There is a lot of jargon around the word container. From AVI or M4A being a container to PE being a container format as noted in this comment.

It is important to understand that PE is just a container format, somewhat analogous to AVI or WAV. There can be a lot of different things inside the container! For example, did you know that a WAV container can actually contain MP3-compressed audio?

So, what is a container? What does it mean and what is its purpose?


  • You've asked way too many questions here, IMO. I also doubt everything described as "container", like media formats and PE, is strictly related to eachother. It's a pretty generic term, e.g. in programming it's just a data structure of object collections.
    – Destroy666
    Jun 8 at 0:15
  • 1
    okay. There is my problem. The term is too generic. Jun 8 at 0:18
  • You could edit the question to 'what is meant by a container' and give an example of a container format like MP4. As it is the question will be closed probably. Jun 8 at 0:44
  • @JoepvanSteen I did. M4A, AVI and PE/COFF are all container formats. Jun 8 at 1:46
  • also note that there is another technology called a container, that is not related to fileformats, but instead a way to ship, install, and manage applications on generic hosting, so its very much a loaded term these days. Jun 8 at 2:47

1 Answer 1


Short answer:

A container is like a 'file system', it gives us a structure to organize data, including meta data that helps us look up what goes where but it does not tell us what to store. Again, like a file system allows us to store any type of data, ranging from ZIP files, video, documents and whatnot, it only concerns itself with organizing this data.

Many camera developers use a TIF container to store RAW photo data, but they each use their own algorithms to compute their raw data. The container is the same but each of the manufacturers stuff different data in there.

MP4 containers for example are frequently used for video, but Canon CR3 RAW photos are essentially MP4 'containers' as well.

To illustrate I opened a CR3 RAW photo using a MP4 container template:

enter image description here

The boxes below the HEX window (the atoms) were perfectly parsed using a MP4 video template.

IOW, the 'MP4 container' is a way to organize data and in one case it can be video data, or as in above example a Canon RAW photo.

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