What Is a Hard Return?

A hard return refers to a character or a formatting command that signals the end of a paragraph. Hard returns are vital for programming, HTML coding, word-processing applications, and documentation software. It is also known as a paragraph break since it creates a line break and moves the cursor to a new paragraph below.

Hard returns are typically hidden characters that can become visible once users enable their visibility in their application’s settings. Once visible, hard returns are represented by a pilcrow (¶).

Importance of a hard return

Hard returns allow users to easily format documents, separate thoughts and improve the overall readability of documents and code text files. For word-processing applications such as Microsoft Word or Google Documents, hard returns are primarily used to break up large blocks of text into paragraphs or create line breaks for poetry, lists, and so on. In an IT setting, hard returns can make it easier for end-users to understand complex IT documentation with formatting that’s more organized and readable.

How are hard returns used in programming and coding?

A hard return separates lines of code and ensures the integrity of a code during the software development process.

  • Programming

When it comes to programming, a hard return is also known as a newline character. In many high-level programming languages, such as Python or Java, this is denoted by /n. Programmers use hard returns to define the structure of the code and employ consistent formatting. A newline character also influences how compilers interpret and execute instructions.

  • Markup languages

In programming languages such as HTML or XML, When it comes to HTML, a hard return is represented by a line break tag such as <br>. Another HTML tag is <p> which creates a new paragraph on a webpage.

What is the difference between a hard return and a soft return?

A soft return is similar to a hard return but does not denote the end of one line or paragraph. In some applications, this is achieved by pressing “Shift + Enter,” which inserts a line break without starting a new paragraph. Compared to a hard return, a soft return only breaks the current line for formatting purposes.

What are common issues with hard returns?

One of the most common problems with hard returns involves copying a text block and pasting it into a different application. For example, writing a draft in Microsoft Word and then pasting it into Outlook could cause paragraph breaks to not be copied correctly.


Hard returns are essential for software developers, programmers, and web developers to keep codes clean and functional. In addition, any user of an endpoint device will most likely deal with digital text and can ensure their documents are formatted in a way that is easy to understand.

When hard returns aren’t working as intended, this could lead to syntax issues in code or layout issues with text documents and web pages. By understanding and correctly implementing hard returns, users can improve readability and maintain formatting consistency in documents, codes, and web pages.

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