This guide provides an overview of plain text and how it can be used for a variety of tasks and advantages over rich text and custom text formats.
What is plain text?
In general, plain text is text that isn't formatted and generally uses common characters.
Benefits of plain text
- Simplicity: Focus on the content rather than the formatting or medium
- Portability: Any text editor can create and display plain text. That means you're not locked in to any particular tool or service.
- Local-first: Because you can create plain text files using any phone or computer, it means your files belong to you and you have access to them any time regardless of network connectivity. While you can upload and sync your files with your preferred cloud storage provider for redundancy and backup, it's not a requirement.
- Longevity: Computers have been able to create and display plain text for decades. Since you don't need proprietary file formats or tools to create and consume plain text, it's likely many decades from now you'll be able to read plain text.
Additional plain markup and text formats
You can write plain text on its own. However, you can format your plain text to provide additional visual cues, information, and context. Some popular plain formats and markup languages include:
Below are a few popular plain text editors you can use to read and create plain text files:
The easiest way to start taking notes using plain text is to open any text editor of choice and start capturing your thoughts.
Productivity / Personal Knowledge Management
An extension to note taking is personal knowlege management and productivity. Whether it's scheduling appointments, journaling, tracking habits (exercise, reading, meditation), or managing to-do lists, you can use plain text for these tasks. Some tools and formats that can help with that include:
While e-mail clients support HTML, in general e-mail communication is predomenantly text-based. Therefore, plain text is all you need. If you wanted to only use plain text, e-mail clients enable you to configure them to only support plain text. While your HTML e-mails may look weird, there are some advantages.
The use plaintext email guide can provide guidance as to how to get started using plaintext only for e-mails
There are many apps for managing your personal finance. However, if you want to keep it simple, you can track your personal finances using plain text as well. Some tools that can help you do that include:
When you think of a database, you might think of a complicated system hosted in a server. While database systems are optimized for enterprise production workloads, at the end of the day, the purpose of a database is to store data. That means plain text can work for that too. Some tools that can help you here include:
Blogging and building websites
The more capable our computing devices have become, our software has suffered from inflation by becoming larger. However, larger doesn't mean the software is richer. If you're just trying to transmit information, you can upload your raw text files containing your blog posts or website to a server and they can be displayed in the browser. Examples of these sites include:
Often you can build these websites with the help of static site generators such as. The Static Site Generators catalog provides more details on popular ones.
For hosting, you can do so for free using offerings like GitHub Pages. The Setting up a GitHub Pages site with Jekyll can help you get started there.