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What is a Rich Text Editor?

Robyn Clark
Robyn Clark

A rich text editor is a plug-in computer application that allows a user to enter and format text online, within a web browser. Rich text editors typically have the look and feel of word processors, with an area to enter text and buttons that the user can click to apply different rich formatting options. With rich formatting, the user can apply bold and italic styles; change the font, font color or font size; create a bulleted list; or insert hyperlinks. As the formatting that has been applied is immediately displayed within the editing window, a rich text editor is a “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) editor.

Instructions for how online content is displayed are determined by the HyperText Markup Language (HTML) tags for that content. These tags, contained within brackets, determine how the web browser will read and then display the content. A rich text editor is an alternative to creating text entry fields with an HTML text area tag. HTML text areas are plain text boxes in which users can type text, and then all entries from all users are displayed in the same font and style.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

Rich text editors are also known as HTML online editors or inline editors. Their behind-the-scenes functionality turns a text entry field into an HTML editor without the user needing to know anything about HTML markup tags. The ability to customize how text is displayed can enhance a user’s web experience by making a web page feel more interactive.

Online editors are frequently used for the “compose mail” feature of web-based email applications. A rich text editor can also be used for user comment fields or other applications where the user is typing content online. The editing and formatting of online text is also a feature of most online office software suites.

When selecting a particular rich text editor as part of the design of a webpage or a web application, it is important for users to consider whether the editor is compliant with current web standards, whether it works across different operating systems and browsers as well as how much it costs. There are a number of open source editors that are available free of charge. Users can search for online reviews of rich text editors to see comparisons of different rich text editors in terms of features and current price points. Technology blogs and magazines frequently run yearly “best of” features comparing different editors.

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