Tab stop

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A ruler with tab stops in a word processing software

A tab stop (also briefly Tab ) is on typewriters a (mostly mechanically adjustable) position at which the paper carrier car when you press the Tab key may come to a halt. On computers, horizontal positions can be set in word processing programs ; In text editors , these can also be fixed.

In modern word processing programs, this concept is generalized in that tab stops can have an alignment attribute that can cause the text to be left-justified, right-justified or centered at the position. Such tab stops can be paragraph-specific and can be relocated or removed at any time.


In common use in word processing (e.g. in Microsoft Word ), there are at least five tab stop variants:

Left aligned
Text extends to the right of the tab stop.
The text is centered around the tab stop.
Right justified
Text extends to the left of the tab stop.
Text before the decimal point extends to the left, text after the separator to the right.
A vertical line is displayed in each line at the tab stop position.

Elastic tab stops

Elastic tab stops keep multiple lines of text aligned when one of the lines is edited. Text areas between tab stops are shown as differently colored blocks.

The concept of elastic tab stops was developed by Nick Gravgaard in 2006 as an alternative method to deal with tab stops in text files with a primary focus on source code editing. As a result, users only need to put a single tab character between the columns instead of inserting the exact number of spaces or fixed spacing tabs to keep the columns flush. Unlike tab stops with fixed spacing, the columns are automatically aligned and are therefore useful for viewing or editing text with tab characters. When the text is edited, the tab stop positions in the lines adjacent to the top and bottom are automatically shifted so that the largest column width is always taken into account.

Elastic tab stops are available, for example, as an extension in Visual Studio and in the tabwriter package for the Go programming language (used by the command go fmt).

See also

Individual evidence

  1. Nick Gravgaard: Elastic tabstops. November 18, 2017. Retrieved March 28, 2018 .
  2. Always Aligned. Archived from the original on October 5, 2017 ; accessed on March 28, 2018 (freeware product page).
  3. Package tabwriter., accessed March 28, 2018 .