What is Notepad and seven things you can do with it

Notepad is a very basic text editor that has been part of Windows for a very long time. It is excellent for writing relatively short text documents that you want to save as plain text, and that is not all you can do with it. If you have not used Notepad much, you may be surprised by how easy it is to work with. Let's take a new look at this old desktop app for Windows, what it is, and what it does:

NOTE: Notepad is mostly the same in Windows 10, Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, so most of the illustrations in this article are created in Windows 10. The only difference is in how you open the application in each operating system.

How to open Notepad

Before seeing what you can do with Notepad, you have to know how to start it. The easiest way to do that is to search for it. In Windows 10, type notepad in the search box on the taskbar and click or tap on the Notepad search result.

In Windows 7, type notepad in the search box from the Start Menu and then click on the appropriate result.

In Windows 8.1, switch to the Start screen and type notepad on it. Then, click or tap on the Notepad result.

An alternative that works the same in all operating systems is to locate and click on the Notepad shortcut found in the Accessories folder in the Start Menu (in Windows 10 and 7) or on the Start screen (in Windows 8.1).

When Notepad opens, in either operating system, you get to see this no-frills screen. Nothing more is needed, since Notepad has a limited set of options. At the top of the window, you should see menus for File, Edit, Format, View, and Help.

Let's take a look at what you can do. Everything should be reassuringly familiar, but keep in mind that Notepad is just a text editor. If you try to paste graphics into it, it does not work.

1. Create, open and save text files with Notepad

The choices you have in the File menu are New, Open, Save, Save As, Page Setup and Print. As you can see, many of these commands have keyboard shortcuts as well. You should already be familiar with these commands since they are the same in nearly every Windows application.

Creating and saving text documents in Notepad is simple: open Notepad, start typing and edit the text and format it as you see fit. Once you are finished, use the Save As command to save your work. The default folder is the OneDrive folder in Windows 10 and 8.1, and the My Documents folder in Windows 7. You can change this quite easily: use the Save As command and browse to your preferred folder and click Open. Notepad will remember your choice. Keep in mind that your files are saved with a .txt extension and in plain text.

2. Save text files using different encodings

You can also use Save As to change the encoding of your file to match a particular character set. Here, a bit of text from our Romanian site digitalcitizen.ro has been cut and pasted into Notepad.

If you were to try to save this as is, you would get a message that if you save it as plain text, all the formatting would be lost.

You have to choose the appropriate encoding from the drop-down list. This might take a little experimentation to get right, depending on the types of characters in the file, but starting with Unicode is a good bet.

If you are not familiar with encoding, the first section of this tutorial should help explain it: Make Windows correctly display characters from languages other than English (set non-Unicode programs).

3. Save files as HTML files

You can also use Notepad to create HTML files. Make sure that Word Wrap is turned on (we will discuss this in just a minute) and type your HTML code the way you would type plain text. When it comes time to save your work, choose Save As, and select All Files from the list of choices. Then save your file with the .htm or .html extension.

4. Print text files

If there is nothing that you want to customize in the document that is going to be printed, open the File menu and click or tap Print. If you do want to customize the print, first click or tap on Page Setup, in the File menu.

In more sophisticated programs, Page Setup offers a long list of options. In Notepad though, your choices are simple. You can choose the paper size and where your printer keeps the paper, the page orientation and whether to have a header and footer (and the text to include in each).

By default, the text in the header is the name of the document and the date it was printed, and the text in the footer is the page number. If you do not want this information printed, just delete the codes. If you would like to see the codes available for headers and footers, visit this website: Changing Header and Footer Commands in Notepad.

5. Make simple edits to the text

The Edit menu offers a few choices, but again, everything on this menu should be familiar to anyone who has used Windows. All the Edit choices have associated keyboard shortcuts. Note that most of the commands will be greyed out until there is text selected in the Notepad window.

The first item on the Edit menu is Undo/Redo, which can be useful when you are editing the document. What appears in this place depends on what you have been doing. If you have just used the Undo command or pressed Ctrl+Z, you should see the Redo command at the top of the list (and its keyboard shortcut, Ctrl+Y). The rest of the menu, Cut, Copy, Paste, Delete, Find, Find Next, Replace, Go To, Select All, and Time/Date, are standard in nearly all Windows programs that deal with documents.

Go To is the less familiar command in this list. It is used in conjunction with Word Wrap, which we will discuss in just a minute. Go To only works if Word Wrap is turned off, and only if your document contains numbered lines. If Word Wrap is on, Go To is greyed out. You use Go To to jump to a particular numbered line in the document.

6. Turn the word wrap on or off

The Format menu offers you only two choices: Word Wrap and Font.

For some unknown reason, Notepad has always come with Word Wrap turned off. This means everything you type ends up on one long line until you press Enter, which starts another long line.

You have the option of pressing Enter when your typing approaches the right margin of the Notepad window, but that makes the lines some arbitrary length depending on the size of your window. If you would like to see what you are typing without having to scroll all the way to the right, turn Word Wrap on. Then Notepad should behave just like any other word processing program and automatically wrap the text to the next line as you approach the right margin of your window.

NOTE: In the View menu there is an option called Status Bar, which is also linked with Word Wrap. If Word Wrap is off, you can see a notification in the lower border of your window, showing you where the cursor is currently located in a document that is not word-wrapped. If Word Wrap is on, the lower border is blank.

7. Change the font of the text

The Font choice is self-explanatory: it offers you a list of all your installed fonts, and the option to use bold, italic, and the like. However, unlike the way it works in programs like Microsoft Word, a change of font immediately affects the entire document. You cannot use one font in one part of the document and another font in another part of it. It is all or nothing.

In the Font menu, there is a less familiar option available, the drop-down menu labeled Script. This lets you choose characters that are not available in the standard "Western" style fonts. The choices are Western, Greek, Turkish, Baltic (not available in Windows 7), Central European, Cyrillic and Vietnamese (not available in Windows 7). Choose a set, and you should see some representative characters above it. The Western set is selected by default, and you need to change it to another one if necessary.

Do you use Notepad for (light) text editing?

Notepad has been around for a very long time and continues to be a useful desktop app for writing simple text and HTML. Sometimes that is all you need. If you need more than just the basics, WordPad might be a good choice. It is built into all versions of Windows, too! Do you use Notepad regularly? If you do, please tell us how you find it useful, in the comments below.