The Rich Text Format (RTF) is a proprietary document file format with published specification developed by Microsoft Corporation from 1987 for cross-platform document interchange. RTF files can be easily identified by their .rtf file extension. Designed for use with Microsoft products, the format has been widely adopted by other word processors and has become a means of exchanging documents across different operating systems.
How RTF Works
RTF is a text file format that allows the embedding of various document types such as images and diagrams. The format uses the ANSI, PC-8, Macintosh, and IBM PC character sets. It defines control words and symbols that serve as commands for the RTF reader programs. These commands carry information about various formatting aspects of the document, like font size or style, margins, and footers. Unlike binary formats, an RTF file is human-readable when opened with a text editor, displaying both the text content and the markup code.
Software that Uses RTF
Many word processors, including Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, and LibreOffice Writer, can read and write RTF files. RTF's compatibility was particularly valuable in the early days of personal computing when fewer standards existed. Today, despite the availability of numerous other formats, RTF remains supported by a variety of applications thanks to its flexibility and ease of use.
Alternatives to RTF
With the evolution of file formats, several alternatives to RTF have emerged. The most prominent among these is the Office Open XML (.docx), introduced by Microsoft in 2007 as part of Microsoft Office 2007. Another popular format is the Open Document Format (ODF), used by open-source suites like LibreOffice. For online document sharing, Portable Document Format (PDF) is widely used due to its fixed layout properties. Additionally, plain text files (.txt) still remain relevant for their simplicity and small file size.
RTF's legacy is significant in the context of document interchange and software compatibility. Despite the emergence of more advanced file formats with additional features, RTF has stood the test of time as a resilient format accepted by many types of word processing software. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, RTF serves as a reminder of the importance of interoperability and user accessibility in file format design.