the specific application or software used to generate the file.

How to Open a DAT File on Mac

Unlike many other file types that have specific programs for opening them, DAT files lack a default application because they can contain different types of data. 

Hence, before opening a DAT file, you’ll need to determine whether it’s text-based, video-based, an email attachment, or other format entirely.

The details of how and where you obtained the file often offer valuable clues to streamline your investigation. After identifying the type of DAT file, below are different ways to open several types of DAT files on Mac. 

Text-Based DAT Files

DAT files primarily comprised of text are quite prevalent, and in such cases, a basic text editor like Mac’s TextEdit app can easily open the file. However, if your DAT file contains content beyond plain text, opening it in TextEdit may reveal numerous “NUL” references. This initial step can be valuable when attempting to identify the nature of the information within the DAT file.

That being said, follow the steps below to open text-based DAT files on Mac using TextEdit:

  1. First, download the DAT file to the local storage of your Mac.
  2. Following that, right-click on the DAT file and choose “Open With.”
  3. Finally, select TextEdit from the dropdown menu.

Email Attachments DAT Files

When you receive a DAT file as an email attachment, it often appears as a winmail.dat or ATT0001.dat file. These attachments are likely malformed and originate from Microsoft email products such as Outlook, Windows Live Mail, Outlook Express, or Microsoft Exchange.

Now, you might be wondering, “winmail.dat how to open on Mac?” To open such a file on your Mac, save the file and then upload it to Winmaildat to extract the actual attachment. 

Another option is to use the Klammer or BetterZip app.

Video DAT Files

Certain DAT files are essentially video files created using programs like CyberLink PowerDirector. As a result, these DAT files can be opened using the respective program.

You can also attempt to open the video DAT file with a multimedia player that supports various formats. VLC Media Player is a popular choice for playing a wide range of video file types and can often handle DAT files.

Other DAT Files

As I have mentioned before, various applications can generate DAT files to serve different purposes. Therefore, if your DAT file isn’t text-based, video-based, or an email attachment, it is probably a unique DAT file that serves a distinct purpose. 

For example, DriveImage XML uses DAT files to create a mirror image backup. Basically, the program consolidates the entire backup into a single DAT file, complemented by an XML file.

Thus, if you come across such a DAT file, you will have to use the exact program to open it. 

Best Practices for DAT Files

Best practices for DAT files involve ensuring proper handling, organization, and security. Here are some recommendations:

Identify the File Type

Understand the content and purpose of the DAT file. Determine if it is text-based, video, or associated with a specific application.

Use the Correct Program

Open DAT files with the appropriate program. If it’s a text-based DAT file, use a text editor; for videos, use a compatible media player or conversion tool.

Secure Against Malware

Be cautious when dealing with DAT files from unknown sources. Malicious software can be disguised as DAT files, so ensure your security software is up to date.

Backup Original Files

Before making any changes or conversions, create a backup of the original DAT file. This ensures you can revert to the original state if needed.

Check for Manufacturer Tools

If the DAT file is generated by a specific software or device, check if the manufacturer provides tools for handling or converting these files.

Follow Application-Specific Guidelines

Some applications may have specific recommendations for handling DAT files. Follow guidelines provided by the software or application generating these files.


In summary, this user guide provides valuable insights into comprehending DAT files, shedding light on their diverse applications and the significance of recognizing their distinct types. Armed with knowledge of what they are and how to open them, users are better equipped to navigate through the intricacies of these files with confidence. 



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