Author Topic: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?  (Read 2115 times)

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Offline LeoTech

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Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« on: April 25, 2020, 10:47:11 am »
Hello everybody,

This has been very confusing to me at times, and to be honest I do not get it.

Almost everywhere you go to download something - especially in the open source community - the .exe file is often referred to as a binary file.
This makes zero sense to me, every file on a computer is binary based, and solely calling a .exe file for binary is just stupid and uninformed.

Even wikipedia has the following to say about binary files: "A binary file is a computer file that is not a text file." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binary_file)
AFAIK, a text file is as binary as the browser in which I am typing right now.

As great as the internet is, this is just a stupid mistake that somebody once made and now everybody keeps repeating that.
Do any of you guys know a compelling argument for refering to these files as binary? Because if not, let's try to stop that misconception. And just call the exectables, which in my mind is a far more correct and usefull name.

Leo
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Online greenpossum

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #1 on: April 25, 2020, 10:57:40 am »
Because if not, let's try to stop that misconception.

 :-DD Good luck with that. There are lots of terms which are slightly wrong now but you'll never correct the usage.

Besides calling them executable is also slightly wrong because they are only executable wrt a particular processor. An executable for an Intel processor would just be binary to an ARM processor. Even within families a Pentium executable would be meaningless on a 8086.

So as long as it's not text, it's not wrong to call them binary. But feel free to call them executables, nobody will correct you.

Edit: The thing with categories is there will always be exceptions to them, such is human creativity. Here's something to think about: a BASIC program file, that's readable text right? So not binary, right? But what if I told you that the BASIC file is stored tokenised as Microsoft Basic for CP/M used to do. If you look at it in a hex display program it's binary. But if you list it inside the BASIC interpreter it's text. Categories are slippery. By all means be as precise as you can but accept that human communication will always be less than 100% precise.
« Last Edit: April 25, 2020, 11:49:25 am by greenpossum »
 

Offline cgroen

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #2 on: April 25, 2020, 11:27:26 am »
As great as the internet is, this is just a stupid mistake that somebody once made and now everybody keeps repeating that.

Leo

 :-DD Not sure how old you are, but we called files binary and non-binary long before the internet (as we know it today) conquered  the world  ^-^
Calling a file "binary" is as common now as it were 40 years ago from where I'm from.
« Last Edit: April 25, 2020, 11:32:57 am by cgroen »
 
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Offline Bicurico

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #3 on: April 25, 2020, 11:36:59 am »
A binary file is a file where the meaning of each byte is not human readable.
A text or ASCII file is a file which is human readable in a text editor, because each byte is meant to be interpreted as an ASCII code.

A binary file can contain executable code or data - the data is just not readable in an text editor, in other words it does not represent ASCII data.

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Vitor
 
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Online jpanhalt

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #4 on: April 25, 2020, 11:42:51 am »
Here's something to ponder...

Here are a few lines from a .hex file:
[plain]
:100000002F0000EA24F0A0E340F0A0E32CF0A0E3EE
:1000100034F0A0E30000A0E1F0FF1FE5BA00A0E388
:10002000070000EAA800A0E3050000EAAE00A0E394
:10003000030000EAB400A0E304E04EE2000000EA9E
:10004000BF00A0E304E04EE280119FE50120D0E470
:10005000143091E5200013E3FCFFFF0A000052E397
:1000600000208115F8FFFF1A0850A0E39840A0E394
:100070002E0EA0E1002094E7143091E5200013E358
[/plain]

But what you are actually seeing on your monitor is ascii.  Does that make it "stupid" to call it a "hex" file?

 
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Offline Brumby

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #5 on: April 25, 2020, 11:54:14 am »
With a 'text file' if you look at the binary data in groups of however many bits are in the relevant character set (eg ASCII, Unicode and UTF-8) you see information that is readable in that form.

The term 'binary file' is used because no matter how you look at the content, it's just a bunch of 1's and 0's.

Calling such files 'executables' is also incorrect when you use it as a blanket term - because they may not be executable!!!  There is nothing stopping you having a data file containing binary data!

As for getting all twisted about this use of the term 'binary file' - all I can say is this: STOP BEING SO PRECIOUS!  This term came about as a result of the development of the information age culture.  So, no matter how 'incorrect' you may think it is, just get with the idea that it has become common practice and everyone who has used it in anything past the experience level of kindergarten, knows exactly what is meant.

