Why sometime we see 'Save As' while sometime we see 'Export' when dealing with file(s)

Are 'Save as' having the same meaning as 'Export' when dealing with file(s).

Suppose, I want to save this particular file to another file, I will 'Save As' to another file. Same goes as 'Export' if I want to export to another file.

Any Insight?

  • 2
    It's the difference between "put the eggs on the table" and "cook the eggs into something".
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 25 '11 at 10:31

My impression is that the difference is subtle:

  • "Save as" is analogous to the simple save, but lets you select a new location. That means that the file will be saved in a format that the application itself can open and edit well.
  • "Export" also lets you select a location to save to, but usually saves in a format that is either not suitable for editing or for which editing is not supported by the program.

For example: if you have a file open in Photoshop, using "Save as" will save a new Photoshop file in the selected location. Opening that file will preserve all layers, selections, ... of the image.

Using "Export", however, allows you to create JPEG, PNG and other files. Those files contain the same image, but they aren't well suited for further editing, because they won't contain the layer information, selections, ...

  • 2
    It's worth noting that it's possible (and common) to Export to a file type that's editable in a different program (e.g. exporting as an Excel spreadsheet). The difference is usually not being able to edit within the context of the program. Oct 25 '11 at 13:05
  • Marked as answer Nov 1 '11 at 7:04
  • Regarding exporting, I think emphasis is more on the difference in format of the resulting file rather than if it's editable or if the same program can re-open it.
    – frozenkoi
    Feb 11 '14 at 19:41

It made more sense back in the day that computer files had a more technical meaning. The idea of "Exporting" was distinct from simple "Saving" because it involved some kind of conversion process. That technical difference is the kind of thing we tend to abstract from users these days, but was quite prevalent 10 years ago.

Software is adapting to this trend -- for example MS Word no longer makes much distinction.


I would use export for file formats that are written but can't be read back in - like OpenOffice's "export to PDF"

Similarly import is used for file opening that needs a number of bits of extra information to read the format, like Excel's import csv


You also see Export used to refer to saving different information than Save. That is, for a development environment like Visual Studio, Save is used for the actual code you are editing, but Export is used for your Visual Studio settings. You might use Save to cover the main purpose of the application, and Export for a small fragment of the data such as "Export to Accounting".


I may get shot down for this, but I believe it's almost entirely arbitrary and was at the whim of the particular software developer who happened to be writing that code for that application at that moment in time. To be sure, this was likely unconsciously influenced by his or her own history of exposure to existing applications, the way our own vocabulary and regional pronunciation is influenced by the environment in which we grow up.

The answers which suggest that there are subtle differences in meaning are taken from specific instances which happen to support those differences, but do not in any way prove or demonstrate that there is anything like consensus, a standard, or even general agreement.

There are a lot of software developers participating here, and if you take an honest look in the mirror I think you'll admit that a huge amount of what goes into many applications is "at the whim of the particular software developer who happened to be writing that code for that application at that moment in time".

The fact that the question even had to be asked, and that the answers are all pretty much speculative tends to support this.

  • 1
    If it's entirely at the whim of the developer, then how come that several programs have both "Save as" and "Export"? If there were no meaningful difference, then surely they would be unified under a single item. Oct 26 '11 at 10:48
  • @Joachim -You miss my point. The "meaningful difference" varies from developer to another. One man's Export is another man's Save. In one application, you see "Save as format x", in another "Export to format x" where x is the same. Compare how MS Word and Open Office writer treat HTML - one Saves As, one Exports. It would not surprise me to find this in different versions of the same application. I am basing this on 30 years of in-the-trenches observation of how applications are developed in the real world. Perhaps you are looking only at the final product, not the process that created it. Oct 26 '11 at 14:09
  • I understand. While I do agree that a strict definition that everyone agrees does not exist, there seems to be some consensus on the general difference. In short: I disagree that this is entirely arbitrary. Oct 27 '11 at 7:44

I'm of the opinion that it is poor user interface design to use the concept of export as a way to save a file in a different format. Export should be exclusively used to open immediately in new software without saving the file at all, while it is still in memory. Export to -> new software. Save should cover standard file saving, and Save As should cover all file types, locations, and renaming, including any process of compression, conversion, or compiling involved. This would only make things simpler for the end user.

  • 2
    This would not make things simpler for the end user at all if he is already used to completely different meanings of the terms. "Save as" means "save as a new file, in the format of this application", while "export" means "save as a new file, in a different format". That is the standard across hundreds of thousands of applications. That's not poor user interface design; poor user interface design is making your one application stand out. To paraphrase Jacob Nielsen, "users spend most of their time with other software". At any rate, your answer is really just a suggestion, not an actual answer.
    – RegDwigнt
    Apr 5 '13 at 8:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.