Difference Between EXE and DLL

A file extension/filename extension is a suffix added to the name of computer file. It is surely written after period and most probably 2-4 characters long.


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They are used to know the information about the file type or to know about the apps that are associated with the file. EXE and DLL are also a type of file extension of which people are often confused.

Key Takeaways

  1. EXE files are executable files that can be run independently, while DLL files are dynamic link libraries programs used to share code and resources.
  2. EXE files contain instructions that the computer follows to execute a program, while DLL files contain code that can be used by multiple programs simultaneously.
  3. EXE files are larger than DLL files, as they contain all the code and resources needed to run a program, while DLL files are smaller and more efficient since multiple programs share them.


The difference between EXE and DLL is that EXE files can execute with the help of the operating system. They don’t need any other application to run. DLL files, on the other hand, are not independent to run. They require an EXE file for their execution.


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EXE is one of the most common file extensions. It mainly denotes about an executable file for Microsoft windows. They are in-process components that are capable of running on their own.

DLL or Dynamic-link library is the file extension implemented by Microsoft. They are the out-process components. That is, they are not able to run on their own. They always need application to be run.

Comparison Table

Parameter of ComparisonEXEDLL
Full-FormIt stands for executable files.It stands for Dynamic Link Library.
Run-timeExe files are independent. They can execute without support of other applications.These are generally used as a supportive file, in order to run other applications.
NumbersWhen talking about a single application package, only one executable file is present.DLL file numbers are not fixed. There might be one or more DLL files.
MemoryThe extension requires more storage and memory.Does not require any extra memory space. Uses the memory space of the application that it is running.
SharingCannot be shared with other application. Thus, they are not reusable.Can be shared with other applications. They are reusable.
TypeAn exe is a program.DLL is a library.

What is an EXE?

On Windows, the programs to-be compiled have an .exe extension are referred as ‘EXE files.’

The term EXE stands for an executable file. Its main function is to run a program when it is opened. This is done by the execution of certain codes or some of the information that is contained in the file.

Whenever a program or app is run on the Windows PC, it is actually the .exe file that makes it able to run the programs or apps. But one more thing with the extension is that it may be used to spread malware and other viruses.

Users need to be alert when they receive a .exe file from unknown sources. There is a maximum probability that it might contain malware.

Basically, there are two types of executable files. The compilation of both the files has been done from the source codes. The codes are converted into binary code and the execution is done by the CPU.

  1. Compiled program- On Windows, compiled programs are the ones that have a .exe file extension.
  2. Scripts- Executable files that are uncompiled are referred to as scripts.
  3. These files are saved in the form of plain text format. Scripts usually do not have executable machine codes in which case they require an interpreter to run the program.

What is DLL?

Dynamic Library Link or dll is a file type that consists of certain instructions that other programs make use of when in need. It is a library of various information and function that are accessible by a Windows program.

DLL files are not capable of running directly. Instead, they need to be called upon by some other code that is running on the computer.

‘Dynamic’ word is used in a dynamic link. This means that the data is used in programs when the program calls for it. The data is not available in the memory permanently. A DLL file consists of a .dll extension.

These are basically made up of C++ programming language. So, anyone with the knowledge of coding may easily write their own DLL code.

A large number of DLL files are available on Windows by default. But they can also be installed by third-party programs. DLL files, allow us to separate different components from a program into a different module.

DLL provides one with a unique feature. There can be an update of the program without having to reinstall the entire program all again.


Main Differences Between EXE and DLL

  1. .dll is the file extension of Dynamic Link Library which is implemented by Microsoft Windows. The other one, that is .exe, is a file extension of a file that is executable.
  2. Both the terms differ based on execution. DLL is not independent. They need a separate file etc for execution as they cannot stand alone.EXE files are independent. That is, they are easily compiled as an application and do not require another application execution. They can easily be executed standalone.
  3. Both of the extensions differ on the basis of processing and memory storage. DLL uses the memory spaces and processes of the application that are running.EXE on the other hand, is provided with separate memory storage space and process.
  4. One major difference between EXE and DLL is that they both differ on the basis of extensions. DLL has a file extension of .dll. EXE on the other hand has a file extension of .exe.
  5. An exe is a specific program while a dll is just a library that an exe might use when required to.
Difference Between EXE and DLL
  1. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/7987416
  2. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/4273235
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