Just take this on board and move on.  Don't push this or you will set yourself up as a snowflake - and your credibility will go down the toilet.
« Last Edit: April 25, 2020, 11:55:59 am by Brumby »
 
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Offline Siwastaja

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #6 on: April 25, 2020, 12:18:48 pm »
Binary file = catch-all term for everything that is not human-readable text. Slang, if you wish, but at least 40 years old, if not older, so nobody except you have any problem with it.

Yes, from the definition of binary ("relating to, composed of, or involving two things") not a pedantic term, but if this is a problem for you, you are going to have some horrible time doing anything, communicating with anybody. This isn't even bad.

You know, human language works that way that if you put two words together, their combined meaning doesn't need to be an exact logical combination of the words alone.

And yes, .exe (Windows/DOS executables) files are "binary files", but not all "binary files" are executables.

In some contexts, an ASCII text file might be called "binary file" as well - sometimes it just doesn't matter, and then we default to everything just being a file, in which case all files, as you correctly note, contain similar "binary" data, and in this sense, are all "binary files".

But, when we speak, we only use the term "binary file" in contexts where it does matter, and when we need to make a distinction between the human-readable textual representation and the native, efficient form of computer data. Example discussion: "Binary log files offer disk space savings and performance benefits; text log files are readable without special tools".
« Last Edit: April 25, 2020, 12:21:23 pm by Siwastaja »
 
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Online ogden

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #7 on: April 25, 2020, 12:19:19 pm »
This makes zero sense to me, every file on a computer is binary based, and solely calling a .exe file for binary is just stupid and uninformed.
Stupid and uninformed is claim that every file on your a computer is binary. Just do some further research about plain text files and you will hopefully find a peace.
 

Offline LeoTech

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #8 on: April 25, 2020, 12:27:00 pm »
Well, the generel consensus here appears to be the fact, that I am appearently to young to comment on this, where as you - the veterans - have used this term for ages, which makes it right. Just think about that statement, doesn't seem right, does it?

Because if not, let's try to stop that misconception.

 :-DD Good luck with that. There are lots of terms which are slightly wrong now but you'll never correct the usage.

Besides calling them executable is also slightly wrong because they are only executable wrt a particular processor. An executable for an Intel processor would just be binary to an ARM processor. Even within families a Pentium executable would be meaningless on a 8086.

So as long as it's not text, it's not wrong to call them binary. But feel free to call them executables, nobody will correct you.

Edit: The thing with categories is there will always be exceptions to them, such is human creativity. Here's something to think about: a BASIC program file, that's readable text right? So not binary, right? But what if I told you that the BASIC file is stored tokenised as Microsoft Basic for CP/M used to do. If you look at it in a hex display program it's binary. But if you list it inside the BASIC interpreter it's text. Categories are slippery. By all means be as precise as you can but accept that human communication will always be less than 100% precise.

Yeah, I know that, an executable is not executble on every platform and categories are unprecise, but my point is still valid, calling it an executable is more helpful desciption of the file than simply binary, because it could literally be everything.

With a 'text file' if you look at the binary data in groups of however many bits are in the relevant character set (eg ASCII, Unicode and UTF-8) you see information that is readable in that form.

The term 'binary file' is used because no matter how you look at the content, it's just a bunch of 1's and 0's.

Calling such files 'executables' is also incorrect when you use it as a blanket term - because they may not be executable!!!  There is nothing stopping you having a data file containing binary data!

As for getting all twisted about this use of the term 'binary file' - all I can say is this: STOP BEING SO PRECIOUS!  This term came about as a result of the development of the information age culture.  So, no matter how 'incorrect' you may think it is, just get with the idea that it has become common practice and everyone who has used it in anything past the experience level of kindergarten, knows exactly what is meant.

Just take this on board and move on.  Don't push this or you will set yourself up as a snowflake - and your credibility will go down the toilet.

Yes I know, some files are jsut simple data, but if you are going to download a program, set file will be one you expect to execute to run the program, hence the name. And not everybody past the experience level of kindergarten knows what is meant, as you yourself stated, there are several forms of binary data - some can be exeuted and others not.

