Seasoned programmers often eschew an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) in favor of a lightweight, barebones text editor. The reasons are obvious enough: text editors place little strain on system resources, are very versatile, and provide hardcore developers with the thrill of writing a program from scratch in a focused, bloat-free environment. For sheer simplicity and ease of use, nothing can beat a solid programming text editor.
The default Notepad app in Windows might be suffice for making to-do lists or jotting down ideas, it falls woefully short for development purposes. So, here is a list of the best programming text editors for Windows, Mac, and Linux:
Notepad++ has been the go-to choice since 2003 for Windows users who want to upgrade from the default Notepad to a more powerful, feature rich, yet lightweight text editor. It was one of the first Windows applications to support multiple tabs within the same window (a boon to all multitaskers — and coders usually are). It also includes a multi-item clipboard, which streamlines coding and increases efficiency.
The list of programmer-specific features is long: it supports syntax highlighting and code collapsing. A built-in FTP browser makes uploading files onto your server effortless. With support for split-screen editing, file-compression, and auto-completion, there is nothing not to love about Notepad++. And since this text editor has been around since 2003 with a devoted developer community supporting it, there are now dozens of plugins that can extend its functionality beyond this already impressive base.
To round up the pros, Notepad++ is also free. While it may not be the best-looking text editor out there (which shouldn’t be a concern if your primary use is coding) or the most user-friendly, it is powerful, free, and offers the key features that all programmers need.
SublimeText picks up where Notepad++ leaves off. It is a gorgeously designed, powerful, feature-rich text editor built specifically for coding. Besides basic features such as syntax highlighting, code collapsing, etc., it also supports macros and snippets to automate coding and increase your efficiency. Whereas Notepad++ has a UI that can leave even experienced users scratching their heads, SublimeText uses a minimalistic UI with little to come between you and your code.
The only downside of this text editor is its price: at $59, it isn’t cheap. You can download a copy for evaluation purposes, but you’ll have to shell out 59 dollars to use it beyond the evaluation period.
Besides Windows, SublimeText is also available for OS X and Linux.
UltraEdit prioritizes ease of use and efficiency over any other feature, and the result is a userfriendly, feature-rich text editor that runs blazingly fast with ample support for programmers.
Built-in FTP support, file comparison, and automation through macros are just a few among its long list of features.
On the price front, a single license costs $59 — the same as the easier-on-the-eye SublimeText.
TextMate has become the de-facto choice of programmers on the Mac platform over the past couple of years, courtesy of its lengthy list of developer-oriented features. Auto-indent, advanced search-and-replace, foldable code blocks, column selection, clipboard history, visual bookmarks, and support for recordable macros are just some of its features.
The end result is a product bred thoroughly in the Apple spirit of simplicity that, nevertheless, holds the heart of a true programming text editor.
Of the three major computing platforms (Windows, OS X, Linux), Linux boasts of the largest selection of powerful text editors designed specifically to fit the needs of programmers (who also happen to form the platform’s largest user base). Emacs is programming text-editor royalty — an extremely powerful (albeit complicated) piece of software that has been ported to virtually every platform imaginable (including Windows, OS X, BeOS, etc.). Like all Linux software, Emacs too is free and can be downloaded in multiple flavors, of which GNU Emacs happens to be the most popular.
In terms of features, Emacs is heavily inclined towards hard-core programming with extensive support for automation through powerful macros. A content-sensitive editing module, a large library of extensions, and a fully customizable interface round up the list of impressive features.
Kate can almost come across as Emacs-lite. It’s UI is very easy to use (compared to the almost draconian Emacs) and the text editor is extremely easy to get started with. Hidden beneath the user-friendly interface, though, is a very powerful text editor that can make a programmer smile in delight.
It has support for all the features you’d expect: syntax highlighting, macros, code collapsing, code automation with argument hints, session support, etc. and then some more.
There are dozens of text editors on the market, and this list barely scratches past the surface of this niche industry. Finding a programming text editor that fits your needs is a matter of trying out the different editors and poking around for a few hours until you get a good feel of the product. Programmers tend to be creatures of habit; once you get used to a particular text editor, you wouldn’t want to use anything else.