What Is a Bmp?


Finding a .bmp file on your computer isn't nearly as common today as it was in the mid-90s. The .bmp, or bitmap file, used to be everywhere. While you won't see as many of them, you can still easily open .bmp files on modern Windows systems.

What it is

  • A .bmp file is a bitmap file, which is, simply put, an image file. This format, which became widely used around the release of Windows 3.0, was the standard image file type for Windows based systems in the early 1990s. Designed to look the same across a wide variety of hardware, the bitmap was an important part of Window's ability to run on different sorts of PCs.


  • In the 1980s, how an image looked was determined in large part by the graphics card on a given computer. There was no guarantee that an image created on a computer with a 16-bit color adapter would look the same on another computer that used a different 16-bit color adapter. The bitmap file as we know it today (referred to by Microsoft at the time as the device-independent bitmap) was created to solve this problem. These bitmaps contained information that allowed the bitmaps to look the same regardless of the hardware.

Microsoft Paint

  • Most users best remember .bmp files from Microsoft Paint, the drawing program included in all versions of Windows since Windows 3.0. This program could edit and create .bmp files and could even set a given bitmap as Window's wallpaper.


  • In the early days of computing, bitmaps files were used to send pictures from one computer to another and as clip art in various documents. It was also a common format for software to use as part of interface design or for flash screens.


  • Bitmaps are rarely used today because of the prevalence of high-resolution, compressed formats including JPEG and PNG. Some still enjoy playing with bitmaps via Microsoft Paint, as the program is included in new versions of Windows, including Windows 7. In fact, the program in Windows 7 is almost identical to the version in Windows 3.0.

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