As far as I care, my credibility can go all the way down to the sewer pipe, because I you seem farly close minded about this, I am not saying that binary files are stupid, but rather that calling executables binary is stupid in the way that it may and can be misleading and confusing when having to download a program.When talking about a program, the term executable is far more helpful.

PS: If any mod reads this, just close the topic, otherwise we will just go on with everybody explaining how data can be represented in different ways, which we all know, and in the meantime completely missing the point. While I just become a bigger and bigger snowflake.
« Last Edit: April 25, 2020, 12:30:06 pm by LeoTech »
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Offline SimonR

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #9 on: April 25, 2020, 12:31:54 pm »
Don't forget that even in pure text form a BASIC file is executable because its interpreted.

Binary file = catch-all term for everything that is not human-readable text. Slang, if you wish, but at least 40 years old, if not older, so nobody except you have any problem with it.

I'd generally go along with this, over the years I've tended to call anything that has no specific named format a binary file.
 
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Online jpanhalt

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #10 on: April 25, 2020, 12:36:23 pm »
Well, the generel consensus here appears to be the fact, that I am appearently to young to comment on this, where as you - the veterans - have used this term for ages, which makes it right. Just think about that statement, doesn't seem right, does it?
he meantime completely missing the point. While I just become a bigger and bigger snowflake.

Didn't take long for you to play that card.  Fact is, you seem to have a hard time understanding an abstraction, so you call it "stupid." 

So far as I know, a file cannot be stupid.  That's purely an animal trait and mostly applied to humans.
 
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Offline LeoTech

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #11 on: April 25, 2020, 12:46:15 pm »
Well, the generel consensus here appears to be the fact, that I am appearently to young to comment on this, where as you - the veterans - have used this term for ages, which makes it right. Just think about that statement, doesn't seem right, does it?
he meantime completely missing the point. While I just become a bigger and bigger snowflake.

Didn't take long for you to play that card.  Fact is, you seem to have a hard time understanding an abstraction, so you call it "stupid." 

So far as I know, a file cannot be stupid.  That's purely an animal trait and mostly applied to humans.

Considering people where questioning my age and told me that it had been so for a long time, it was a valid card, but I could counter, with it didn't took you long to point it out.;)

AFAIK I never called a file stupid, but rather what one might call that file for stupid. In other words, your point is completely irrelevant and doesn't bring anything to the table except implaying that I as a human may/could be stupid. Next time, don't start discussing semantics about something I never said. That's pointless.
(Which could imply, that you have a hard time understand what I mean.)
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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #12 on: April 25, 2020, 12:52:25 pm »
Considering people where questioning my age and told me that it had been so for a long time, it was a valid card, but I could counter, with it didn't took you long to point it out.;)

Just wait few decades, that probably JPEG (.JPG) format is obsolete, and a cocky proud youngster shout out loud that why elders keep saying .JPG file is an image file, instead of a blob of binary file that needs extra trouble/effort to decode/view it at that time.

Offline Brumby

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #13 on: April 25, 2020, 01:37:06 pm »
To the OP:

Pick one (or more) of the following:
 * Troll
 * Snowflake
 * Pedant
 * Childish
 * Entitled

Please note: "Right" or any flavour thereof is not one of the options.


(I'd hate to see you on a discussion of current flow.)
 
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Offline rsjsouza

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #14 on: April 25, 2020, 01:38:13 pm »
Well, the generel consensus here appears to be the fact, that I am appearently to young to comment on this, where as you - the veterans - have used this term for ages, which makes it right. Just think about that statement, doesn't seem right, does it?
he meantime completely missing the point. While I just become a bigger and bigger snowflake.

Didn't take long for you to play that card.  Fact is, you seem to have a hard time understanding an abstraction, so you call it "stupid." 

So far as I know, a file cannot be stupid.  That's purely an animal trait and mostly applied to humans.

Considering people where questioning my age and told me that it had been so for a long time, it was a valid card, but I could counter, with it didn't took you long to point it out.;)

In my eyes the question about your age, which can at times be translated to inexperience on naïveté, came with the following assertive:

Because if not, let's try to stop that misconception. And just call the exectables, which in my mind is a far more correct and usefull name.

