What is a Rich Text Format (RTF) file?

Microsoft’s RTF format allows files to be opened, shared and edited in various editors and word processors, even with text formatting features and embedded graphics. In addition, the Rich Text Format doesn’t use macros and is therefore less susceptible to malware when formatted texts are sent by email.

Rich Text Format vs. plain text format

The Rich Text Format was developed by Microsoft in 1987 for Word 3.0. Many users will know RTF mainly as the standard format of WordPad in Windows. Unlike with plain text files, the Rich Text Format enables you to open and edit a text file including its formatting features across software and manufacturers.

What are the features of an RTF file?

Unlike a TXT file, the Rich Text Format can contain not only plain text characters but also various formatting features such as the size, type and markup of fonts, and even embedded graphics in the form of formatting instructions or text markup. Since an RTF file can be opened, read and edited by almost any word processing program, RTF functions as a universal text file format that can be used to exchange plain or formatted text files regardless of manufacturer or program.


Anyone who regularly works with text or media files should know the most important and safest file extensions. You’ll learn the most important things about file extensions at a glance in our guide.

Where is RTF used?

RTF can be used almost everywhere and with any word processor. In Microsoft Word, as well as in a free Word alternative, RTF files can be rendered together with text formatting. However, to avoid unwanted formatting errors, it’s recommended that RTF files are not provided with text formatting that’s too complex. For example, object anchors such as text frames or images and templates can result in the file contents not being displayed true to the original. Fonts should be pre-installed there for optimal display on the target system.

RTF is particularly widespread as the standard format of the Microsoft program WordPad. It can also be found in editors such as Apple’s TextEdit, which uses RTF as its default. Although RTF remains popular as an interchange format, better file format import filters and simplified markup languages such as Markdown mean that RTF is likely to become less common in the future.

How do you open an RTF file?

An RTF file can be opened with any text editor or word processor, by double-clicking or right-clicking and then selecting “Open with...”. To save a file in a format other than RTF, you usually go to “Save as” and select the appropriate file type or extension.


Converting RTF files is also possible with a WYSIWYG web text editor or with files encoded according to ASCII or UTF-8.

What are the advantages of RTF?

In addition to the cross-system and cross-manufacturer exchange and the opening and editing of formatted RTF files, the RTF format has the advantage of being less susceptible to viruses and malware. The simple reason for this is that an RTF file doesn’t contain macros which could become a gateway for macro viruses when files are exchanged. A good example is the malicious program Emotet, which has since been rendered mostly harmless. Therefore, RTF files offer the chance to exchange files relatively securely via email.

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