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So You Want to Make Textfiles

By czth in Technology
Sat May 28, 2005 at 02:25:23 PM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

Do you desire to write documents? Maybe you want a diary but refuse to use a pen! Fortunately, the technology to make textfiles is available to you now and it's quick, secure, and easy, so let's get going!

The fundamental concept of textfiles is characters, which can be arranged into words, sentences, and paragraphs--I'll explain these terms in a bit. If you found my colleague's article on HTML too complex; fear not, this is where you need to be.

Except in godless foreign regions (a pox upon their benighted, chicken-scratching souls), characters are encoded in ASCII, the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (so down home and apple pie that it even has American in the name!) Since computers only know about numbers, ASCII gives every character you'll ever need a number so the computer knows how to deal with them.

The obvious choice for creating and editing textfiles is Microsoft Word, but technically any random editor can be used, for example, Microsoft Works, or Notepad, or Wordpad. I recommend against third-party editors because they can be confusing.

One great benefit of textfiles is that they don't need any sissy header text: you can just open up an editor and start typing. So let's learn about the elements of text!

Characters can be any of the following:

  • upper and lower case letters (A-Z, a-z)
  • numbers (0-9)
  • punctuation (period, comma, parentheses, etc.)
  • currency symbols ($; if you need others such as cents, use $0.01 instead)
  • underscore (_)
  • there are others but you don't need to worry about them yet

Example 1:

a, Q, 2 and $ are all characters.

Webster's seminal work, Dictionary, defines a word as

a speech sound or series of speech sounds that symbolizes and communicates a meaning without being divisible into smaller units capable of independent use
but all that means is that you can string some letters together to represent what you want to say, so don't be confused by the verbiage. Obviously you can read words since you're here (!) and fortunately writing them is also quite simple, just decide what you want to say and then type the characters on the keyboard that are in the words you want.

Example 2:

Hello, establishment, it, and potted plant are all words (note that the last groups two words together, to let advanced readers get a little ahead)

A sentence is a coherent sequence of words that terminates with a punctuation character such as a period (.), question mark (?), or exclamation mark (!). Usually you should just use periods (known in some countries as a "full stop" if I may be briefly unAmerican), but if you're curious you can use a question mark ("Dude, how can I write great articles like this one?") or you can use an exclamation mark ("Mom, I'm going to learn how to write text files!") to convey enthusiasm. Resist the urge to string together multiples, e.g. "Dude you rock!!!!!", no matter how happy and excited you may be.

Example 3:

This is a sentence.

"You hold the ball and I'll kick it, Charlie Brown," said Lucy. (also a sentence)

Thus far we've only dealt with simple characters, and spaces (to separate words). But sometimes you want to take it to the next level--group some sentences together for a particular purpose. Then you use a paragraph. For example, I was just explaining sentences, but now I'm talking about paragraphs, so I put a blank line after my last sentence about sentences to indicate that I'm beginning a new topic.

Example 4:

This document has many paragraphs; this is one of them.

Text formatting

I'm sure you've seen some horrible web pages with way too many colours and fonts, and too much formatting. You'll be relieved to know that text supports (in emulation) minimal formatting, so that you can concentrate on content.

It's simple: for italics, use _underscores_, for bold use *asterisks*, and just stay away from colours, except you can emulate foreground on background with spaces: (works for any colour display).


It is a little harder to do images in text than in HTML, well, really you can't actually embed images in HTML at all, they're external files, so actually text has one up on HTML here, not that we're competing or anything.

This is really a topic left to the experts but feel free to experiment, for example you can use minus signs (----------) for horizontal lines and pipes (|) for vertical lines and slashes (/ and \) for diagonals, + for corners, etc.


Use * for bulleted lists, and use your numeric keypad to make numbers for numbered lists.

Example 5:

1. One
2. Two
3. Three


See images.

ActiveX controls

Simulate them with images.

Java applets

See images.


Use underscores (__________) and see images.

