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Document vs. File: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Published on November 15, 2023
Document refers to a written, drawn, or printed record of information. File refers to a container in a digital system storing data or programs.

Key Differences

A document is often a written or printed piece of information, such as a report or a letter. A file, in contrast, is a broader term referring to any collection of data stored on a computer or a physical container holding documents.
Documents typically refer to materials that convey information, whether handwritten, printed, or digital. Files, on the other hand, can include not just documents, but also images, programs, or any other type of data.
In the digital realm, a document becomes a type of file, specifically one that contains text or multimedia content. However, not all files are documents; some files might be executable software or system files.
Physically, a document is often a single piece of paper or a set of papers with information. In contrast, a file, particularly a file folder, is used to organize and store multiple documents.
In legal or formal contexts, the term document usually signifies an official or authoritative written or printed record. However, a file can refer to any collection of data or documents, not necessarily bearing legal weight.

Comparison Chart


Primarily text-based
Can be any data type


Information sharing
Data storage


Written/printed content
Digital or physical container


Often formal or official
General, including software


Less varied, usually text or images
Highly varied, includes all data forms

Document and File Definitions


A file composed primarily of text or images, often used for information sharing.
He opened the document to review the meeting notes.


A digital container for software, documents, or other data in formats like .exe, .jpg, or .txt.
The file was too large to email.


A digital file containing text, images, or both, often in formats like .docx or .pdf.
I'll send you the report as a PDF document.


A tool for smoothing or shaping objects, often made of metal.
He used a file to smooth the edges of the wood.


A piece of written, printed, or electronic matter that provides information.
She signed the official document without hesitation.


A tool used to store and organize documents, both in physical and digital forms.
He retrieved the contract from the file folder.


An official paper that serves as a record or proof.
The birth certificate is a vital document.


A collection of data or documents stored together on a computer or in a filing system.
She saved the project plan in a new file.


A piece of written work used for study or analysis.
The historical document provided insight into the ancient civilization.


To place documents in an orderly system or to submit officially.
She filed her tax returns before the deadline.


A written or printed paper that bears the original, official, or legal form of something and can be used to furnish decisive evidence or information.


A container, such as a cabinet or folder, for keeping papers in order.


Something, such as a recording or a photograph, that can be used to furnish evidence or information.


A collection of papers or published materials kept or arranged in convenient order.


Can a document be a file?

Yes, in digital form, a document is a type of file.

What is a file in computing?

A file is a digital container that stores data, programs, or documents.

What is the difference between a file and a folder?

A file is an individual data unit, while a folder is a container for organizing multiple files.

Can a file be physical?

Yes, a file can be a physical folder holding paper documents.

What types of information do documents contain?

Documents can contain text, images, or both, often providing information or records.

Do all documents need to be formal or official?

No, while many documents are formal, they can also be informal, like personal letters.

Are all files documents?

No, not all files are documents; some are programs, images, or system files.

What are common document formats?

Common document formats include .docx, .pdf, and .txt.

Is a photograph considered a document?

In general terms, a photograph is not a document, but in certain contexts, it can be used as documentary evidence.

Can files be organized within other files?

In digital systems, files can be organized within folders but not typically within other files.

What is a document?

A document is a written, drawn, or printed record that provides information.

Are digital documents more secure than physical ones?

Digital documents can be more secure if properly encrypted, but they also face cyber threats.

Can a file exist without any content?

Yes, it's possible to have an empty file with no content.

Is a book considered a document?

Generally, a book is not referred to as a document, but its individual pages can be considered documents.

Can the term 'file' refer to something other than documents or data?

Yes, 'file' can also refer to a tool used for smoothing or shaping.

What is the purpose of a file extension?

A file extension, like .pdf or .jpg, indicates the file's format and helps determine how to open it.

Is it necessary to back up digital documents?

Yes, backing up digital documents is crucial to prevent data loss.

Can a file be executable?

Yes, some files are executable programs (.exe), not just data storage.

What does it mean to file something?

To file something means to store it orderly in a system or submit it officially.

Is a spreadsheet considered a document?

Yes, a spreadsheet can be considered a type of document, especially in digital form.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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