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What Is an RTF File?

Tim Fisher has more than 30 years’ of professional technology experience. He’s been writing about tech for more than two decades and serves as the SVP and General Manager of Lifewire.

Updated on April 11, 2023

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What to Know

  • An RTF file is a text document that supports rich text formatting.
  • Open one with Word or a text editor like Notepad++.
  • Convert to PDF, TXT, DOCX, etc., with FileZigZag.

This article explains what RTF files are and how they’re different from other text documents, as well as how to open one or convert one to a different format like PDF or DOCX.

What Is an RTF File?

A file with the .RTF file extension is a Rich Text Format file. It’s different from a plain text file in that it can hold formatting like bold and italics, plus different fonts and images.

RTF files are useful because lots of programs support them. This means you can build one through a macOS program, for example, and then open the same file in Windows or Linux and have it look basically the same.

RTF is short for several other tech-related things, but none of them have anything to do with a file format. Response to Forecast, Real-Time Feedback, Realtek Fast Ethernet, and Run-Time Fault are some examples.

How to Open an RTF File

The easiest way to open an RTF file in Windows is to use WordPad since it’s pre-installed. If you’re on a Mac, Apple TextEdit or Apple Pages will work.

Double-clicking the file should be all you need to do to trigger one of those programs to open it. If that doesn’t work, search for the app on your computer to launch it, and then use the menus, such as File > Open, to select the RTF file.

There are also other text editors and word processors that work in basically the same way, like LibreOffice, OpenOffice, AbleWord, Jarte, AbiWord, WPS Office, and SoftMaker FreeOffice.

WordPad with an RTF file in Windows 10

Zoho Docs and Google Docs are two ways you can open and edit RTF files online. The benefit with online apps is that you don’t have to install anything! Just use the upload option to import your file, and then you can edit it, print it off, share it, etc.

If you’re using Google Docs, you can upload it to your Google Drive account and then import it into Docs, or learn how to upload it directly from the Docs site.

Some other, not-free ways to open one include using Microsoft Word or Corel WordPerfect.

A few of those Windows RTF editors also work with Linux and Mac. If you’re on macOS, you can also use Apple TextEdit or Apple Pages to open the file.

Not every program that supports RTF files can view the file in the same way. This is because some programs don’t support newer specifications of the RTF format. More on that below.

How to Convert an RTF File

The fastest way to convert the file is to use an online tool like FileZigZag. You can save the RTF as a DOC, PDF, TXT, ODT, or HTML file, among several other supported formats. Another online method that supports RTF to PDF, or to PNG, PCX, or PS, is Zamzar.

RTF conversion at Zamzar

Doxillion is a free document file converter that can save RTF to DOCX and a number of other document formats. Similarly, Filestar can convert an RTF file to dozens of formats.

Yet another method is to use one of the editors from above. With the file already open, use the File menu or some sort of Export option to save to a different file format.

More Information on the RTF Format

The RTF format was first used in 1987 but stopped being updated by Microsoft in 2008. Since then, there have been some revisions to the format. What defines whether one document editor will display the file in the same way as the one that built it depends on what version of RTF is being used.

For example, while you can insert an image in an RTF file, not all readers know how to display it because they aren’t all updated to the latest RTF specification. When this happens, images won’t be displayed at all.

RTF files were once used for Windows help files, but have since been replaced by Microsoft Compiled HTML Help files that use the CHM file extension.

The first version of the format was released in 1987 and used by MS Word 3. From 1989 to 2006, versions 1.1 through 1.91 were released, with the last RTF version supporting things like XML markup, custom XML tags, password protection, and math elements.

Because the RTF format is XML-based and not binary, you can actually read the contents when you open the file in a plain text editor like Notepad.

RTF files don’t support macros, but that doesn’t mean «.RTF» files are macro-safe. For example, an MS Word file that contains macros can be renamed to have the .RTF file extension so it looks safe, but then when opened in MS Word, the macros can still run normally since it’s not truly an RTF file.

Although their file extensions look similar, RTF files aren’t the same as WRF or SRF files.

Can an RTF file be a virus?

Yes, but rarely. As with most file formats, there have been cases of RTF files containing malware, so scan any files you download from the web with one of the free antivirus software programs.

How do I open an RTF file on Android?

The official Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft Office ​apps can open RTF files on Android. You can also find plenty of apps dedicated to opening RTF files in the Google Play Store.

How do I save a word document as an RTF file?

In Microsoft Word, go to File > Save As > Save as Type and select Rich Text Format (*.rtf). To open an RTF file in Word, make sure All files is selected when browsing for the document.

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How to Open Rtf Files

This article was co-authored by Garnik Ovsepyan. Garnik Ovsepyan is a Computer Specialist and the Owner of HeliX PC based in Burbank, California. With over 25 years of experience, Garnik specializes in custom computer builds, computer repairs, virus removal, computer tune-ups, hardware and software troubleshooting and installations, diagnostics, and data backup and recovery.

The wikiHow Tech Team also followed the article’s instructions and verified that they work.

This article has been viewed 57,084 times.

You can open and convert Rich Text files (RTF) in almost any text editor or word processor, including Microsoft Word and Google Docs. If you have an RTF file on your Android, iPhone, iPad, or Chromebook, just upload it to Google Drive and click to open it. This wikiHow article will show you the easiest ways to open RTF files on any computer, phone, or tablet.

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