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Understanding, accessing and editing file metadata

by Casey Schmidt  |  March 23, 2021

4 min. read
Code on a screen.

File metadata is a little different than more traditional types of metadata. It means different things to different people. To metadata experts, it means plain old metadata. But many users refer to it in a less general sense.

This article will untangle these different meanings, so you can make sure you’re on top of it.

What is file metadata?

Metadata provides information about something, usually in greater or more organized detail. File metadata is when this metadata is about a digital file type or is stored in a dedicated file for future use.

Data moving forward inside a machine.

Throughout your metadata journey, you will encounter times where the phrase “File metadata” is used in different contexts and with different meanings. The point of learning about these different types is so that you’ll be able to interpret and understand the differences, picking up on which file metadata is being referenced automatically.

The above definition covers all types of file metadata, and all uses of the phrase, but it is a basic breakdown, meant to be as general as possible. Let’s dive a little deeper into it, addressing when someone is referencing file system metadata.

File system metadata

File system metadata refers to information about the system housing, accessing or executing a file. This includes things such as the operating system, but also extends to systems on the web that have similar traits.

A person using a laptop.

The types of information recorded about these systems pertain to the digital file itself,generally involving things like edits and versioning, time of edits, creation reports such as which user and when, usage including the how and when.

Occasionally a mention of a file system could refer to the type of structure, storage and execution of an entire process, one that manages specific metadata.

The purpose of understanding how these terms are used and how they function within systems is to help users navigate conflicting definitions of file metadata.

Accessing and creating a dedicated metadata file

There’s no one way to build and use a dedicated metadata file. However, there are some easy ways to go about doing it. Here is a quick guide to help you create an effective file.

First, decide what type of file you wish to maintain your information on. When doing this, select a system that you use, are comfortable with, have easy access to and are able to share easily (if working with others). For example, you may decide on Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets or other csv options. These give an effective layout for storing large amounts of information in an organized fashion.

Data entered on a spreadsheet digitally.

For those with limited time or experience, third party systems may best handle the creation of your dedicated metadata file. The majority of this type of software is capable of taking the information you feed it and put it into your Excel or other systems for you. Consider using a third party system if this seems more reasonable for your needs.

In this instance, metadata file refers to a file with a sole purpose of holding metadata. This is different from file metadata, which is referring to the information about a file, things such as filename, type, date, etc.

To ensure you’re able to access and edit your file metadata, I’ve included three systems more than capable of handling the task.

1. Metadata++

The Metadata++ website.

Metadata++ delivers key tools for accessing and editing file metadata. It is a fully dedicated metadata system, ensuring that the main focus of its updates and upgrades is data-based. The hotkeys feature is popular and makes it easier to locate important data.

2. TigoTago

The TigoTago interface.

TigoTago is a Windows system that lets users edit keywords and access metadata within digital files. Though it handles many music-based files, other media are included as well. The interface is clean and allows users to quickly navigate to the desired items.

3. ExifTool

The ExifTool interface.

ExifTool is a powerful file metadata tool that provides advanced access and editing of the most uncommon file types. It’s a Windows and Mac system that is a favorite for highly technical users and photographers. It’s also best for users wishing to input their own keywords onto metadata files.

Final thoughts

File metadata is a necessary concept to understand, especially because of how often the term is used. Be sure the person you’re talking means the same thing you do. Finally make sure you are familiarized with all metadata types so you can act accordingly.