Here’s what content://media/external/file/ means:
More often than not, it means that you are interacting with a media file that plays via Google Chrome.
Content:// is a designation that Chrome uses in order to understand what tools are needed to play a file.
There are a few exceptions to this, and content:// can be referencing a generic file in any system.
So if you want to learn all about what content://media/external/file/ means exactly for Android and other systems, then this article is for you.
Let’s dive right in!
What Does content://media/external/file/ Mean?
The truth is that this exact combination of letters and symbols can have a lot of different meanings in a lot of different settings.
So, let’s start with the most general meaning, and then I’ll take you through some of the more specific cases after that.
This particular arrangement of letters and forward slashes is a file path.
This is used by computers to organize information that they store.
Basically, a file path is a naming system that keeps the raw digital information on a computer in an exact and findable location.
So, if you want to pull up a picture you took a few years ago, your computer will use the file path attached to that picture to find it and display it for you.
In general, file paths follow common logic.
You start with the root folder and go into more and more specific folders as you read from left to right.
For clarification, the root folder is the very bottom-level folder on your computer.
Every other folder is held within that root folder.
Another way to think of it is with a filing cabinet analogy.
Let’s say you’re working in a large archive that takes up a whole building (with paper files).
The root folder in this case would refer to the entire building.
Every file in every cabinet is ultimately stored inside of that building, so that’s your starting point.
Inside the root directory, you might have different floors to the building, and each would have a different name.
The name of the floor would likely be the second folder in the sequence.
So, if we wanted to name a folder using this analogy, it would look like this:
Building name/floor name/room number/cabinet number/drawer number/folder name/file name
Different operating systems might prefer for the slashes to go in one direction or another, but this is the gist of how it works.
Each slash denotes a new folder within a folder until you get to the actual file.
With all of that covered, what does content://media/external/file mean?
It’s a folder path.
It’s telling you where specific content is located and based on the naming path, that content is probably a media file.
That means it probably contains audio and/or video.
What Does content://media/external/file/ Mean for an Android Device?
Even though content://media/external/file is a file path, it can denote very specific things depending on the setup.
For example, this specific nomenclature is most likely going to be seen on an Android device and not on a PC, iPhone, or Mac.
That’s because this specific arrangement was developed by Google, and it works in specific ways with Google Chrome.
Since Android is the operating system designed to work with Chrome, you’re more likely to see this when you’re using an Android device (but I will go over exceptions to this later).
When you do see content://media/external/file on an Android device, it’s not just telling you where a file is located.
It’s telling you something a little more specific.
In particular, this is a designation for a universal type of media file.
This is used to share media files that might ultimately work in different formats on different devices.
If the file is in the content:// format, then it can play on any Android device by default.
To be a little more specific, the last part of the file will usually have a name rather than be called a “file.”
This example is using “file” as a generic placeholder for whatever the actual file is called.
What that means is that this designation is telling you where the media file is located, what it’s called, and how it will be played.
When Using Chrome
And, when it comes to playing content:// media files, Android will always use Chrome to do the task.
This really gets into the crux of what this designation is all about.
The content:// designation is designed to identify universal media files for Chrome so that Chrome will know what to do with them.
Basically, once Chrome reads the full path name, it then knows that it will need to play the media file.
In order to do this on an Android device, Chrome is able to access other apps to do the work.
So, Chrome can access photos, documents, or anything else that it needs.
Using these resources, it will present the media file to you as intended.
If the media file is just a picture, that’s what you’ll see.
If it’s a video, you’ll get motion pictures and audio. You get the idea.
In another way of thinking, the content:// designation is similar to a file extension on Windows.
It’s there to help guide the device’s action in order to use the file in a way that makes sense to you, the end user.
What Does content://media/external/file/ Mean on a PC?
With a PC, this can be a little more complicated, and that’s for a couple of reasons.
First, Windows uses file extensions, which serve a similar purpose to content:// but work in different specific ways.
The other reason this is more complicated with a PC is the way file naming works in Windows.
You see, windows designates the root directory with a colon, and content:// starts with a colon.
So, using Windows labeling conventions, seeing content://media/external/file would mean that you are looking at a file with a root directory named “content.”
This is abnormal since, by default, Windows names its root folder “C.”
If you remember the file cabinet analogy, Windows usually calls the whole building “C,” and this example is showing us a PC where the building is called “content.”
That means that every single file on the computer with a root directory of “content” is named differently than you might expect, and this can have major consequences.
Since Windows uses “C” by default, it means that the directory had to be renamed to “content” at some point.
When this happened, it renamed every single file in the operating system.
In a lot of cases, that might not matter. Things have a different name, but they should work just fine.
Unfortunately, some files work by referencing other files.
When that is the case, those files won’t be able to find the other information they need because it was all renamed under that new root directory of “content.”
This can cause a lot of functions in Windows to break, and it’s a bad time in general.
So, if you’re seeing this in Windows Explorer (the app that lets you browse files), and “content” really is the farthest to the left in the file path name, then you might have to deal with some unpleasantness.
How File Extensions Work
There is a whole different scenario, and I’ll cover that next, but first, I want to take a minute to talk about file extensions in Windows.
I glossed over this a little earlier, so here’s the deeper explanation.
In Windows, the file extension comes at the very end of the file name.
This is where you will see things like “.jpg,” “.exe,” or “.doc.”
There are tons of different file extensions, and they work in Windows the way content:// works in Android.
These extensions are telling Windows what kinds of applications are needed to open the file.
If you’re trying to open a picture, you need a different software tool than if you’re trying to open a Word document.
And, that holds true for every different Windows extension that exists.
Why am I going over this?
Well, Windows doesn’t understand content:// as a file designation.
Instead, it would need an extension to label the media file in order to play it successfully.
That means that a content:// designation is going to confuse Windows and not really work.
The Alternative Meaning for PC Users
But, there is an exception to this.
You can get Google Chrome for Windows, and if you do, then Chrome actually does know what to do with content://.
Hopefully, this is all starting to come together.
If you have a content:// file, then you can open it with Chrome.
Since Chrome understands the designation, it can then run through the processes it needs and access other Windows apps that might be necessary to open and play the media file.
In this way, Chrome allows Windows users to enjoy the same universal media files that are designed for Android systems.
But, without Chrome, Windows will be stuck.
I want to emphasize one more thing.
You can see a file in a Windows machine that is content://media/external/file without it referring to the root directory.
The key here comes in the direction of the / or \.
In Windows, the root directory is C:\. So, if you see content:\, then that means the root folder was renamed.
If you see content:/, then you simply have a media file that requires Chrome to run.
What Does content://media/external/file/ Mean on Other Systems?
As you might imagine, the Chrome exception is not limited to Windows.
You can get Chrome for iOS, Mac, and other systems as well.
So, generally speaking, if you see content://, it means that you need Chrome to make it work.
When you use Chrome with such a file, Chrome is already programmed to know what to do, and you should be able to play the media just fine in your Chrome browser.