They way I read the first answers were people imparting their knowledge in a jokingly way. If you look around this forum, you will see lots of other similar threads with similar jokes and pokes.
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Offline Siwastaja

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #15 on: April 25, 2020, 01:42:37 pm »
Plain-text scripts (.sh, for example), are also executable. Heck, on Unix-like systems, they are literally "executable", because the flag called "executable" ('x') needs to be set. So here, "executable" is an actual technical term so your "solution" may actually add confusion instead of clearing something up.

"Binaries" can be driver modules, which are not executable files, you can't run the files, but they include binary, i.e. non-human-interpretable machine code that can be executed as a part of larger system.

Programmers and developers talk about "binaries" to make a clear distinction to source code.

Computer systems are complex; words and human language are even more complex. Drop the arrogance and pick your fights wisely, and you may actually learn a thing or two.

Especially damaging to your learning is getting fixated on small language details. Language is always sub-optimal because it carries a legacy of being developed by people discussing with each other. It's a system which has no designer.

I'm not against improving the language, but, are you really improving things here?

There are literally tens of thousands of suboptimal terms in use, you can't "fix" them all. Pick those which are actually very confusing, and pay close attention how to fix them properly, be careful not to increase the level of confusion. Replacing expressions with better ones is harder than you think.

I see absolutely no problem with word "binary" and how it is used. You will find much more problematic expressions that are actually confusing. When faced with such expressions, lead with example by coming up with a really intuitive substitute.
« Last Edit: April 25, 2020, 01:58:54 pm by Siwastaja »
 
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Offline Brumby

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #16 on: April 25, 2020, 01:44:05 pm »
Because if not, let's try to stop that misconception. And just call the exectables, which in my mind is a far more correct and usefull name.

The key phrase: "in my mind".

The world has grown with the current usage for decades.  It is not going to change for you.  Doing so would add confusion of a magnitude you could not imagine.  The easiest way to proceed is for you to "get with the programme".  The only problem being whether you are able to accept that.
 

Online BravoV

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #17 on: April 25, 2020, 01:55:41 pm »
Because if not, let's try to stop that misconception. And just call the exectables, which in my mind is a far more correct and usefull name.

The key phrase: "in my mind".

The world has grown with the current usage for decades.  It is not going to change for you.  Doing so would add confusion of a magnitude you could not imagine.  The easiest way to proceed is for you to "get with the programme".  The only problem being whether you are able to accept that.

C'mon, we had experienced young age as I believe most posters here, its all about the annoying period (sometimes) of desperately getting recognition or at least approval from someones on own ego.

Once this thread sinks into the abyss and forgotten, should someday in the long future when the OP reads or remembers this topic again, probably that will be a blushing moment for self.  :-DD
 
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Offline LeoTech

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #18 on: April 25, 2020, 02:10:55 pm »
To bad we ain't a group of pshycoogists. This would be one hell of a case study in human behavior. From both sides I might add. You guys might be veterans filled with experiences, but are very narrow minded and quick to jump to conclusions about others - especially stereotypes and prejudies - as am I.

Just one last remark, stop the name-calling for crying out loud, stop calling me a child, entitled and attention-seeking while at the same time conducting a discussion like someone half my age.

Close the thread, nobody is gaining anything from this except lots of self-validation by putting down others and verifying their own tunnel-vision. Which admittedly goes for me as well.

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Offline SiliconWizard

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #19 on: April 25, 2020, 02:13:22 pm »
Looks like confinement may have some bad psychological consequences for some of us... ::)
 
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Offline Syntax Error

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #20 on: April 25, 2020, 02:21:41 pm »
Leo, historically over 50 years ago, when a human readable computer program was compiled into machine readable code, the compiler output was termed "The Binary". A computer programmer might ask the computer operator to "load and run the binary." This binary file was often held on magnetic tape or  even punched paper tape. Even today, our devices still 'load' the binary file into a process to run.

The term binary has kind of stuck around, even if the file endings are not .bin  Some other common executable binaries to mind include .sys .dll .elf and .hex files.

It's just historic, rather like how we use the term 'cloud' for the internet. Anyone care to explain why we say "the cloud"?
 
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Offline IanB

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #21 on: April 25, 2020, 02:30:30 pm »
Do any of you guys know a compelling argument for refering to these files as binary? Because if not, let's try to stop that misconception. And just call the exectables, which in my mind is a far more correct and usefull name.

