All About Plaintext

March 19, 2020

In the midst of the Covid19 pandemic, I'm trying not to die of boredom while stuck inside, so I've been writing a whole lot of articles in plaintext lately, whether it be technical musings on my TXT-BLOG site on SDF, or a bunch of random stuff on my gopherhole, or just journal files on my computer. I've taken an interest in the beautiful simplicity of plaintext, so I'm taking the time to talk about it here.


Text is the best thing ever

Nothing can really rival the beauty of an old fashioned, UTF-8 encoded, UNIX format plaintext file. A simple text file is readable from just about any machine in the world, from ATM's to supercomputers to smartwatches to fridges. You can't read a Word document or an HTML page on a smartfridge. Well, you *can* but it'll most definitely take a lot more work than reading plaintext!

To be honest, plaintext is the only text format people can't royally screw up. Sure, some jocks try to make big fancy ascii borders around their articles, some people don't care to follow the 80-column rule, some people write in weird non-UTF-8 character encodings, some people use 𝔠𝕣𝕬𝖹𝛾 characters all the time, just because they think it's cool (it is not), some people use lots and lots (and lots) of spacing between paragraphs (we're talking like, 5 newline characters), but nearly everything bad about a "bad" textfile can *usually* be reformatted in a matter of simple shell scripts! Generating plaintext from HTML is a bit of work, but using a regular expression to get rid of excessive newlines in a plaintext file is super simple! In fact, it's a sed one-liner:

# Remove all gaps of 4 empty lines:
sed -z 's/\n\n\n\n//g' oldfile.txt > newfile.txt

And on top of all that, it's not nearly as bad as what people do with HTML, or Markdown, or Skribe, or Word, or Latex. People like to use BIG FONTS, or tiny fonts, or weird background colours. Some people like to write in someWordEditor you never heard of, that uses a proprietary file format, forcing *you* to download yet another program just to read your stupid co-worker's documents! Some people like to use somePopularWordEditor you *have* heard of, but it doesn't work on Unix, so you need to start a display server and download some piece of software that haff-assedly retrofits the darned file format for your machine!


Text has no reason to die

Plaintext is timeless. It will never become obsolete, or be replaced, because there's no reason for it to become obsolete, or be replaced! You can read a plaintext file from 1970 on a computer in the year 2050, because plaintext is a perfect format!

Plaintext files are small. A 2,000-character TXT file is, well, 2KB. A Word document of the same size might take up 10KB (I don't have Word on me right now, so this is just an estimate). In fact, the entire text of the book "Dracula" is less than a single megabyte of space! You can fit a whole Dracula and a half on a floppy disk. Text is small!

Also, I should mention (and this is the coolest thing in the world)... UTF-8 is backwards compatible with ASCII, and it accomplishes that without being held back by *any* downsides of backwards compatibility. It just came naturally. It just *is*. It's insane.


The End

That's it. That's all I really wanted to rant about today. I feel like we spend so much time working on an unnecessary level of abstraction that we forget how awesome and totally viable plaintext is! I mean (and I say this too often), why on earth do so many people send email in HTML? That strikes about a 0 on my sanity-O-meter.

Anyway. Wash your hands, write in plaintext, check out my Plaintext blogging generator, and stay safe!