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Both world and sdf files share the same SDF format. The world file describes a scene that contains objects and models (robots are models). You can define models directly in a world file, and you see this often in our tutorials.

But when models are in their own .sdf files, they can be reused and featured in multiple worlds. Our model database, for example, contains many model .sdf files.

Finally, when Gazebo starts, it expects a world file, not a single model.