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What is an ASCII Editor?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 16, 2024
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An ASCII editor is a kind of program for manipulating a set of characters called ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange). The ASCII editor program generally provides for arranging ASCII characters in various ways in order to generate specific visual results. Lots of ASCII editors help users to make artistic displays on the computer screen.

Some programmers refer to the ASCII editor as a kind of text editor, because ASCII is mainly comprised of the letters, punctuation, and other elements that make up conventional text. An ASCII editor is often different from a “word processing” text editor in that it focuses on aesthetic results, and not necessarily readability. An ASCII editor helps computer users to make impressive ASCII art that uses different colors, sizes and types of ASCII characters in special positions on the screen.

ASCII editors have specific features that help to make ASCII art easier to create. Some of these include a background designation or other “color filling” tool. An ASCII editor can also have “edit commands” that place specific amounts of ASCII characters where they can be most useful in adding to the ‘big picture’ of what is eventually displayed on the screen. ASCII editors can also have features like “picture overlay,” and other layout commands to manipulate larger chunks of ASCII on the screen.

A computer may need a specific operating system to run an ASCII editor. Although many of these are available as freeware, vendors may sell some ASCII editors bundled in software packages. Some might also be available as SaaS or Software as a Service designs, where the vendors can offer them over the Internet.

Although many programmers still like to create ASCII art, many mainstream computer users see it as being an obsolete art form that is generally out of the mainstream of the visual arts. ASCII editors also have marginal utility to many businesses, as their main function is to manipulate text, where standard word processing programs are often the main choice for managers. ASCII editing can still be useful in the telecommunications business, where the characters in ASCII are still the primary tools for things like SMS texting, and even some VoIP programs. Even though ASCII art may largely be a thing of the past, there is a lot that some types of ASCII editors could do for modern telecom companies.

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Discussion Comments

By stoltzfus — On May 08, 2011

that's true. The simplicity of the medium does have staying power, although the 'golden age' of ASCII art was probably in the 90s - a friend of mine created some really impressive full-screen pieces that he could trigger with a DOS command.

By lapsed — On May 08, 2011

Although it may be somewhat obsolete as an art form, ASCII art certainly isn't completely dead. If you think about it, emoticons or smileys like :) are simple forms of ASCII art and they're as widely used as ever.

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