Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

What are XML documents?


Can you tell me what XML documents are? I have loads in my WINNT folder that seem to be connected to searches through google.
Can I delete them?

Yes and no. I can tell you what XML documents are, but I can’t tell you what those XML documents are.

But I do have some suggestions for cleaning things up.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

XML stands for “eXtensible Markup Language” – it’s nothing more than a specification for structuring data, and not much

It’s that “not much more” that’s going to be our problem here.

The issue is that while the fact that it’s a “.xml” file tells you that it’s some kind of structured data, it doesn’t tell you
at all what the data is, or who produced it. Much like a “.dat” file there’s just no way to
know what a “.xml” file contains without knowing more about it.

“… there’s just no way to know what a ‘.xml’ file contains without knowing more about it.”

Now, unlike a “.dat” file, a “.xml” file is text, so one approach might be to open up the file in notepad and take a peek. The
problem here is that it’s extremely likely that the results will still be incomprehensible to most folks. In other words, you might
be able to look at the data, but that still won’t help you figure out what it is.

There are several approaches to dealing with unknown files like “.xml” files you don’t recognize:

  • Do nothing. In reality, this is my preferred approach. As long as they’re not causing you a problem in some
    way, then there’s no real incentive to do anything about them. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” really does apply to

  • Rename them and see what happens. This is a quick test to see if you can rename a file – if you can’t
    it’s possible that some program is using the file, which of course may help identify what the file is all about. How can I find out who is using a “file in use”? will help you determine
    if the file is in use, and by whom. When renaming, it’s best to rename the extension – meaning you would rename “a.xml” to something
    like “a.xmlsave”. If you find you need the file you can then rename it back.

  • Back it up, delete it and see what breaks. Backing the file or files up first is important because it may be a
    while before you find out that you really did need what you deleted. You can burn them to CD or copy them to another machine. Just
    make sure that you can recover them a week or a month later when you find out that for some reason you really didn’t want to delete
    them in the first place.

  • Take your chances. You can delete the file and deal with the consequences, whatever they may be. Naturally I do not
    reccommend this approach, particularly when backing up first is such an easy thing to do.

The bottom line here is simply this: knowing that a file is an XML file tells you almost nothing about it. You need to know what
it contains, or who created it, in order to really know what the file’s purpose is.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

2 comments on “What are XML documents?”

  1. In my experience, .xml fikes open in a browser, and can be all sorts of things. For instance, Windows Live Messenger logs are kept in xml files. Find them, open them in Firefox, and they have all your conversations in ordered fashion.

  2. What if the xml file is missing in the free adware program?? I use the free adware: Could not close adware after scanning – Received this error message: Componet: TForm AAW – “No root element found in xml” What can I do to fix this? Thanks for your help, Mary-ann

    You’ll have to contact the provider of that software and ask them.



Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.