In the context of computing, plain text refers to a sequence of characters which may be read as regular text. This may also contain some control characters. All characters used are based on the ASCII, or the American standard code for information interchange.
Plain text may not require processing, but may also include formatting specifications This may be considered as the opposite of formatted text. Rich text is basically plain text which also contains binary format specifications on margins, fonts, and the like.
Plain text is sometimes mistakenly used interchangeably with the plaintext. The distinction must therefore be made between the two. Plaintext has more to do with messages sent in a language understandable to the sender and recipient. It is the original message the sender wishes to deliver, and is the form which the message takes before encryption. This has been existent even before the time of computers.
Plain text functions in HTML as well as XML. These enable the user to give written formatting specifications which will eventually be translated by a program into formatted text. It is also used in the sending of emails.
Most regular text editors can be used to access and edit plain text. This makes data in plain text flexible and easy to store. The simplicity with which plain text may be used also makes it dependable and resistant to the negative effects one a certain program or system becomes obsolete.
However, using plain text may also pose certain disadvantages. For instance, information in plain text may use up more storage space than that which has been compressed into binary format. Since information is so readily accessible and understandable in plain text, it is also more important to secure it. This can easily be done by way of encryption.