Libre file format (or free file format)

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A free file format (or libre file format) is an open file format which is not encumbered by any copyrights, patents, trademarks or other restrictions so that anyone may write free software to view or edit files in that format and distribute the files (and the software) without restriction[1]. Users may participate in the development of its specification and optionally create extensions and variations[2].

Typically, a libre software (reference) implementation is available - a program demonstrating use of the format, proving it is implementable.

Note that being in a free file format is a necessary but not sufficient condition to guarantee the four freedoms of the free knowledge definition[3].

This page is intended to become a useful educational reference on free file formats and why they are so important for free culture and libre knowledge initiatives like WikiEducator.

Why Libre Knowledge and Free Culture Initiatives Use Free/Open File Formats

Andromeda and Milky Way collision - Visualization Credit: NASA; ESA; and F. Summers, STScI; Simulation Credit: NASA; ESA; G. Besla, Columbia University; and R. van der Marel, STScI

Free content media streamed from Wikimedia Commons

Download: .ogv

WikiEducator's policy[4] is to co-develop and share learning resources which qualify as free cultural works whose definition states: "While non-free formats may sometimes be used for practical reasons, a free format copy must be available for the work to be considered free."

With access to a free format file which is a free cultural work (or libre knowledge resource), educators and learners are free to

  • help themselves: free to read, listen to, watch, or otherwise experience and use the resource (e.g. for learning and teaching);
    • study how the resource works and modify it for their own purposes (e.g. adapt it for personal learning or for a class of learners)
      • to do this generally requires software to edit the file; in the interests of inclusivity, equality and freedom, libre knowledge initiatives direct users to (and encourage the development of) free software for editing the file in an unrestricted free/open format
  • help their neighbours: free to make copies and share them freely with anyone who might benefit
  • help their community: free to adapt and enhance the resource (e.g. localise/translate and recontextualise the resource for the local culture, and share the results
    • With free file formats it is easy for software developers to develop free software editors; there are no software license fees or patent royalties (now or in future) (e.g. for software to modify the media files or for permission to distribute the files).

By sharing resources (for which the above freedoms have been granted) in free file formats, the readers/audience may exercise their freedoms using free software. Educators and learners may participate, access, co-develop and share resources without having to pay for permission (with money and their freedom to help each other to do so).

In a free/libre knowledge society citizens are free of

  • restrictions on use of the resources available and restrictions on being able to adapt and share
  • being controlled by corporations and industries with a vested interest in restricting society and their use of the Internet
  • the threat of patent lawsuits and
  • licensing fees for software required to participate.
  • ...
  • ...


Useful links for educators and learners who might like to help in developing this resource. Please improve this collection.



The following sites promote the use free/open file formats and most outline their rationale:

Freedom to innovate. Community-led innovation. (expand anyone?)


Check out how they do it on Wikipedia:
Wikipedia-logo-en.png Wikipedia:Creation and usage of media files
Wikipedia has an article on this subject.

Visit Wikipedia:Creation and usage of media files for more in depth information

For now, please add links. Ultimately, link to WikiEducator tutorials ....


The current situation is not ideal as not all web browsers support free/open formats for various reasons. With respect to video and audio, HTML5 is in a deadlock as the major players cannot (or will not) agree on default formats. So, how can web developers and users best service their needs?


Use a service based on software libre. Examples include:

Embedding on WikiEducator

Experimental templates are available. Examples:



Free software video editors:

Acceptable File Formats





Unacceptable File Formats

Caveat: the status of file types as being acceptable/unacceptable may change, and any existing list might not be complete. Use the precautionary principle and if in doubt use a file type listed as being acceptable at a reputable site such as the Wikimedia Commons.

In terms of the freedoms associated with the Free Cultural Works definition, file formats not listed on pages such as project on allowable- file types are probably not acceptable.

As yet WikiEducator does not have a general list apart from the one shown when uploading files. Currently (6 Nov 2011) the list includes: png, gif, jpg, jpeg, svg, elp, swf, flv, pdf, odt, odp, ods, mp3, mm, ogg, ogv, oga. The acceptability of the flash formats (swf, flv) is questionable. What matters is that anyone should be able to play the file with free software (and not be required to use non-free software).

A page has been set up (Wikieducator:Managing Uploaded Files) to help manage uploaded files and ensure that they are acceptable.

Further Reading

See Also


Wikimedia projects such as Wikipedia, Wikiversity and Wikimedia Commons have help pages related to this topic:

The following also provide related information:

The principles also apply to protocols and fonts.


  1. Free File Format Definition
  2. In cases where a format has become a "standard", extensions and variations should be clearly indicated so that the resulting format is clearly distinct from that standard.
  3. For example, relevant Creative Commons licences disallow use of technical measures to prevent users from exercising their freedom to use, copy, modify and share the resource.
  4. See the Open Community Governance Policy. WikiEducator's default license, the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, qualifies.