Example 6:

What is your name? [____________________]
What is your favourite colour? [__________]


Comments are for sissies, like images.


Clearly it has been shown that textfiles are a superior medium of communication. Welcome to the wonderful world of textfiles! Create a textfile of your own today!


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


I edit my textfiles with...
o Microsoft Word 13%
o Microsoft Works 13%
o Notepad 67%
o Wordpad 6%

Votes: 82
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Microsoft Word
o Dictionary
o horrible web pages
o experts
o Also by czth

Display: Sort:
So You Want to Make Textfiles | 72 comments (48 topical, 24 editorial, 0 hidden)
Imitation (2.66 / 3) (#5)
by monkeymind on Fri May 27, 2005 at 12:55:28 AM EST

Is the highest form of flattery.


I believe in Karma. That means I can do bad things to people and assume the deserve it.

referential integrity (none / 1) (#35)
by lennarth on Fri May 27, 2005 at 04:07:53 PM EST

what would the reference be?

[ Parent ]
Another article (none / 0) (#60)
by monkeymind on Sun May 29, 2005 at 12:43:08 AM EST

That didn't make it through voting.

I believe in Karma. That means I can do bad things to people and assume the deserve it.
[ Parent ]

you know (none / 0) (#65)
by lennarth on Mon May 30, 2005 at 11:17:12 AM EST

What I've always wanted is a graveyard feature where dead kuro5hin stories aren't buried, ever. It is digital jetsam, and we can keep everything forever.

[ Parent ]
+1FP beautiful. (2.42 / 7) (#8)
by Resonant on Fri May 27, 2005 at 01:51:49 AM EST

This is truly inspired.

"I answer, 'This is _quantitative_ religious studies.'" - glor
Yay, first vote (nt) (none / 0) (#9)
by Resonant on Fri May 27, 2005 at 01:52:32 AM EST

"I answer, 'This is _quantitative_ religious studies.'" - glor
[ Parent ]
IAWTP +1FP (3.00 / 2) (#13)
by shinnin on Fri May 27, 2005 at 04:32:50 AM EST

Absolutely _fucking_ *brilliant*.

[ Parent ]
Dag... (2.75 / 12) (#10)
by fyngyrz on Fri May 27, 2005 at 02:17:34 AM EST

I wouldn't want to sentence you for an extended period, but my word, man, what a character you are. I'm not calling you an ass, mind you - more like a semi-colon.


Blog, Photos.

WIPO: (3.00 / 4) (#11)
by SoupIsGoodFood on Fri May 27, 2005 at 02:38:22 AM EST

EditPlus. Or BBEdit when on the Mac. Or Lunix when using my eMacs.

HIPPIE (none / 0) (#32)
by CanSpice on Fri May 27, 2005 at 03:25:24 PM EST

[ Parent ]
The One True Editor... (2.36 / 11) (#12)
by Xoder on Fri May 27, 2005 at 03:48:03 AM EST

... Is Vim. For your crime of neglecting to mention it, the vote is decreased to +1sp.


Lately I've been hearing that god's on our side But rumor has it, there's one on their side too So what I'd like to know is, when it comes down to it, can my god kick their god's ass or what?

One true editor ... (none / 1) (#17)
by canwaf on Fri May 27, 2005 at 07:43:30 AM EST

Vi! No emacs! No! Vim.

No! It's all about gEdit, or nEdit, or SCREAM, or Bluefish, or Openoffice.

Wow, arguments like these are so horribly mundane.

[ Parent ]

:q! (2.66 / 3) (#22)
by shinnin on Fri May 27, 2005 at 09:10:38 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Of course! (none / 1) (#23)
by Xoder on Fri May 27, 2005 at 11:26:25 AM EST

They are also fun. Or more fun than the current alternative.

