Files that contain compiled computer code are referred to as binaries, sometimes used interchangeably with object files. Any file can be encoded in this format, however, including digital graphics, movies, or music.
Text-based computer languages like C and C++ are used to write programs that are subsequently compiled to binary form. This is because computers can only read this simple language, which is made up of 1 and 0, interpreted as on or off. Each digit or value is one bit of data. Eight bits equals one byte of information. A binary file viewed with a hex editor will display the file contents as continuous blocks of bytes, or the digital equivalent of the source code.
Online binaries are often associated with USENET, where worldwide subscribers can share programs and multimedia data. USENET was designed for exchanging text messages, however, so these files must be encoded to a text-based system, then decoded on the receiving end, making it possible to exchange nontextual files over the network. The encoding and decoding of exchanged files is done automatically by embedded software within enabled USENET newsreaders.
In many cases, the files are too large to post to USENET, as the network has a cap limiting the number of characters allowed in any single post. Instead, the uploader can compress and divide a large binary file into slices or parts using a separate program. The individual parts are numbered sequentially and posted separately to the appropriate newsgroup. Anyone interested in downloading the file must download all of its parts to a folder where a program can reassemble the parts into the single, original file.
Not all newsreaders handle binaries with equal ease. Many are designed primarily for handling text messages that make up the majority of posts to USENET. People should also note that files posted to USENET do not flow through a policing moderator, lacking any guarantee that it or its contents are legal, or are being legally distributed.