There will be times when you will want to edit textual files. Textual files are different from documents created by WordPad, Word, WordPerfect or some other word processing program in that they contain no imbedded codes. Editing these files with a word processing program can introduce special characters that make these files unusable. Instead, use Notepad which allows you to edit the file as pure text.

Textual files will normally have a TXT file extension, but there are several special purpose files in Windows that must be pure text. Some of the more important of these include your CONFIG.SYS, AUTOEXEC.BAT, WIN.INI and SYSTEM.INI (These files existed in earlier version of Windows, but have been eliminated in Windows XP). You may get to the point of wanting to play with these files. If so, use Notepad to edit these and not WordPad as your system cannot use the resulting WordPad file. If you decide you want to create a web page, but don't have an HTML editor, you will want to use Notepad so as not to introduce those nasty characters associated with WordPad, etc.

In addition to having a tool to use in editing those special files on your system, learning Notepad can provide a good foundation for learning some of the other tools that come with Windows 95/98/ME/XP as well as a number of the applications that you may want to add to your system later. Notepad is simple to learn but has some features in common with other programs.

The first thing I want to point out in the above is that I have entered some text into Notepad. Okay, let's look at some of the features of Notepad. Let's start off by looking at each of the menus across the top of Notepad. Before we go to the individual menus, notice something about the menu bar itself. See the underlined letters in each of the menu items (File, Edit, Format, View, etc.) (Under Windows XP, the underlines are only visible when you hold down the <Alt> key - previously the underlines were always visible)? These are meaningful. If you hold down the <Alt> key and press these letters, you will select that menu. Obviously you can select each menu with the mouse, but this gives you an alternative way of getting into them. So, you can get into the File menu by pressing <Alt>F.

File Menu

This is the File menu. Notice a couple of things about this menu. Notice the "..." at the end of several selections. This indicates that selecting these items will take you to a dialog box that will allow you to carry out that operation.  Notice the code down the right side of the menu - Ctrl+N, Ctrl+O, etc.  These are hotkeys you can use from within the document without having to go into the menu.  For example, holding the <Ctrl> key down and pressing N is the same as going into the File menu and selecting New.  These hotkeys can save you some time in getting to these functions.  I wouldn't try to memorize these hotkeys right now, but just make a mental note of them - you'll learn them over time as you find them appropriate to your situation.

New - This will start a new document. If you are currently working on a document that you haven't saved, the system will prompt you to save the old document before starting a new one.

Open... - This allows you to bring an existing document into Notepad to view and/or edit it. You'll see the following dialog box when you make this selection:

This is the standard Open dialog box used by most Windows programs. It consists of a toolbar across the top that shows you which folder you are currently in along with a couple of control buttons for getting to where you want to go. The main part of the Open dialog box shows you the files/folders that match the criteria for this application. Next is where the system will tell you the name of the file it thinks you want. Right now, it doesn't know so it assumes you want to look at all TXT files. Next is where you can tell the system what type of files you are interested in looking at. By default, Notepad looks at Text Documents (*.TXT), but you can change this to look at anything else. Finally, you can either Open the selection or Cancel this operation.

Save - If you are making modifications to an existing file, Save will put the changes back into the file after confirming that you really want to make the changes. If the file you are working on is a new file, Save works the same as Save As....

Save As... - Save As... brings up a dialog box similar to the Open dialog box above. In Notepad you get to save the file wherever you want, but the best place would be in My Documents. It's easy enough to change folders and save a file anywhere on the system you want. See Naming a File for some suggestions on how to organize your data.

Page Setup... - The Page Setup... dialog box allows you to customize some of the things you see when you print your document. For example, you can change the size of your paper, customize the header and footer on each page as well as the margin at the top, bottom and either edge of the paper. The Page Setup... dialog box looks like this:

Print... - This is a standard print operation.  It brings up the Print dialog window where you can modify the printer information.

Exit - This shuts down Notepad. If the file you've been working on has not been saved, you will be prompted to save the file before Notepad exits.

Edit Menu

The Edit menu contains those functions that allow you to manipulate the information you have on the screen. In this case, there are four items that appear dim in the menu. The reason for this is that these items are not available at the present time. In most cases, you have to have something selected for these items to work. Windows does a pretty good job of communicating with you to tell you what you can and cannot do. Also notice that most of the items in the Edit menu have a key combination on the right (Ctrl+Z, etc.). These are hot keys that can be used from within the document without having to go to the Edit menu. For example, you can do a Copy from within a document by holding down the <Ctrl> key and pressing the "C" key. I don't recommend that you try and memorize these hot keys just now. Instead, I would recommend that you just make note of them as you use the menu items and over time pick up on those you use most frequently.

