AAE File Documentation


Feature Value
File Extension .aae
Full Form Apple Aperture Adjustments Extension
Associated Application Apple Photos App (macOS and iOS)
Primary Use Case Recording non-destructive edits made to primary image files
File Type Sidecar File
File Format Text-based, XML (eXtensible Markup Language)
Supported Image Formats for Sidecar JPEG, HEIC
Operating Systems with Native Support macOS and iOS
Operating Systems with Limited Support Windows, Android
Editing Type Non-destructive
Portability High within the Apple ecosystem, Low outside of it
Compatibility with Other Photo Editing Software Generally Low, specific to Apple Photos App
Merging Options Can be exported as a new JPEG or HEIC on Apple devices; requires third-party software on non-Apple devices
Text-Based Yes
Human-Readable Yes, when opened with a text editor, due to XML structure
Machine-Readable Yes, XML structured for machine readability
File Management Complexity Medium to High, as it needs to stay associated with original image files for edits to be applicable
File Size Generally small, varies based on the number and complexity of edits
Backup Stored in the same location as the original image file for ease of backup
Security Features None, as it's not meant to be a standalone secure file

What is an AAE File?

An AAE file stands for "Apple Aperture Adjustments Extension," and it is intrinsically tied to Apple's Photos app ecosystem. This specific file format is designed to record non-destructive edits made to primary image files, typically JPEG or HEIC files. Unlike traditional image editing, where changes are directly saved over the original file, non-destructive editing allows you to keep the original image intact. The AAE file acts as a ledger, storing all the edits separately.

Definition and Primary Function

In technical terms, an AAE file is what we call a sidecar file. A sidecar file essentially 'rides' along with the main file— in this case, your JPEG or HEIC image. Every time you apply an edit, be it a filter, a crop, or a rotation, the AAE file keeps a record of these changes. When you open the JPEG or HEIC file in the Photos app on an Apple device, the software automatically references the associated AAE file and renders the image with all the adjustments.

Compatibility and Operating Systems

While the AAE file was specifically engineered for the Apple ecosystem, it's not entirely incompatible with Windows or Android. When transferring photos to a non-Apple device, the AAE files transfer along with the original images. However, these systems generally ignore the AAE files, displaying the original unedited image. In other words, you lose the adjustments unless you take certain specific steps to merge them into the primary file.

Structure and Syntax of AAE Files

The AAE file uses a structured XML-based syntax to maintain a record of the edits applied to an image. Because of its XML nature, it's a text-based file that can be opened and viewed in any text editor, though doing so usually won't offer any functional advantage to the average user.

XML-based Structure

The underlying structure of an AAE file is an XML document. Each change or edit is recorded as an XML element, complete with attributes that specify the nature and extent of the change. The XML-based design makes it highly portable and easy to read, both by humans and machines. However, interpreting this XML without the corresponding software is practically meaningless.

Example Structure

The following example demonstrates what the XML structure within an AAE file might look like:

<adjustment version="1.0">
    <filter key="brightness" value="1.2"/>
    <filter key="contrast" value="1.1"/>

How to Open and Edit AAE Files

Handling AAE files may differ significantly depending on the operating system you are using. While Apple users will find it pretty straightforward, those on non-Apple platforms might face a couple of hurdles.

On Apple Devices

If you are within the Apple ecosystem, working with AAE files is almost transparent. The Photos app automatically recognizes the associated AAE file when you open a JPEG or HEIC image. You generally do not need to open the AAE file separately; the software does all the heavy lifting behind the scenes, rendering the image with all its applied edits.

On Non-Apple Devices

For those venturing beyond Apple's walled garden, things get a little more complex. Windows and Android systems will typically not recognize AAE files. If you transfer your photos to a Windows computer, for instance, you'll find that the edits don't carry over. However, there are third-party applications available that can parse AAE files and apply the stored adjustments to your original images. Another workaround involves exporting the edited image directly from your Apple device, thereby creating a new JPEG or HEIC file that incorporates the changes.

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Merging AAE Files with Original Images

Once you've made your edits and are satisfied with the adjustments, you might want to merge these changes into the original image. This creates a new JPEG or HEIC file that incorporates all the edits made, making it easier to share the edited image across platforms that do not support AAE files.

Exporting Merged Files on Apple Devices

On Apple devices, the Photos app makes it incredibly simple to export your edited images. The exported file is a new JPEG or HEIC file that includes all the adjustments you've made. This is especially helpful when you're looking to share your edited images outside the Apple ecosystem. Simply select the 'Export' option from the Photos app, and choose your preferred file format and quality settings. Once the export process is complete, you'll have a new file that reflects all your edits.

Workarounds for Non-Apple Devices

If you're on a Windows or Android device, you have a couple of options to merge the AAE adjustments into the original image. There are third-party software solutions available that can read the AAE files and apply the edits to your image files. Some of these programs offer batch processing, allowing you to apply the changes to multiple images at once. Alternatively, if you still have access to an Apple device, you can export the edited image as mentioned earlier and then transfer it to your Windows or Android device.

Unique Characteristics and Limitations

While AAE files have their distinct advantages, they also come with a set of limitations. Knowing these can help you make informed decisions on when and how to use AAE files for your image editing needs.

Non-Destructive Editing

Perhaps one of the most compelling features of the AAE file format is its support for non-destructive editing. This allows you to experiment freely with different edits and adjustments without permanently altering the original image. The original file stays untouched, and you can revert to it at any point, offering a layer of flexibility and security that's not available in traditional image editing methods. This is particularly useful for photographers and graphic designers who need to try out multiple edits before finalizing their work.


AAE files are not universally supported, which can make sharing edited photos cumbersome if the recipient is not on an Apple device. Furthermore, the XML-based structure of AAE files is designed to work exclusively with the Apple Photos app, making it challenging to import the adjustments into other photo-editing software. And while non-destructive editing is a powerful feature, it can also lead to issues with file management and storage, as you'll end up with multiple sidecar AAE files that need to be carefully managed to ensure they remain associated with their respective original images.