Understanding Text Editors


A text editor is a type of program used for editing plain text files.

Text editors are often provided with operating systems or software development packages, and can be used to change configuration files and programming language source code.

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. Briefly:

A plain text file is represented and edited by showing all the characters as they are present in the file. The only characters usable for ‘mark-up’ are the control characters of the used character set; in practice this is newline, tab and formfeed. The most commonly used character set is ASCII, especially recently, as plain text files are more often being used for programming and configuration, and less frequently for documentation (e.g. detailed instructions, user guides) than in the past.
Documents created by a word processor generally contain application-specific “control characters” beyond what is defined in the character set. They enable functions like bold, italic, fonts, columns, tables, etc. These and other common page formatting symbols were once associated only with desktop publishing, but are now commonplace in the simplest word processor.
Word processor programs can usually edit a plain text file and save it back in the plain text file format. However, one must take care to tell the program that this is what is wanted. Specifying the save format is especially important in cases such as source code, HTML, and configuration and control files. If left to the program’s default, the file will contain those “special characters” unique to the word processor’s file format, and will not be handled correctly by the utility the files were intended for.

Learner Outcomes

At the completion of this exercise:

you will have a basic understanding of basic text editors
you will have a basic understanding of history of text editors
you will have a basic understanding of types of text editors
you will have a basic understanding of typical features


Look over Wikipedia’s “text editor” page and respond to the questions listed below
Look over the enclosed “text editor video and respond to the questions listed below.

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