5 reasons you should use plain text to save your data

Would you like to read your most important documents in ten years from now?

Do you use programs for saving them that might disappear by then?

  1. Plain text doesn’t age. It is most used format of saving data and this is not going to change.
  2. Plain text doesn’t have a version. It always remains itself and you can’t have different incompatible texts.
  3. Plain text teaches you universal things. Using plain text you learn how to work with content, not with specific software.
  4. Plain text fits into anything. You can use text in your email, instant messenger, site, blog, wiki, word processor, program code, personal information manager. But it may be hard to go back from any of these… unless they use plain text.
  5. Plain text remains itself outside computer. Do you have very old book or printout? You can scan it and get text. Do you have old five inch floppy disk? You can throw it out together with useless deteriorated data on it.

You may argue and ignore these reasons… But plain text will be waiting if you ever feel like it. :)

for “Killer Titles” group writing project (project roundup)

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  • Brad Blogging.com - Personal Blog Tips And Blog Help #

    This is a great post. I think text is a universal communication tool.. It will never fade, wither and will stay completely intact (excluding the obvious hard-drive failures that will occur) Great Blog. I've added you to RSS to get more content from you. Thanks for visiting mine :)
  • Rarst #

    Yep, software world bit too obsessed with making proprietary format with every program. Well, programmers and other power users probably understand benefits of plain text but I think it must be told to rest as well. :) Thanks for visiting, I am subscribed to your blog for some time. :)
  • Maurits #

    I agree with this article and I think it is the reason that formal plain text formats like csv and yaml are popular.
  • soultravelers3 #

    Your title caught my attention because I love plain text! Despite living a digital life as we travel the world going on our third year, I am basically computer illiterate. I love plain text for its simplicity, so was happy to read your insights! Thanks!
  • Shaun McLane #

    Great post, and perfect title. Nice work.
  • Rarst #

    @Maurits In post I was more focused on text as in for-human text but yes, it has these (and more) advantages for for-program text as well. @soultravelers3 I think modern computer illiterate almost equals geek of few years ago. People interact with computers more and more and more. @Shaun McLane Thanks, writing it was interesting title-then-post experience. Thanks everyone for visiting. :) I should go browse submissions as well.
  • Hazel #

    I can see your reasons for saving in plain text, and I agree than it is often the best thing to do. However, formatting can also be important to the understanding of a document, and when this is the case, using an open document format might be a more suitable alternative. Obviously this isn't as flexible as plain text, but still has far fewer risks than a proprietary format since you can understand just how your data is stored. Anyway, great post, 'killer' title, and good luck in the group writing project.
  • Rarst #

    @Hazel >open document format might be a more suitable alternative Well, as I said earlier post is more theory than specific implementations. :) As far as I know ODF is XML/HTML based... It can hold binary data but text part if not plain text still remains human readable. It's not plain text by definition but close. >Anyway, great post, ‘killer’ title, and good luck in the group writing project. Thanks. Winner is going to be randomly chosen so it is all luck. Anyway I get new readers and comments from this group writing - what more blogger needs? :)
  • Ava Semerau #

    As someone who has boxes of floppies and no idea what priceless gems might even be on them anymore, your point is well taken and something I've wondered about over the years. Thanks!
  • Rarst #

    @Ava Semerau At work I have eight inch floppy at my table as reminder that data must be kept accessible. Chances of finding working 8" drive are close to zero and I won't ever know what that floppy holds. :)
  • Ky #

    The problem of plain text is that nobody wants to read it if it's too long. After all, who goes though a 20 pages readme.txt?
  • Rarst #

    >After all, who goes though a 20 pages readme.txt? Who goes through 20 pages anything? :)
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  • Daremo #

    I find there is one more reason to use plain text: Plain text does not contain hidden information. No user data, no information about your PC, OS or folders, no deleted text. With plain text, you do not store information or pass it on to others unintentionally.
  • Rarst #

    @Daremo Good point. Even techies tend to forget just how much of meta information gets stuffed in file with complex formats. And regular users are oblivious altogether. But even for plain text privacy is often undermined when it is printed. Laser printers are known to add secret marks to printouts. I think in following years privacy will either erode completely or it will go the way of explosive cryptography and darknets growth. With former more likely. :)
  • Gerard #

    Feel the same way, for example there is nothing more frustrating than trying to paste html onto anything else.
  • Rarst #

    @Gerard Oh yeah, HTML is a mess - especially if copied from Internet Explorer.
  • Minimalist101 #

    Great points! Also Plaintext is extremely spacesaving - if this is still important in times of Gigabytes of storage.
  • Rarst #

    @Minimalist101 Plain text is compact, but if talking about purely text documents there isn't much practical difference with other formats. They will be larger but there are indeed multi-GB storages nowadays.
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