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File Format
Name EXE
Extension(s) .exe

EXE is a family of executable file formats. It includes the original MS-DOS EXE format, and a number of newer formats built on top of that format. Most of them use the same .exe file extension.

Although all members of the EXE family have a file signature of "MZ", it seems that the term "MZ format" is generally used to mean only MS-DOS EXE (i.e. files designed for MS-DOS).

EXE files designed for operating systems other than MS-DOS usually contain a short program (called a DOS stub) which, when executed by DOS, prints a message like "This program cannot be run in DOS mode" or "This program requires Microsoft Windows", and immediately exits. Some programs contain a more functional DOS stub, e.g. the Windows 9x registry editor.


This is an incomplete outline of the EXE family of formats.

  • EXE
    • MS-DOS EXE
    • NE (New Executable, 16-bit)
    • Linear Executable
      • LE (mixed 16/32-bit)
      • LX (32-bit)
    • PE (Portable Executable)
      • PE32 (32-bit Windows)
      • PE32+ (64-bit Windows)


See also the articles for the specific EXE formats.

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