How To Open & Edit INI Files

What Exactly is an INI File & How Are They Structured?

Screenshot of the INI file icon

A file with the INI file extension is a Windows Initialization file. These files are plain text files that contain settings that dictate how something else, oftentimes a program, should operate.

Various programs have their own INI files but they all serve the same purpose. CCleaner is one example of a program that can use an INI file to store the different options that the program should have enabled or disabled (more about this INI file here).

This particular INI file is stored as the name ccleaner.ini under the CCleaner installation folder, usually at C:\Program Files\CCleaner\.

A common INI file in Windows called desktop.ini is a hidden file that stores information on how folders and files should appear.

How To Open & Edit INI Files

It's not a common practice for regular users to open or edit INI files, but they can be opened and changed with any text editor. Just double-clicking on an INI file will automatically open it in the Notepad application in Windows.

Notepad++ and Open Freely are a couple of alternative text editors that can open INI files.

How an INI File is Structured

An INI file contains keys (also called properties) and some have optional sections in order to group keys together. A key should have a name and a value, separated by an equals sign, like this:

Language=1033

In this example, Language is the name and 1033 is the value.

So when this particular program (CCleaner) opens up, it reads the INI file to determine which language it should display the text in. It uses 1033 to indicate English - change it to 1034 and the program will use Spanish instead; the same can be said for all the other languages the software supports.

If this key existed under a section, it may look like this:

[Options]
Language=1033

Note: This particular example is for the INI file that CCleaner uses. You can edit this INI file yourself to add more options to the program because it refers to this INI file to determine what should be erased from the computer. This particular program is popular enough that there's a tool you can download called CCEnhancer that keeps the INI file updated with lots of different options that don't come built-in by default.

More Information on INI Files

Some INI files may have a semicolon within the text. These just indicate a comment to describe something to the user if they're looking at the INI file. Nothing following the comment is interpreted by the program that's using it.

Key names and sections are not case sensitive.

A common file called boot.ini is used in Windows XP to detail the specific location of the Windows XP installation. If problems occur with this file, see How To Repair or Replace Boot.ini in Windows XP.

A common question relating to INI files is whether or not you can delete desktop.ini files. While it's perfectly safe to do so, Windows will just recreate the file and apply default values to it.

So if you've applied a custom icon to a folder, for example, and then delete the desktop.ini file, the folder will just revert back to its default icon.

INI files were used a lot in early versions of Windows before Microsoft began encouraging the shift over to using the Windows Registry to store application settings. Now, even though many programs still use the INI format, XML is being used for the same purpose.

Some other initialization files you may come across that don't use the INI file extension are .CFG and .CONF files.

How To Convert an INI File

There's no real reason to convert an INI file to another file format.

The program or operating system that's using the file will only recognize it under the specific name and file extension that it's using.

However, since INI files are just regular text files, you can use a program like Notepad++ to save it to another text-based format like HTM/HTML or TXT.