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What does plain text file mean? What is a plain text file?

A plain text file is a type of file. Files can either be binary (machine code) or plain text (English or native language).

Strictly speaking, English plain text files contain the following characters only:

  • Lower case alphabetical (a-z)
  • Upper case alphabetical (A-Z)
  • Numeric (0-9)
  • Common punctuation marks
You can create plain text files using a plain text editor. For example, Microsoft Windows comes with a program called Notepad. You can use Notepad to view, edit or create plain text files.

To launch Notepad, select the "Run..." menu item from your start menu and type in notepad to start the program.

Typically, plain text editors are most basic and are equipped with a limited set of features.

You cannot create special effects like text bolding or under-lining as these cannot be stored in plain text format. For example, documents (doc) files are not plain text.

You can open document files in document editors and they will appear to be plain text. In actual fact, there are stored using a combination of plain text and specially formatted coding that the document editor will recognize. Microsoft Word and Microsoft Wordpad are popular document editors.

If you open a document file in a plain text editor, you will notice many non-plain text characters that you would not normally see in the document editor. You will also not that there will be no special formatting such as text bolding, highlighting or font scaling.

It is usual for plain text files to be saved with a .txt extension although there are many other extensions used to save plain text files. For example, html files are written in plain text. They are usually saved with the extension .html or .htm

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