Plain text

Term for computer data consisting only of unformatted characters of readable material / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Dear Wikiwand AI, let's keep it short by simply answering these key questions:

Can you list the top facts and stats about Plain text?

Summarize this article for a 10 years old


In computing, plain text is a loose term for data (e.g. file contents) that represent only characters of readable material but not its graphical representation nor other objects (floating-point numbers, images, etc.). It may also include a limited number of "whitespace" characters that affect simple arrangement of text, such as spaces, line breaks, or tabulation characters. Plain text is different from formatted text, where style information is included; from structured text, where structural parts of the document such as paragraphs, sections, and the like are identified; and from binary files in which some portions must be interpreted as binary objects (encoded integers, real numbers, images, etc.).

Text file with portion of The Human Side of Animals by Royal Dixon, displayed by the command cat in an xterm window

The term is sometimes used quite loosely, to mean files that contain only "readable" content (or just files with nothing that the speaker does not prefer). For example, that could exclude any indication of fonts or layout (such as markup, markdown, or even tabs); characters such as curly quotes, non-breaking spaces, soft hyphens, em dashes, and/or ligatures; or other things.

In principle, plain text can be in any encoding, but occasionally the term is taken to imply ASCII. As Unicode-based encodings such as UTF-8 and UTF-16 become more common, that usage may be shrinking.

Plain text is also sometimes used only to exclude "binary" files: those in which at least some parts of the file cannot be correctly interpreted via the character encoding in effect. For example, a file or string consisting of "hello" (in any encoding), following by 4 bytes that express a binary integer that is not a character, is a binary file. Converting a plain text file to a different character encoding does not change the meaning of the text, as long as the correct character encoding is used. However, converting a binary file to a different format may alter the interpretation of the non-textual data.