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File Format Specification Index



Basic Description

RIFFs are capable of holding various types of data. The file extension for RIFFs is dependent on its content.
Examples are:
  • ANI for animated cursors
  • AVI for videos
  • BND file bundles
  • DXR Macromedia Director Files (notice: Network byte order!)
  • PAL for color palette information
  • RDI for bitmaps
  • RMI for MIDI
  • WAV for digital audio

Basic File Format

The price for the flexibility of holding different types of data is a file structure, that isn't easy to understand. A RIFF is - more or less - a hierarchical structure. The 'directory entries' are defined by chunks. Every chunk contains either data or a list of chunks. This document will occasionally refer to the analogy of a file system, every chunk is either a file or a subdirectory. All chunks have the same structure:
Name Size Description
ID 4 byte four ASCII character identifier, padded with ASCII 32 (space) if less than 4 characters
Size 4 byte size of Data
Data Size bytes the 'payload'
unused 1 byte present, if size is odd

Structure of the 'RIFF', 'RIFX', and 'LIST' chunks

The first chunk is the root entry and must have a ID of 'RIFF' or 'RIFX', the prior being the most common version. 'RIFX' specifies 'Motorola' byte order (most significant byte first), whereas 'RIFF' specifies 'Intel' byte ordering (least significant byte first). This document will stick to 'RIFF'. That first chunk contains all other chunks of the file in its Data. Its Size field will therefore always contain a value of filesize - 8.
The structure of Data is dependent on its ID. There are two directory- IDs, 'RIFF' and 'LIST'. They contain a 4-byte ASCII header, leaving the following structure:
Name Size Description
ID 4 byte four ASCII character identifier
Size 4 byte size of Data
Data Size bytes the 'payload'
HeaderID 4 bytes 'Name' of the list
Data Size 4 bytes List of chunks
There will never be a final extra byte, since the Size will always be even. The HeaderID in the RIFF chunk usually matches the file's extension.

Structure of the 'JUNK' chunk

To align RIFF chunks to certain boundaries (i.e. 2048bytes for CD-ROMs) the RIFF specification includes a JUNK chunk. Its contents are to be skipped when reading. When writing RIFFs, JUNK chunks should not have odd number as Size.
Name Size Description
ID 4 byte four ASCII character identifier 'JUNK'
Size 4 byte size of Data
Data Size bytes nothing
unused 1 byte present if Size is odd

The 'INFO' List

RIFF files may include a 'LIST' chunk with a HeaderID of 'INFO'. All chunks listed in this 'directory' should be pure ASCII chunks, and give various information on the file.
Name Description
IART artist
ICOP copyright
INAM name
Knowing these structures, one can implement a program that produces a hierarchical list of the file's contents. RIFFview! does this. A simple RIFF could look like this:
RIFF first chunk, the 'root directory'
  data some data
  JUNK some padding to align the next chunk
  LIST a list of chunks 'subdirectory'
   data a 'file' in the list
   data another 'file'
  data another 'file' in the 'root directory'
That's all for generic RIFFs. All other chunks are part of a special file type. For an interpretation these look at the page with their corresponding file type.


RIFFs were designed with mainly one target platform in mind: MS-Windows. The existence of huge numbers of RIFF files (i.e. WAV Collections) made it necessary to read them on other platforms. The RIFX was included in the RIFF specs to for portability purposes, but many RIFF decoders are not capable of reading those files (DaubNet RIFF Viewer V1.3 now can!) , so it may be wise for RIFF encoders to stick to that byte order, even on systems with Motorola byte order.

Trademarks, Patents and Royalties

To my knowledge: none.
Note that the format of certain chunks contained in RIFFs may very well be patented.
(please read the disclaimer)

Cross-Checking Software

This section is for programmers, who wish to cross-check their implementation with others. This is an incomplete list of programs, which are available as freeware / shareware / try-before-buy etc.
The following software is able to decode RIFFs:
DaubNet RIFF Viewer for Win95: Download (freeware)
The is no generic RIFF encoder. Look at the more specific file types for encoders.

Online Resources

O'Rielly: Encyclopedia of Graphics File Formats.

Paper Resources



This is not the official format documentation. Although we're doing our best to keep this information as accurate as possible, there is no way of checking all of it under all possible circumstances. We're not taking any responsibility for the results of these information or lack thereof. The 'trademarks, patents and royalties' section is here just for your convenience, and is in no way complete. Please send us a note, if you find any incorrect of missing information.