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.exe is a common filename extension denoting an executable file (the main execution point of a computer program) for DOS, OpenVMS, Microsoft Windows, Symbian or OS/2. Besides the executable program, many .exe files contain other components called resources, such as bitmap graphics and icons which the executable program may use for its graphical user interface.
There are several file formats which may be used by a file with a .exe extension:
When a 16-bit or 32-bit Windows executable is run by Windows, execution starts at either the NE or the PE, and ignores the MZ code known as DOS stub. Started in DOS the stub typically displays a message "This program cannot be run in DOS mode" (or similar) before exiting cleanly. A few dual-mode programs (MZ-NE or MZ-PE) such as regedit and older WinZIP self extractors include a more functional DOS section.
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Besides these, there are also many custom EXE formats, such as W3 (a collection of LE files, only used in WIN386.EXE), W4 (a compressed collection of LE files, only used in VMM32.VXD), DL, MP, P2, P3 (last three used by Phar Lap extenders), and probably more.