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What is a Text Editor?

By C. Ausbrooks
Updated May 16, 2024
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A text editor is a simple computer program that allows users to create, change, or edit plain text files. It can be used for creating computer programs, editing the source code of programming languages, editing hypertext markup language (HTML), and creating web pages or web design templates. This software is most commonly used today for programming purposes, rather than creating documents, as is was in the past.

Only plain text may be entered into a text editor, as opposed to the formatted text of a rich text editor or word processor. These programs allow special functions such as bold, italic, and various text sizes and fonts. The editor displays only the characters visible in the file, while word processors add special formatting characters which are not visible in the document. One that only accepts plain text does not allow the user to format that text or add pictures or tables.

Most modern computers come with a text editor installed, usually of the most basic sort. There are also many available for download or purchase. Some have the ability to also function as a word processor, depending on the user’s need or preference.

Text editors can generally be placed into one of two distinct categories: line editors and screen oriented editors. Line editors are not used as frequently as screen-oriented editors, and require that the user specify a particular line of text before making any changes. Screen oriented editors, sometimes called full screen editors, feature the ability to modify any visible text on the screen by moving the cursor to its location.

The most common features available in these programs include the ability to cut and paste text, copy text, create a bulleted list, wrap the text to the next line, and undo or redo the last command. Some offer more advanced features, such as the ability to set macros, or command keys, for source code editing. Advanced text editors are preferred by programmers, and usually include features unnecessary for basic text editing.

A text editor also features the ability to read and edit very large files, and open them quickly. This is necessary for many professional computer applications, as they contain files that might be too large for the computer’s main memory to handle. Log files and source code files are examples of large files that administrators or professional computer users may need to view or edit.

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Discussion Comments

By eidetic — On Dec 01, 2012

@indemnifyme - The invisible and automatic formatting in word processing programs can be a really big pain. I've been looking for something that's a little easier, and a screen oriented text editor sounds like it might be the answer to my problems. I'm going to check and see if I have one on my computer and if not, I'm going to download a free text editor and start using it.

By indemnifyme — On Nov 30, 2012

I do freelance writing, and I use my screen oriented text editor all the time. Some of the stuff I write gets published on blogs or sent to clients, and the invisible formatting that word processing programs add can be a really big pain.

So I usually compose things in the text editor and then send it to people as a .txt file so they can format it however they want. Or, if I'm publishing something to a blog I cut and paste it from the text editor program and do the formatting with the blog interface (usually Wordpress, which is really easy to use.)

Open source text editor software makes my life, much, much easier.

By Pharoah — On Nov 30, 2012

@dautsun - I've never tried out either program, but the Windows text editor sounds like it would be kind of hard to use. Then again, I'm sure you would get used to it after awhile and it would become like second nature.

By dautsun — On Nov 29, 2012
@rebelgurl28 - I was using a PC awhile ago (my Macbook broke and I was waiting for the new one to come in the mail) and I tried out Notepad. I have to say, I didn't really like it compared to the equivalent program on a MacBook.

One thing about Notepad that drove me crazy is that if I opened a new document, it would close the current document I was working on. I was going crazy trying to work in multiple windows at once and the program kept closing them on me.

By ajvician — On Jun 18, 2011

@rebelgurl28 – I, too, like that the text editor is fast to open, save, and close.

Additionally, when I use the text editor I feel like I am the boss. I know that may sound odd, but my word processor sometimes has a mind of its own and will format things its own way. I don't even ask it to do it, it just does.

Many times I find it more convenient to use my text editor and then paste it into my word processor and format a document all at one time rather than as I type.

By rebelgurl28 — On Jun 15, 2011

The text editor that came with my computer (PC) is Notepad and I think more people would use it if they knew more about it. It seems that people often head straight to their word processor and use that because it is considered more powerful. But there can be some drawbacks to that powerful program.

As mentioned in the article a text editor opens fast and does not bog down with a large file. Even though I have a powerful computer often I have several programs open and my word processor will bog down and even crash.

I have never had Notepad crash on me. One warning, though, Notepad does not automatically save your document. Even if the odds of the program crashing are slim you don't want to lose your work so save it frequently.

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