File compatibility is easy to achieve if programmers let go of one notion - dumping internal data structures to disk. A program's internal data structures should really be suited to what the program does and how it works. What's "best" changes as the program evolves new functions and methods. But a disk format should be suited to storage and interchange. Once we design internal formats and disk formats for their own separate purposes, the rest is easy. Reading and writing become behind-the-scenes conversions. But two conversions hidden in each program is much better than a pile of conversion programs. Does this seem strange? It's what ASCII text programs do! Text editors use line tables, piece tables, gaps, and other structures for fast editing and searching. Text generators and consumers construct and parse files. That's why the ASCII standard works so well. Also, every file must be self-sufficient. E.g., a picture file has to include its size and number of bits/pixel.
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