Lately I've been hearing that god's on our side But rumor has it, there's one on their side too So what I'd like to know is, when it comes down to it, can my god kick their god's ass or what?
[ Parent ]
cat > filename # NT (none / 0) (#49)
by shm on Sat May 28, 2005 at 02:02:39 AM EST

[ Parent ]
The Amiga is better than the Atari ST! (none / 1) (#58)
by ant0n on Sat May 28, 2005 at 05:21:55 PM EST

-- Does the shortest thing the tallest pyramid's support supports support anything green?
Patrick H. Winston, Artificial Intelligence
[ Parent ]
Vim? Please... (2.57 / 7) (#24)
by FattMattP on Fri May 27, 2005 at 11:45:04 AM EST

Vim? Forget that. And Emacs too. Ed is the standard text editor. :-)

[ Parent ]
Years ago I would have taken exception (2.50 / 2) (#14)
by SaintPort on Fri May 27, 2005 at 04:33:58 AM EST

to MSWord as a text editor...
but then one day I needed to printout some data files that were really wide on really big paper... well Word was the only editor that gave me the power to format the pages as needed.

But normally, I recommend Crimson Editor...


Search the Scriptures
Start with some cheap grace...Got Life?

Write-in vote (2.75 / 4) (#16)
by IHCOYC on Fri May 27, 2005 at 07:30:51 AM EST

Quill and Paper.
Ecce torpet probitas, virtus sepelitur;
Fit iam parca largitas, parcitas largitur;
Verum dicit falsitas; veritas mentitur.

Neal Stephenson, is that you? (3.00 / 2) (#30)
by Russell Dovey on Fri May 27, 2005 at 02:48:54 PM EST

When are you going to write the endings to Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon?

"Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light." - Spike Milligan
[ Parent ]

Why do people think there are no endings? (2.50 / 2) (#33)
by Phssthpok on Fri May 27, 2005 at 03:35:34 PM EST

The Diamond Age tells the story of one technology from its beginning to its end. Once the Drummers develop the Seed, the age of the Feed is at an end. (RETROACTIVE SPOILER WARNING: THE LAST SENTENCE WAS A SPOILER)

The ending of Cryptonomicon is where Stephenson convinced all his fans to buy 3 twenty-pound weights and develop an interest in immutable history.

affective flattening has caused me to kill 11,357 people

[ Parent ]

Buuuuut... he broke the Drummers. (none / 0) (#47)
by Russell Dovey on Sat May 28, 2005 at 01:16:37 AM EST

The Drummers were all split up by Our Neo-Victorian Hero, and lost the Seed for at least another year. A lot can happen in a year.

And the Mouse Army had only just begun as a phyle! I'd be damn interested in a sequel, although I can understand Stephenson having trouble with writing about the effect of Seed technology, that's almost Singularityesque.

"Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light." - Spike Milligan
[ Parent ]

-1 Keep this a secret from nonmembers. (2.91 / 12) (#25)
by Sesquipundalian on Fri May 27, 2005 at 12:27:16 PM EST

Did you know that gullible is not actually an english word?
XML? (3.00 / 3) (#26)
by Uber Banker 2 on Fri May 27, 2005 at 01:33:05 PM EST

What is the XML schema for a text file?

This (3.00 / 3) (#68)
by pnadeau on Tue May 31, 2005 at 08:21:40 PM EST


"Can't buy what I want because it's free, can't be what they want because I'm..."  Eddie Vedder

[ Parent ]
Please explain (3.00 / 2) (#27)
by BottleRocket on Fri May 27, 2005 at 02:27:48 PM EST

"You hold the ball and I'll kick it, Charlie Brown," said Lucy.

