What Is an XML File? (Definition, Benefits and How To Open)

Updated March 16, 2023

An open laptop shows code on the screen.

Many professions in the current job environment require at least some proficiency with computers and technology. Part of this proficiency includes an understanding of file formats, including XML files. Knowing what XML files are and how to use them can help you navigate a technologically-advanced workplace.

In this article, we explain what XML files are, describe their advantages, list some common uses of XML and show how to open an XML file.

What is an XML file?

An XML file is an extensible markup language file that structures data for storage and transport. In an XML file, there are both tags and text. The tags provide structure to the data. These tags, which adhere to specific syntax guidelines, surround the text in the file that you wish to store.

For example, Microsoft Office versions 2007 and later use XML for their document structure. So, when you save a document in Word, Excel or PowerPoint, you get the document title with an "X" at the end, which stands for XML. For a Word document, the title appears with ".DOCX" at the end.

Related: What Is a .DOCX File? (And How To Open One Using 3 Methods)


XML is a markup language, meaning that it uses tags to describe components in a file. This XML markup language contains actual words instead of programming syntax. The most popular markup languages are HTML and XML. You may already be familiar with HTML, but XML has a few key differences, such as:


HTML, or hypertext markup language, displays information, while XML transfers information. Typically, HTML is for encoding web pages. In contrast, XML is a language for data description and programmers use it to store data.

Related: 51 XML Interview Questions (With Example Answers)


HTML uses a pre-selected range of markup symbols or shortcodes, which describe the presentation of a web page's content. Conversely, XML is extensible and allows users to customize and create their own markup symbols. In this way, with XML, users have complete control and can create an unlimited symbol set to describe their content.

Related: What Is an XML Sitemap and Why Do You Need One?

Advantages of XML

XML files provide a range of benefits, including:


XML files are easy to comprehend because they use human language with actual words instead of computer code. XML tag names clearly define and explain the data. Each tag comes before the data, so the information is neat and organized. Additionally, the XML markup language exchanges data in a straightforward way, making it easy for computers to process XML files.

Related: Types of Database Languages and Their Uses (Plus Examples)


XML files are compatible with Java and are completely portable. This means that you can access and transport data at any time and from any location. All you require are applications that can process XML, and then you can store and transmit your data.

Related: 10 Common Web Services Interview Questions (With Example Answers)


As an extensible markup language, XML allows users to create their own tags or use tags created by other users. If you're using tags from other users, make sure that the tags are using the natural language of your domain and that they have the required features. Users can create an unlimited amount of tags in XML.

Related: 50 Types of Programming Languages and What They Do

Common uses of XML

XML has multiple uses across a wide range of web pages and applications. Some common uses of XML include:

Web publishing

With XML, users can create and customize interactive web pages. Once XML stores the data, you can manipulate the content for different users or multiple devices. Make sure that you're checking the style sheet processing along the way. It may be helpful to use an extensible style sheet language transformation processor, which allows you to transform the XML file into other layouts, such as HTML for web pages. In a business, using XML in this way is usually the job of the web developer.

Related: How To Convert XML to Excel in 4 Steps (Plus Tips)

Web tasks

You can use XML for web searching and automation tasks. XML examines the information in a file, which makes it easier to get top results when you're performing a web search. For instance, if a user conducts a web search for an author named Jim Green using HTML, the search results page may show other occurrences of the term "green" aside from the author. But if you use XML, search engines limit the results to "Jim Green", since it appears in the tag.

Related: How To Change File Types on Windows, Mac and Other Programs

General applications

All kinds of applications can benefit from XML as it offers a streamlined method of accessing information. This straightforward process allows both applications and devices to use, store, transfer and display data. For example, in the workplace, data architects and programmers use XML to make information more searchable.

Related: 21 Different Types of Files and How to Use Them

How to open an XML file

Working with XML files is relatively simple, even for a beginner. You can open and edit these files with either a text editor or a web browser, as outlined below:

Opening an XML file with a text editor

Both the Notepad and Notepad++ text editors are good options for opening XML files. The steps for opening an XML file with a text editor include:

  1. Right-click the XML file you want to open.

  2. Point to “Open With” on the context menu.

  3. Click the “Notepad” option or any other text editor you're using.

Related: File Extension Interview Questions for IT Professionals

Opening an XML file with a web browser

Here are the steps for opening an XML file in a web browser:

  1. Open your default web browser.

  2. Double-click on the XML file to open it in your browser.

  3. If it doesn't open, right-click on the file to find a list of options for opening it with other programs.

  4. Now you can select your web browser from the list of programs.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned above are affiliated with Indeed.

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