Undo - Notepad does have a rather neat feature called the Undo. In essence, this is your Oops button. If you make a mistake and suddenly say "Oops", you can select the Undo and reverse whatever it was you just did. Unless I'm mistaken, the Undo item will only work on the most recent change you've made to your document.

Cut - Again, this item is only available if you have something selected in your document. Otherwise you have nothing to Cut. You can select some piece of your document by holding down the left mouse button and dragging across the letters/words/sentences that you want to select. Your selection will have white letters and a blue background. Now you will be able to Cut this selection. Cut removes the selected text from your document and puts it on the Clipboard. The information is not totally deleted, but is being held in case you want to put it somewhere else.

Copy - Copy is very similar to Cut. The only difference is that with Copy, your selected text is not removed from the document. Instead, a copy of your selected text is placed on the Clipboard for you to use later.

Paste - Once you have some text on the Clipboard (using either Cut or Copy above), you can move to wherever you would like to put this text and Paste it back into your document. In other words, the combination of Cut and Paste allows you to move text around within your document while the combination of Copy and Paste allows you to duplicate information.

Delete - When you Delete text from your document, it is gone. If you do this by accident, you can use the Undo function to bring it back, but otherwise it is gone. Delete does not place the selected text on the Clipboard.

Find... - As you've already seen, this function opens a dialog box that allows you to enter the text you want to search for along with a couple of pieces of information to help Notepad perform the search. If the text is found, it will be selected ready for you to Cut, Copy or overtype.

Find Next - This function simply repeats a previous Find.... This is useful if you have the same text in several different place within your document.

Replace - This function allows you to locate some text within your document and replace it with some other text.  It even has the ability to perform its function globally through the document, but be careful of using this as it can get you into trouble.  For example, suppose you wanted to replace "eat" with "ate" globally throughout a document.  This function would do it, but it would also change "eaten" to "ateen", "cheat" to "chate" and "defeat" to "defate".

Go To... -  In Goto line, type the line number you want the cursor to jump to.  You do not have to have line numbers in your document for this command to work.  Lines are counted down the left margin beginning at the top of the document.

Select All - If there is something you want to do with all the text in your document at the same time, all you have to do is select the Select All function and your entire document will be selected. Now you can either Cut or Copy all the text to your Clipboard.

Time/Date - The Time/Date function is a neat feature of Notepad. Some people like to keep a journal and in a journal, you might want to have the date and time as part of the document. Obviously, you can type in the date and time, but with the Time/Date function, Notepad will automatically insert the date and time like this: 7:47 AM 2/27/98.

Format Menu

Word Wrap - In some cases, you may want the text you type to appear on the same line, but most of the time, you'd like to be able to see all the text on the screen at the same time. If you only have a little bit of information, you might be able to enlarge the Notepad window to see all the text. Another way of handling this is to select the Word Wrap function. This will take words that don't fit in the Notepad window and wrap them down to the next line.  A check mark appears when word wrap is turned on.  Wrapping text enables you to see all the text on the line, but it doesn't affect the way text appears when it is printed.

Font... - This allows you to change the font used to display the file you have open. It doesn't change the font of the file itself. It simply allows you to view/edit files using whatever font you wish.

View Menu

This menu only contains one item, Status Bar which will place an extra line at the bottom of the Notepad window to keep you informed of what has or will be done as you work in Notepad.

Help Menu

Most programs in Windows have a Help menu that provides information about using that particular program. The Help menu may not answer all your questions about a program, but I would encourage you to explore what is there before you look elsewhere. Most companies marketing software today are providing more Help and less hardcopy documentation.

Help Topics - Notepad is a very simple program to use as it doesn't contain a lot of bells and whistles. As a result, the Help Topics is not very long. You should be able to explore all of Help Topics in just a few minutes. I would encourage you to do so for two reasons. First, you'll know nearly everything there is to know about Notepad. Second, you'll become familiar with the format of the Help facility Microsoft uses so you'll know what to expect in other Microsoft products.


About Notepad - The function of the About for any program is simply to let you know what version of the program you are running. From time to time, the programmer might include some additional information about your system, but don't expect this. Here's what my version of About Notepad looks like:

As you can see, this tells me that I'm running Notepad for Windows XP and that it's licensed to me. I get some additional information at the bottom of this window - the amount of memory I have in my system.

 Hughes Glantzberg

Last Revised: 03/06/2005

Created by
The PC Help Desk
(Hughes Glantzberg)