Web Design & Development Guide



File extension: .swf
MIME type: application/x-shockwave-flash
Developed by: Macromedia (Adobe Systems)
Type of format: Vector graphic image

SWF is a proprietary vector graphics file format produced by the Flash software from Adobe (formerly Macromedia). Intended to be small enough for publication on the web, SWF files can contain animations or applets of varying degrees of interactivity and function. SWF is also sometimes used for creating animated display graphics and menus for DVD movies, and television commercials.

The Flash program produces SWF files as a compressed and uneditable final product, whereas it uses the .fla format for its editable working files.

The name is a backronym of sorts, standing for Small Web Format and Shockwave Flash[1]. According to Adobe, SWF is pronounced "S W F" (with each letter being pronounced individually), but some people prefer to pronounce it as "swiff"[2] or "swaif". A file of this format is called a Shockwave Flash Object. SWF is currently the dominant format for displaying animated vector graphics on the web, far exceeding the W3C open standard SVG, which has met with problems over competing implementations.


Originally limited to presenting vector based objects and images in a simple sequential manner, the newer versions of the format allow audio, video and many different possible forms of interaction with the end user. Once created, SWF files can be played by the Adobe Flash Player, working either as a browser plugin or as a standalone player. SWF files can also be encapsulated with the player, creating a self-running SWF movie called a "projector".

The file format was first created by a small company called FutureWave which was later acquired by Macromedia and had one main goal: create small files for displaying entertaining animations. The idea was to have a format which could be reused by a player running on any system and which would work with slower network (such as a browser used with a modem).

Plugins to play SWF files in web browsers are available from Adobe for most desktop operating systems, including Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac, and Linux on the x86 architecture. Adobe claims that over 97% of web users now have an SWF plugin installed [3], based on an independent study conducted by NPD Research. Sony PlayStation Portable consoles can play limited SWF files in its web browser but this can only be found on the firmwares 2.71 and up. Nintendo's Wii console can run SWF files through its Opera browser.

A free software implementation of a SWF player is gnash, which as of 2007 is undergoing intensive development.


Although a full specification of SWF is available, it is not an open format, as implementing software that plays the format is disallowed by the specification's license. Reverse engineering is therefore the only legal way to compete with the official SWF player. Implementing software which creates SWF files is permitted, on the condition that the resulting files render "error free in the latest publicly available version of Adobe Flash Player." [4]

The free software SWF player gnash is being developed by GNU under the GNU General Public License (GPL).

External links


  1. ^ http://weblogs.macromedia.com/jd/archives/2004/08/shockwave_vs_fl.cfm
  2. ^ http://www.the-labs.com/MacromediaFlash/SWF-Spec/SWFfileformat.html
  3. ^ http://www.adobe.com/software/player_census/flashplayer/
  4. ^ http://www.adobe.com/licensing/developer/

Adobe Flex
Flash cartoons
Action Message Format
Adobe Shockwave
Animation portal

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