Object files and library files are binaries, but they are not executables. And as has been pointed out above, shell files and script files are executable, but they are not binaries. So there isn't a one to one correspondence between binary and executable.

A binary is a file that when opened in a text editor is not human readable.
I'm not an EE--what am I doing here?
 
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Offline rsjsouza

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #22 on: April 25, 2020, 02:30:33 pm »
It's just historic, rather like how we use the term 'cloud' for the internet. Anyone care to explain why we say "the cloud"?
Just like another term that confused me in my early days of computing: print. To me it made no sense to tell the computer to "print" something on the screen - "show" or "display" made more sense in my mind, even after I was told about how the early computers used paper printers (line printers). Eventually I got over this feeling.
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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #23 on: April 25, 2020, 02:40:02 pm »
Alternate view:

It's not what it is, it's what you do with it.

Text is expected to be formatted in device-specific ways.  Excess whitespace may be omitted entirely (e.g., HTML, C, etc.), expanded (e.g., typesetting?), or translated (e.g., utilizing Unicode spaces and joiners, or stripping them as the case may be).  Control characters have specified purposes, and also may be translated or removed as needed (e.g., *nix family CR vs. DOS family CR-LF sequences).  Everything else is given specific textual representation -- i.e., the graphic letters I am presently typing.

Most of these features are implemented by operating systems, sometimes transparently (e.g., opening the CON device as a text file).  If you're writing your own, say, serial terminal / emulator, you must implement these as well (the whole point of a terminal is at least basic text formatting and control, if not full ANSI or VT100 or whatever operating modes).

Whereas, "binary" must be inscrutable and untouchable.  Any accidental change of bits or bytes in the file will likely corrupt it for its intended purpose, and it must always be transferred wholly intact.

Now, it might well be that there's a great many ways a particular binary file could be changed, while remaining equivalent in some useful way to the original.  Examples: EXIF data in JPEG and various other formats; the number and size of chunks in a PNG file; the headers and memory mapping in an EXE file; etc.  But there are so many formats out there that assuming any one of them is a bad idea.  So we just call it "binary" and keep our hands off it.

You wouldn't want your OS going in and recompressing your images willy-nilly, would you?  (Mind, a lot of hosting servers do this for you, and much more -- beware!)

So -- text can always be treated as binary, but the converse is not true.  Text implies a format so standard (i.e., ASCII) that everyone can make the same assumptions about it (printable characters, variable space, meaningful control characters, etc.).

As noted above, these definitions don't need to be exclusive.  A hex file isn't hex as such (i.e., digits restricted to 0-15, in packed or unpacked bytes say), but it's ASCII coded.  Guess I'd say hex is a subset of text, and text is a subset of general binary files.  Don't forget there's always polyglot formats -- someone's devised a plain text version of x86 machine code, what might be considered simultaneously both binary and ASCII.  (Emphasis on binary though, as almost any change in the file will likely corrupt the executable part.)

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Offline bingo600

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Re: Why do people call an executable file (.exe) a binary file?
« Reply #24 on: April 25, 2020, 03:22:38 pm »
Here's something to ponder...

Here are a few lines from a .hex file:
[plain]
:100000002F0000EA24F0A0E340F0A0E32CF0A0E3EE
:1000100034F0A0E30000A0E1F0FF1FE5BA00A0E388
:10002000070000EAA800A0E3050000EAAE00A0E394
:10003000030000EAB400A0E304E04EE2000000EA9E
:10004000BF00A0E304E04EE280119FE50120D0E470
:10005000143091E5200013E3FCFFFF0A000052E397
:1000600000208115F8FFFF1A0850A0E39840A0E394
:100070002E0EA0E1002094E7143091E5200013E358
[/plain]

But what you are actually seeing on your monitor is ascii.  Does that make it "stupid" to call it a "hex" file?

I'd say this is an iHEX file (Intel hex format)  , but as  DOS alowed 3 letters for the file suffix ... What should they do ?

And some of us even know what a .COM file is ..  :scared:

Edit: And a .S19 file
/Bingo
« Last Edit: April 25, 2020, 03:24:24 pm by bingo600 »
 


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