XPS File Documentation


Feature Value
File Extension .xps
MIME Type application/vnd.ms-xpsdocument
Developer Microsoft
Initial Release 2006 (with Windows Vista)
Type of Format Document, Electronic Paper
Based On XML, XAML
Compression ZIP
Open Format Yes
Print-Ready Yes
Device Independence Yes
Embedding Capabilities Fonts, Images, and other resources
Fixed Layout Yes
Integrated with Windows OS
Supports Digital Signatures Yes

Introduction to XPS File Format

The XPS (XML Paper Specification) is a digital document format developed by Microsoft. Initially introduced with Windows Vista, it aimed to be a direct competitor to Adobe's PDF format. However, it never truly achieved the same level of popularity. Its significance lies in its ability to faithfully reproduce document visuals, ensuring that the document appears the same regardless of the software, hardware, or operating system.

Definition and Origin

XPS is a fixed-layout format that describes electronic documents in an XML-based structure. Developed by Microsoft, it was first introduced as a part of the Windows Presentation Foundation in Windows Vista. Similar to PDF, its primary goal was to provide users with a file format that consistently preserves document formatting, fonts, images, and other visual elements irrespective of where it was viewed.

Purpose and Usage

One of the primary purposes of XPS is for printing and document sharing. The format ensures that what you see on the screen will exactly match what is printed, eliminating inconsistencies commonly found in other file formats. Its integration within the Microsoft ecosystem makes it a convenient choice for Windows users, particularly for scenarios like digital signatures, archiving, and sharing.

XPS Structure and Syntax

Delving deeper into the format, the structure and syntax of XPS offer insights into its design philosophy and the technical considerations that underpin it. Similar to other XML-based formats, it contains both metadata and content, enveloped in a series of hierarchical tags.

Basic Elements and Components

The XPS document is structured into several core elements. At its root is the FixedDocumentSequence, which consists of one or more FixedDocument elements. Each FixedDocument contains a series of PageContent items which in turn encapsulate the actual content of the document. Additionally, embedded resources such as fonts and images are stored within the document, ensuring consistency in appearance.

Sample XPS Structure Code

Below is a simplified representation of an XPS document:

    <PageContent Source="Pages/Page1.xaml">
        <ImageBrush x:Key="Image1" ImageSource="Images/Image1.jpg"/>
    <PageContent Source="Pages/Page2.xaml"/>

This example showcases a document with two pages and an embedded image resource. The hierarchical nature ensures clarity and a structured representation of content.

Key Features of XPS Files

The design of XPS files brings several advantages, some of which directly compete with other popular document formats. This is evident in its key features, each tailored to fulfill specific user needs.

Fixed Document Format

XPS is a fixed document format, meaning the layout, text, images, and other elements are set in stone, ensuring consistency in presentation. This makes it particularly suited for documents where precise formatting and design are paramount. It's a characteristic shared with PDF files, making both formats suitable for print and digital publishing where consistency is essential.

Given its roots in representing the appearance of a printed page, XPS excels in print-ready capabilities. Whether it's brochures, booklets, or official documents, the format ensures a 1:1 representation between the on-screen display and the printed output. Coupled with its device independence, this makes XPS a reliable choice for high-quality print jobs.

Device Independence

One of the core features of XPS is its device independence. This means that whether the document is viewed on a computer monitor, a tablet, or printed out, it will retain its original appearance. The exact fonts, colors, and layouts will be preserved across devices, making XPS an excellent choice for ensuring consistent branding and design aesthetics.

Comparison with Other File Formats

In the digital documentation world, multiple formats cater to the varying needs of users. One of the most notable comparisons drawn against the XPS format is with the widely recognized PDF. Understanding the nuances between XPS and other formats can better guide users in choosing the appropriate format for their tasks.


Both XPS and PDF formats are designed to preserve the visual appearance of documents. While they share several similarities in this regard, there are notable differences. PDF (Portable Document Format) is a creation of Adobe Systems, with a history dating further back than XPS. Its ubiquity and universal support make it the default choice for many when preserving document layout is of concern.

However, XPS comes natively supported by Windows, negating the need for third-party software for basic tasks. In contrast, PDF files generally require dedicated software, albeit freely available, for viewing and editing. XPS files tend to be more lightweight than PDFs, especially when embedding images, but PDF has a broader range of features, including forms, annotations, and layers. It's also worth noting the broader support for PDF across various platforms and devices, making it more universally accessible than XPS.

Advantages and Limitations of XPS

Each file format comes with its strengths and weaknesses, and XPS is no exception. Among its advantages are its tight integration with Windows, ensuring easy creation and viewing without additional software. Its fixed layout ensures consistent document appearance across devices, and being an open format, it's free from licensing restrictions.

On the flip side, the limitations of XPS include its lesser popularity compared to PDF, leading to limited support outside of the Windows ecosystem. Furthermore, while it boasts a lightweight structure, it lacks the advanced features and functionalities that other formats like PDF offer.

Working with XPS Files

While the inception of XPS was rooted in simplifying the document viewing and printing experience for Windows users, there are tools and methodologies to help users navigate and manipulate these files more effectively.

Tools and Software for XPS Management

The primary tool for handling XPS files on a Windows system is the XPS Viewer, which comes pre-installed on many Windows versions. It allows users to open, view, and print XPS files with ease. Beyond the default viewer, there are third-party solutions that offer advanced functionalities, such as converting XPS to other formats, merging multiple XPS files, and more.

Viewing and Editing

For basic viewing, the in-built XPS Viewer in Windows suffices. However, for more advanced editing needs, software like Pagemark XpsViewer or NiXPS Edit might be required. These tools not only allow for viewing but also provide functionalities like text editing, annotation, and extraction.

Conversion to Other Formats

Given the more widespread use of PDF and other formats, at times, there might be a need to convert XPS files. Tools like XPS-to-PDF offer a simple solution for this conversion. Similarly, for users looking to transition from PDF to XPS, solutions like Microsoft's Print to XPS feature can be handy.