A rich text format (RTF) file is a word processing document that can be accessed by most major word processors. Microsoft created this file format type in 1987 and released it alongside Word 3.0. RTF is similar to plain text format (.txt), but it maintains text formatting like bold, italic, and headings.
Microsoft has not updated the RTF specification since 2008. This means most major word processing applications can open and edit RTF files, but some modern features like images and tables of contents will not save properly as an RTF document.
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How to use RTF files
RTF is an XML-based, human-readable file format, so any user can create, edit, and/or save an RTF file directly with a plain text editor like Microsoft Notepad or Apple TextEdit. Additionally, nearly all word processing applications support RTF files, including Microsoft Word and Google Docs as well as open source apps like OpenOffice and AbleWord.
RTF files can be converted to other file formats like PDF, PNG, DOC, and HTML. Free online document converters like Doxillion and Zamzar enable users to upload an RTF file and export it as a different file type. Additionally, many of the word processing applications mentioned above have functionality for cross-format exporting.
How to open an RTF file
Opening an RTF file will look slightly different depending on a device’s operating system and the applications it has available to use. On most devices, users can double click the file to open it with the operating system’s default word processing application, or right click the file to open it with a specific application.
If the operating system does not have any applications that support RTF files, like most Linux distributions, the user will likely receive an error message when they try to open the file. The message will prompt the user to install a plain text editor or supported word processing software so they can open the file.