When making a textfile, what is the form for this kind of citation! It almost seems like two sentences? And one of them doesn't end in a comma,

$ . . . . . $ . . . . . $ . . . . . $
. ₩ . . . . . ¥ . . . . . € . . . . . § . . . . . £
. . . . * . . . . . * . . . . . * . . . . . * . . . . . *
$ . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $
Yes I do download [child pornography], but I don't keep it any longer than I need to, so it can yield insight as to how to find more. --MDC
$ . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $
. . . . * . . . . . * . . . . . * . . . . . * . . . . . *
. ₩ . . . . . ¥ . . . . . € . . . . . § . . . . . £
$ . . . . . $ . . . . . $ . . . . . $

Hilarious (2.75 / 4) (#34)
by lonelyhobo on Fri May 27, 2005 at 03:52:41 PM EST

The more hilarious thing is how people got rubbed the wrong way about a joke poll ("I recommend against third-party editors because they can be confusing.")

Perhaps K5 is the target audience for something written in such a condescending manner.

I know, wish I voted +1FP now (3.00 / 2) (#38)
by rhdntd on Fri May 27, 2005 at 06:02:12 PM EST

I voted before reading the comments and seeing how many bites there were.  This is awesome.  I went for section, although there isn't a YHBT.HAND. section.

"book chicks really seem to like anal"
  — Lady 3Jane
[ Parent ]
Context (3.00 / 1) (#37)
by czth on Fri May 27, 2005 at 04:09:58 PM EST

You mayn't know about me without you have read a book by the name of So You Want to Make Webpages; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by MonsieurMerdique, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another. (With apologies to Mark Twain.)

It's possible this article may not stand alone without a spoofee. If that's so, the votes will show it.

But if it does stand, then perhaps one day someone—a great author, or orator perhaps—will look back and say "I got started by reading czth's article on Kuro5hin, bless his heart, and I owe it all to him, and to those people who found it in their hearts to vote it up."

Or perhaps not :). If not, I'm glad to have at least provided some momentary entertainment—this article just begged to be written.


Anyone with this much time on their hands... (1.16 / 6) (#39)
by 123456789 on Fri May 27, 2005 at 07:14:33 PM EST

... needs to get a life. Am I the only one who finds it unamusing to beat the reader over the head with sarcasm? Yes, we get it. You are a master of sarcastic humor.


People demand freedom of speech to make up for the freedom of thought which they avoid.
- Soren Kierkegaard
Corrections to an otherwise fine article (2.50 / 2) (#40)
by jd on Fri May 27, 2005 at 08:16:11 PM EST

If you want to use plain ASCII and have graphics, there are tools that will convert images to ASCII. Indeed, it is now possible to play DOOM on a 100% ASCII terminal!

If you want something fancier, then you cheat and use LaTeX to create line graphics, tables, etc. It is still ASCII, as far as data entry is concerned, but the output can be so much better.

Java Applets are merely hypothetical, like Super Strings and edible McDonald's hamburgers.

Now... (3.00 / 4) (#43)
by kpaul on Fri May 27, 2005 at 10:59:22 PM EST

I just wish someone would write something up telling me how to translate this to HTML...


2014 Halloween Costumes

Why didn't I think of that before. (none / 0) (#61)
by monkeymind on Sun May 29, 2005 at 12:48:25 AM EST

Surely someone here knows enough about HTML to fill us in.

I believe in Karma. That means I can do bad things to people and assume the deserve it.
[ Parent ]

To Parody Is French, No? (2.20 / 5) (#44)
by MonsieurMerdique on Fri May 27, 2005 at 11:05:36 PM EST

Your parody mocks the fact that my article "So You Want to Make Webpages" is basic. This is true but I intended that it be the foundation of an advanced tutorial who covers JavaScript, Cascading Style Sheets, domain registration and maintenance, FTP use, and more. These skills may be easy according to you but I did not write that guide only for you, czth.

The hope was to make a guide that would be indexed on Google and direct traffic to Kuro5hin. Maybe most Kuro5hiners already know HTML. The truth is that I rarely visit Kuro5hin because I have not found much new good writing here. Thus I do not know much about the people here. You people could use any bone a passerby throws at you to improve this place. À l'américaine, "it sucks!"

