Text Editor - Plain Text Files Vs. Word Processor Files

Plain Text Files Vs. Word Processor Files

There are important differences between plain text files created by a text editor, and document files created by word processors such as Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, or OpenOffice.org.

  • A plain text file uses a simple character set such as ASCII to represent numbers, letters, and a small number of symbols. The only non-printing characters in the file, usable to format the text, are newline, tab, and formfeed.
  • Word processor documents generally contain formatted text, adding content that enables text to appear in boldface and italics, to use multiple fonts, and to be structured into columns and tables. These capabilities were once associated only with desktop publishing, but are now common in the simplest word processor. Web pages add HTML tags to plain text to achieve formatting.

Word processors were developed to aid in formatting text for presentation on a printed page, while text editors treat text as data.

When both formats are available, the user must select with care. Saving a plain text file in a word-processor format will add formatting information that could disturb the machine-readability of the text. Saving a word-processor document as a text file will lose formatting information.

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