How to open large files on Windows

Opening large files on Windows is not the most trivial task. As a matter of fact, it is not a very common task. But the need to open large files is there. The next paragraphs will elaborate on the different kinds of large files. If you just want a quick solution for opening large files, scroll to the bottom of the post.

The most common large files are actually data feeds. Data feeds are XML files containing large amounts of data. By large, we are talking of files over 200 Mb. Now, there are some data feeds that are well structured, with a smaller feed for you to preview the XML format. But there are also badly formatted feeds.

As a developer, I have worked with a lot of different types of feeds:

  • Feeds containing weather data, for building weather widgets.
  • Feeds containing product catalogs, for selling affiliate contents.
  • Feeds containing e-mail contacts, for importing e-mail contacts.

If I had to choose the bad feed among the ones listed above, I would choose the product catalog. These feeds are often wrongly formatted. And sadly, these feeds are the main source of income of many a site. Things get so bad, that you often need to open the files and study them. Worse, most websites have more than a few product catalogs. In fact, at work, I am currently studying all of our product catalogs and documenting my findings. This is being done to have a better engine to parse these feeds, so that more relevant products can be shown and, ultimately, sold.

This implies that during one normal day of work, I have to open four or five large files. Below are some tips I tend to follow:

  • Don’t close large files after viewing. You will be dealing with  a lot of information. This makes it easy to forget what area needs studying. You wouldn’t want to close a file only to realize that you need it opened again. And besides large files only take time to open, after that its all fine.
  • Have a documentation. The time it takes to open large files is immense, so  I would advise you to note down whatever findings you have made. The cost of reopening a large file is smaller than the initial cost, but it’s still big.
  • Use Notepad++. Notepad++ is lighter than Visual Studio and has syntax highlighting. This makes it great for opening large files for XML structure study. Furthermore, it  has a plugin to format XML files (a lot of data feeds are in one line, go figure why). The plugin, called TextFx, comes pre-installed on new versions, it only needs to be configured.
  • Use the good old command line. One thing about me, I love command line. On Linux, I use only this. Be it for installing software, manipulating files or compiling stuff. So on Windows to open large files just do Start > Run, type “cmd” and hit Enter. From there navigate to where your file is located and do “type <name of file> | more“. This will show a screenful of the file content. And this is done instantenously, with absolutely no lag. You can also copy and paste from there.
  • Go the database way. If you need to study large files AND do tests on them, then your best bet would be to load the data in a database table. This will take some time initially, but in the long run, you will be able to manipulate the data without any constrainsts.

Okay so now you have some tips on how to manage large files. Its a bummer to work with large files, but if you have some patience, you should be fine.

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