I submit this opinion to the people who have the intelligence to comprehend this sentence : that all well-written articles about all serious topics should be voted +1 front page. By well-written and serious articles, I exclude articles written about a maladroit's choice to make love to his hand instead of a woman. That sort of article belongs on a blog that he can share with his fellow lifestyle masturbators.

No, merdique is not French for shitty!

Whys and wherefores (3.00 / 1) (#46)
by czth on Sat May 28, 2005 at 12:50:46 AM EST

Don't take it too personally; the parody called me, and I had to give it voice. If it gets voted down, well, c'est la vie; it only took about half an hour to write.

The members of the site saw fit to vote down your article, which will probably doom mine too; how's that for comeuppance? The reason is not because it wasn't well written, but because it wasn't sufficiently advanced (as you said) and mainly because it wasn't sufficiently distinguished from the 446,000 other HTML tutorials on the 'net (so probably wouldn't drive interesting traffic here either). My article looks like it's heading downhill; it made it over 60 but I think it's beginning a meteoric fall, possibly due to the absence of the original article.

I agree about the site going downhill, and I appreciate your attempt to write something to help, but I think picking something more unique to you will be better received. For example a particular templating system, server setup strategy, or graphical design methodology.

Your opinion about what should be posted is noted, but you only get one vote (plus any dupes, of course). I don't take offense to your insinuations; you are French, after all (kidding).

By the way, it is "which" not "who" for objects: "which covers Javascript" etc.; I guess in French it's qui in either case (?) so the distinction can be lost.


[ Parent ]

Merdesque? Merdeureux? (none / 0) (#63)
by twestgard on Sun May 29, 2005 at 10:45:15 PM EST

Boy, I'm not sure how far to think this joke goes. But if this guy Merdrino is for real, I guest we can picture the trolls dividing his entrails like a pack of hyenas.

Thomas Westgard
Illinois Mechanics Liens
[ Parent ]

Bill Gates broke my notepad (3.00 / 2) (#48)
by bsimon on Sat May 28, 2005 at 01:53:25 AM EST

While we're on the subject of text files, and seeing how Windows Notepad is doing so well in the poll, what's up with the automatic line breaks?

Older versions of Notepad regarded your text as sacrosanct. Some time around the launch of Windows 2000, they 'enhanced' it to break long lines automatically according to some apparently random scheme.

Some discussion of this here:

you have read my sig

wh47 480u7 1337 5p34k!!!! (3.00 / 2) (#55)
by Icestryke on Sat May 28, 2005 at 02:17:15 PM EST

D00d, 7h1s 4r71c13 5ux0rz f0r n07 m3n710n1n9 h0w 70 5p34k 1337. 1 m34n, h0w c4n y0u 741k 340u7 wr171n9 wi7h0u7 m3n710n1n9 17!!11!

(Man, no wonder these guys suck at FPS games, it takes forever to type this stuff)

Now I can explain... (3.00 / 1) (#56)
by czth on Sat May 28, 2005 at 03:04:09 PM EST

First to those arriving late, this article is a parody of another that got voted down, but that I have preserved here: So You Want to Write Webpages. It was a basic, non-distinguished HTML tutorial, decently enough written but not sufficiently unique or interesting to post; as someone pointed out, Google finds 461k results for "HTML tutorial".

I forgot one of the best things about text documents, too: if you want to type & or < in your text document, you can just type & or <. Amazing transparency!

There was an editorial post about needing to post a big Warning about the sarcasm; I wish it had been topical; if so I'd have attached this comment to it. Of course there are other editors besides Word, Works, Wordpad, and Notepad; I'm a longtime Vim user (yes of course on Linux), tried Emacs for a bit, occasionally use Kate or Nano for small tasks, and recently started using Source Insight to edit code at work.

And surprisingly enough I'm aware that there are other countries besides Amerika, and there are more characters than are dreamt of in ASCII's philosophy (but I still don't approve of all that furrin' chicken-scratching; if English was good enough for the Romans... er, yeah, kidding again).

