With so many IDEs (Integrated Development Environment) available today, it’s kind of strange that many programmers don’t use them but code with a text editor instead. A text editor looks so primitive in comparison to even the worst IDE, so why do programmers love text editors so much?
The answer is simple – because text editors are thin, fast, and generally don’t mess your code as much as just opening and saving a file in many IDEs does. These advantages of text editors are enough to make a developer ditch the very idea of an IDE.
If you have made up your mind that an IDE is too much of a hassle and you are going to write code as the majority of us do – i.e. in a text editor, here is a brief review of 6 text editors. There are many text editors out there but unless you have all the time in the world, you will hardly like to test dozens of them just to find a bunch that are working for you. To save you the hassle, I will list 6 text editors I personally consider the best.
There is hardly a way you haven’t heard about Notepad. Notepad is an emblematic text editor. There is no need to install it because it’s almost certain you already have it. Notepad has been part of Windows since the mid-80s, which means that if you have any Windows installed, Notepad is there.
In addition to Windows, Notepad is also available for Linux. I am not sure where it came from on my Linux machine – i.e. was it in Ubuntu itself, or did it come with the virtualization software I installed some time in the past but I am almost certain I didn’t install it myself. In a sense, even Linux users, who are not known for their love of all things Microsoft, have a thing for Notepad and use it on Linux as well.
The charm of Notepad is that it’s the simplest editor of all but it’s also very fast. By the time your IDE starts, you are done with the edits in Notepad. The interface of Notepad is very plain but for quick edits of text files it is just right. The screenshots below show some of its menus.
Notepad is great but if you need a more advanced text editor with more features, then you might want to try Notepad++. In terms of functionality Notepad++ is million times richer than Notepad, yet it’s still fast.
Notepad++ is available for Windows only, though I have had no problems running it in Linux in a virtual machine. I am not absolutely positive any of its features works the same way in virtual machine in Linux as it does natively on Windows but it seems most of its functionality (if not all) works just fine.
Notepad++ has really a lot of cool features. I could list the ones that impress me personally but since their feature list is so full and so concise, I’d rather include it here. So, here is what the creators of Notepad++ list as features of the program:
- Syntax Highlighting and Syntax Folding
- User Defined Syntax Highlighting and Folding: screenshot 1, screenshot 2, screenshot 3 and screenshot 4
- PCRE (Perl Compatible Regular Expression) Search/Replace
- GUI entirely customizable: minimalist, tab with close button, multi-line tab, vertical tab and vertical document list
- Document Map
- Auto-completion: Word completion, Function completion and Function parameters hint
- Multi-Document (Tab interface)
- WYSIWYG (Printing)
- Zoom in and zoom out
- Multi-Language environment supported
- Macro recording and playback
- Launch with different arguments
It’s just a drop of the sea of features but one tiny feature I love most and I frequently use is column mode. You can select a column and delete it, copy it, paste it, etc. This is very, very handy when you are working with lists and especially tabulated data.
Another cool feature worth noting is its language support. The list is mind-blowing – Notepad++ supports more than 25 or 30 languages and on top of this, you can define your own.
One more great detail about Notepad++ are its numerous plugins. With them you can extend the functionality of the program and make it better than an IDE without all the negative aspects of an IDE. Needless to say, of all text editors on the list and otherwise, Notepad++ is my favorite.
Compared to Notepad++ Geany is just a tiny editor but if you don’t need all the features of Notepad++, or you can’t run it on your OS of choice, Geany could be of good use. Similarly to Notepad++, Geany is based on Scintilla and it has a Windows look and feel. Unlike Notepad++, Geany is cross-platform.
4. Sublime Text 3
Sublime Text 3 isn’t as well-known as the other editors on the list but it has lots of features, some of which are not to be found in more popular editors.
In addition to all the standard features you will find in any text editor, some of the unique Sublime Text 3 features are the various expand selection options, or the Settings and Key Bindings (2 groups – default and user defined).
If there is a minor detail about Sublime Text 3 that I personally don’t like, it is the default color scheme (light characters on dark background). This really hurts the eyes but it’s not rocket science to change it to one of the few other schemes with light background and dark text. Aside from this, Sublime Text 3 is a really cool open source and cross platform editor I can truly recommend.
5. LibreOffice Writer
Unlike the other editors on the list, LibreOffice Writer is not a plain-text editor and you can’t use it for programming. However, it is great for writing HTML texts. LibreOffice Writer does add to the HTML code some junk you are better off without but this is nothing compared to what MS Word and other text-processing programs do.
Anyway, don’t use LibreOffice for layout – just for HTML text. Formally, it’s a WYSIWYG HTML editor but with layouts of complex HTML code it doesn’t do a great job in visual mode.
LibreOffice Writer is useful because it has some of the features of a text-processing program that speed work, yet it doesn’t mess code (or at least not too much) and you can’t accidentally delete a tag. Therefore, it’s times more efficient to handle HTML texts in it than in any of the editors above and this is the reason it’s included on the list.
The editors on this list are the best ones in my opinion but of course, there are many others. I could have included more editors but I think it’s more valuable to have just a few really good ones than dozens of not-so-bad ones that have no really impressive features.
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Although I definitely like Notepad++ and use LibreOffice Writer on almost a daily basis, I can’t say the other editors are worse. On the contrary, for many tasks they are a much better option, so try them all and see which one you like best for the tasks you need it most.