Configuration File Definition & Meaning

A configuration file contains instructions that control the basic settings for computer systems and applications. When a computer program runs, configuration files provide parameters for the program s operation. The program will check the configuration file so that it can tell the computer how to run the program. Common configuration file names include .cnf, .conf, and .cfg. Windows, Mac, and Linux run different configuration files.

Editing configuration files

Because many configuration files run standard text, users can create files manually and edit them to change how the program runs. Operating systems have their own text editors in which users can edit the file, although it sometimes requires being a system admin. There are also plenty of third-party text editors that users can download as well, particularly if they want to create more advanced settings. Some changes may be blocked because of user permissions permissions can often be fixed by changing user status to admin or mistakes made while editing the file.

Some operating systems allow application configuration files for specific applications. By designing an application configuration file, users can work around the standard instructions of the application, known as redirection.

Configuration file contents

Configuration file contents generally fall into four content types:

  • Comments: Mechanism for developers to communicate behaviors and actions. Essential but does not affect file behavior.
  • Flags: Controls which options are enabled and disabled in application or system
  • Settings: Assignment of constants to variable information, allowing operational parameters to be defined.
  • Paths: Used to stipulate storage devices, folder locations, and specific filenames.

Jenna Phipps
Jenna Phipps
Jenna Phipps is a contributor for websites such as Webopedia.com and Enterprise Storage Forum. She writes about information technology security, networking, and data storage. Jenna lives in Nashville, TN.

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