The horrible web page really is horrible, and I really do admire the art and wit of whoever posts as the K5 ASCII Reenactment Players; there, I've said it.

Of course if it was as easy as "just decide what you want to say and then type the characters on the keyboard that are in the words you want," we'd all be getting rich off the royalties from our books, but it ain't so. And "Webster's dictionary defines X as Y" is of course the classic resort of the newbie highschool essay writer.

I even occasionally write comments in my code, and use real images on my site. Teh horrar!


Do NOT Use Images! (2.33 / 3) (#57)
by MonsieurMerdique on Sat May 28, 2005 at 03:39:31 PM EST

The img element is deprecated and will not probably be found in XHTML 2.0. To prepare yourself for XHTML 2.0 now, I recommend that you avoid its utilization altogether.

What I do is to create a multitude of empty block-level elements and to assign different background colors to them. This creates the effect of an image without resorting to binary file formats and deprecated elements.

No, merdique is not French for shitty!

[ Parent ]
What's Wrong With Being Godless ;) (none / 1) (#59)
by kevin schultz on Sat May 28, 2005 at 07:06:00 PM EST

I am "godless," but I have lots of values. Just saying. I know it's a joke, and I am not offended. I do feel concerned because I want to be recognized that I am "godless" and living her in *my* country, the USA. And yes, I admit, I use ASCII. I feel so much better now. Best regards, Kevin

gratuitous late -1 and missing poll option (none / 1) (#64)
by pb on Mon May 30, 2005 at 05:05:39 AM EST

OMG WTF TheDraw N00B!

P.S. See also: DuhDraw (duh!)
"See what the drooling, ravening, flesh-eating hordes^W^W^W^WKuro5hin.org readers have to say."
-- pwhysall

Ah, TheDraw... (none / 1) (#66)
by czth on Mon May 30, 2005 at 09:25:12 PM EST

I had a BBS many years ago and used TheDraw, AcidDraw, and one I wrote myself, to draw pics for my board. I remember it being 4.63, too—guess that was the last version.


[ Parent ]

I don't fully get it, but thanks for info anyway (none / 0) (#67)
by satyr on Tue May 31, 2005 at 07:14:44 AM EST

OK, I don't fully get the point of this story - but thanks for the compact general info about textfiles principle and formatting + other explanations anyway (e.g. about the structure and placement of words, sentences, paragraphs)

regards, satyr


Male, relatively young and relatively well-preserved. :) I see myself as an open-minded person, a critical thinker, rationalist and skeptic.

Less than Zero (1.66 / 6) (#69)
by CookTing on Sat Jun 04, 2005 at 05:46:32 PM EST

You know, as much as I was unimpressed by the HTML article, this article is simply offensive, even if it is allegedly a parody.  At least the Webpages article was factually correct, and covered the material it set out to cover.

Microsoft Word is NOT a text editor; It is a word processor.

Webster gives several definitions for "word".  I probably would've used this one: "a single component part of human speech or language... [or] the written or printed character, or combination of characters, expressing such a term; as, the words on a page."

Finally, ASCII sucks, and a serious discussion of character encodings probably would be a benefit to a great many people. But, I expect that point might be beyond your comprehension.

You fail it <nt> (none / 1) (#70)
by czth on Sun Jun 05, 2005 at 03:26:51 AM EST

[ Parent ]
This is a Comment (none / 0) (#71)
by alagolo on Sat Jun 18, 2005 at 04:03:34 PM EST

It should be obvious but its not that this is a comment. And ASCII is written as ASCII.
Take it to bank
Text editors (none / 0) (#72)
by mindstream on Sat Aug 13, 2005 at 06:33:53 AM EST

I've found that Helios's TextPad is the dogs doohdaahs when it comes to text editing in Win32.
cheers AM
So You Want to Make Textfiles | 72 comments (48 topical, 24 editorial, 0 hidden)
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