What are text files?

As the name suggests, a text file is a computer file that contains text, though the specific type of file will determine whether it contains simple plain text or special formatting such as bolds and italics. Some types can even host images and other more complex media.

Log files, saved email messages and word processing documents are all common examples of text files.

Text file formats can be opened using text editor applications such as Notepad or TextEdit or specific programmes such as Microsoft Word. They can also be commonly converted to other document types - for example a PDF, using Adobe Acrobat.

What are text file formats used for?

Text files are incredibly versatile and can be used for a wide variety of different purposes including but not limited to:

  • Personal documents. From CVs and creative writing projects to recipes and lists, numerous people use text-based documents for personal purposes in day-to-day life.
  • Professional documents. Reports, memos, business plans, process documents and more can all be created using popular text file types.
  • Data storage. Certain text extensions are utilised by programmes to record activity on a computer or operations performed by a particular user.
  • Format-specific documents. Some programmes allow specific things such as an email to be saved off-line as a text file extension. This may be useful for sharing separately with a colleague or editing/working with the contents.

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Some of the most popular text files formats include:

  • .DOC - This is a popular word processing file created by Microsoft Word. .DOC files are commonly used for producing written documents such as letters, CVs and essays.
  • .PAGES - Part of Apple’s iWork suite, this is a text document and word processing file that is compatible with iOS and Mac OS.
  • .DOCX - After 2007, .DOCX became the standard file format for saving documents in Word. It enhances accessibility by zipping XML data into three different folders.
  • .MD - Commonly used by technical writers and web developers, .MD text files can create plain text documents with no other elements.
  • .EML - These are emails saved in plain text with no special formatting in the text, graphics or images.
  • .RTF - Rich text format files are universal text file formats that are more advanced than standard text files, capable of storing extra information and types of data.
  • .TXT - One of the most compatible and basic text file formats, .TXT documents are used to create simple text documents with little to no formatting.
  • .LOG - A log file is a data file that is used to track usage patterns, activities and operations within software and operating systems.
  • .ASC - These files are protected ASCII files that enable secure communication and data exchange.
  • .MSG - .MSG files are message text file formats that are used to represent individual email messages, contacts, tasks, appointments etc.
  • .WPS - The precursor to Microsoft Word DOCs, .WPS files were once the industry standard. They contain less advanced formatting and no macros.
  • .IPYNB - This is a notebook document file created by Jupyter Notebook, which contains all of the content included in a Jupyter Notebook web application session.

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Advantages and disadvantages of text files.

Different text file formats will have their own pros and cons. But we’ve compiled some of the most typical benefits and drawbacks here.


  • Simplicity. Text file formats are easy to use and create. This means you won’t typically encounter complex or technical challenges or need specific knowledge or expertise, to use them.
  • Easy to recover. Text files can be easier to recover if data corruption occurs.
  • Small and easily shareable. Text documents are often much smaller than other types of files, so they can be easily shared and stored.
  • Highly accessible. Basic text file formats can be easily opened by most computers and devices without the need for any complex software. They are widely supported on different programmes.


  • Lack of formatting. The lack of formatting in basic text files makes them unsuitable for visual projects or documents that require images and fonts.
  • Security. A double-edged effect of their simplicity, some text-based file types can be susceptible to data theft and damage from malicious software.

How do I convert text file formats to PDF?

If you’re wanting an extra layer of security and professionalism, Adobe’s free online PDF converter can be used to transform various different text file formats into a Portable Document Format.

  • Simply select a file from your device using the tool’s blue button or drag and drop. Your document will then be quickly and seamlessly converted, ready to save or share.
  • TXT, RTF and other popular extensions can all be turned into PDFs in this way, while Word to PDF is another well-supported option.

Once you’re done, you can then freely edit your PDF, not to mention sign it, add pages or merge with another PDF document.

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Text files: FAQs.

What is the difference between rich text and plain text?

Rich text allows you to include visual features such as formatting, colours, images, styles and media. Plain text is much more basic in that it offers far fewer customisation options. That said, plain text files are often smaller in size, more easily transferable and compatible with many different devices and programmes.

How does a text file store information?

The data values in text files are stored as a series of characters. The computer memory stores each character as one or two bytes and data (plain text) is generally arranged in rows, with each row containing several values.

What is an example of a text file?

Common examples of text files include saved email messages, word processing documents and log files. Popular text format extensions include .TXT, .DOCX and .RTF.

Is a PDF a text file?

Developed by Adobe and ideal for sharing securely, a PDF is a document format that can contain both text formatting and images. Text files, meanwhile, often include plain text only. PDFs are also generally more secure than simple text formats, partly thanks to the ability to password protect them.

What is the simplest text file format?

There are a number of different plain text files out there that could be classed as the simplest. ASCII, for example, is one of the simplest, most widely supported and durable formats out there, offering only line breaks for formatting. But for everyday use, you might find it simpler to go with a straightforward .TXT file.