Text editors are used by programmers and developers for manipulating plain text source code, editing configuration files or documentation, or viewing error logs. Text editors are scaled-down from the full functionality of an integrated development environment (IDE), but may have plugins that blur the lines between the two. Text editors are ideally fast and lightweight for editing and manipulating a small number of text files at a time, and they provide features like regular expression search and replace, syntax highlighting, autocompletion, and multiple tabs or window panes. Developers who do not work in a system where a full-fledged IDE is needed, or where an IDE is too restricting, will often find that a text editor gives them more flexibility and freedom to code outside of standardized methods of development. Text editors often integrate with source code management, web frameworks, and build automation tools through plugins.
To qualify for inclusion in the Text Editor category, a product must:
Text editor software makes it easy for developers to write code in a lightweight environment. In this day and age of cloud-based software, a text editor might even be accessible in a browser, making it easy to write HTML code and see the results. A text editor may also offer some WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) features, showing the expression of your code in either another window or another tab.
Text editors’ primary function is writing and editing plain text files of code. Within a document, developers can use a variety of tools such as search and replace, highlighting, autocomplete, and syntax libraries. Depending on how you prefer to work, text editors may have a tabbed interface to help keep documents separate and organized, or something more similar to an IDE. Duplicating code and moving it within a file or across files is also very important.
One of the main advantages of a text editor is its automated tasks. Whether that means executing a command, highlighting syntax, or allowing keyboard shortcuts, there are multiple ways a text editor can make a developer’s life easier. Tools like these make it quicker and easier to navigate both within a single file and between multiple files. Syntax highlighting, for instance, makes editing within a document much faster when it is easy to find specific instances of code.
Many text editors are very low cost, if not free, making them extremely accessible but relatively bare bones when first installed. With a variety of plugins, users can customize their experience from the appearance of the background and text to additional tools and functionalities. Many text editors are open source, giving developers access to the source code to edit as they see fit.
Key Benefits of Text Editors
Text editor software is typically used by front-end developers to write HTML, CSS, and other markup languages to build and design websites. However, text editors can support nearly any programming language. Any developer may use a text editor; one must just keep in mind that text editors have fewer features than an IDE right out of the proverbial box. However, the advantage of text editors is that they are often very inexpensive and customizable to an individual’s needs.
A text editor allows a developer to open, edit, and view a file, initially in a plain-text state. This may seem similar to a basic word processor, but text editors do not include many of the extraneous features included in word processors. For instance, the ability to create tables, headers and footers, and citations are all completely unnecessary to writing code. Since many of these formatting features are not needed to write code, a text editor simply allows a developer to create a file or document and begin coding.
Coding-specific features such as syntax highlighting and quick navigation make a text editor even more useful for developers since it cuts down on manual tasks in ways that wouldn’t be possible in a word processor. Even simple features like auto indentation can greatly impact one’s coding. Something as small as customizing the appearance of the text cursor might even make a significant change to one’s workflow.
Since text editors are coding tools, anyone looking to code can use a text editor. Considering the vast majority of text editors are either free or very low cost, text editors are great for those who are learning to code.
Programmers and developers – Text editors are built specifically for coding, so programmers and developers are going to be the primary users. With the ability to switch easily from one coding file to another, text editors simplify navigation between projects. Some text editors will organize files in a drop-down menu so it is easy to see which file belongs to which project. A pop-up menu also makes it easy to navigate between files.
While text editors are not nearly as robust as IDEs, new programmers and developers can benefit from the pared-down features. Text editors are a good way to practice in a simplified environment in order to grasp the coding basics. That does not mean, however, that experienced coders cannot use text editors. While it might not be the ideal environment, there are many features that make coding almost any project possible within a text editor.
Web designers – The primary usage for text editors is web development. With a text editor, it is easy to use markup languages such as HTML and CSS to code a website. Though some text editors might include a rich-text editor or WYSIWYG features to make it easier to design a website, text editors are generally low on features. A dedicated HTML editor might be included to make it even easier to create a website from the ground up, but typically a text editor is simply a plain text box in which to write code. Since web designers are typically creating frameworks for websites, there is usually little need for the more complex tools in an IDE.
Digital marketers – Digital marketers often need to be able to make coding tweaks to websites to add tracking tools and optimize for SEO. With a text editor, marketers can build basic websites, forms, and email designs using programming languages such as HTML and CSS. Using a text editor allows marketers to do these basic coding tasks without investing in an IDE with functions they will likely not utilize very often.
Because text editor software is less complex than an IDE, it is much easier to get ahold of. However, there are different kinds of text editor software, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.
Open source – A text editor that is open source allows the user to change the source code to better customize the tool itself. Users can alter the source code to add features or plugins, or simply change the color of the background or text. One major advantage of open-source software is that anyone can download it at no cost. Often, open source-software also has a large community of users sharing their custom add-ons and willing to help newcomers learn the software and make their own changes. The disadvantage of open-source software is that the base version of the tool is often extremely stripped down with very few built-in tools and features.
Proprietary – Proprietary text editors will have more features available at the outset, but users will likely need to pay to use the tool. Users of proprietary software will also not have access to the source code, which means that one must be aware of the available features and add-ons. It is likely that proprietary text editors will not allow as much customization as open-source text editors, so being aware of the limitations up front is the best way to make a decision. Many proprietary text editors offer free versions, so users can try before they buy and see what works best for them.
Text editors are often relatively feature-light, but there are a lot of simple quality-of-life-focused features that can make a huge difference to your coding workflow. Here are some of the features you will commonly see within text editors:
Syntax highlighting – Syntax highlighting makes it easy to visually parse large amounts of code because specific items or item types are denoted with a different color or font. This is a common feature for tools that support markup languages such as HTML and CSS, which is the main focus of most text editors. Syntax highlighting is typically automatically adjusted based on the programming language found in the file.
Find and replace – Navigating large amounts of code quickly and easily is crucial for any coding project. Being able to find specific lines of code and replace them with a new command without scrolling through all of your code can save a huge amount of time. When debugging, eliminating the risk of missing a faulty line of code will save you more than a few headaches.
Autocompletion – Most coding languages have functions that have opening and closing expressions. To reduce typos and make it easier for developers to code quickly, a text editor may be able to autocomplete common functions or expressions to save the time of manually typing frequently-used terms. Some text editors might use a dialog box to provide a list of possible completion options in order to avoid auto completing to the wrong thing.
Code folding – A single file of code can become extremely large very quickly, which can make it difficult to both navigate and add new sections of between existing segments. With code folding, users can hide specific sections of code within the editor without losing any work. Instead, the larger file becomes easier to navigate because only relevant sections are visible. This can save on relying on a callback function or search string if you are only interested in checking a specific chunk of code and not the entire file.
Compiler integration – A compiler is a feature that translates one coding language into another, which can be extremely helpful if a user isn’t familiar with a specific coding language. Typically, compilers are used to translate source code into a more usable code so it can be edited and translated back.
Cross-platform support – Every developer has a preferred environment in which to work, and that includes their preferred OS. However, if a developer works collaboratively on a team or has separate work and home computers that run on different OSes, a text editor that can support multiple platforms (including Unix-like operating systems) is crucial. The advantage of a cloud-based system is that it is relatively OS-agnostic, but being able to collaborate simultaneously with other team members using different OSes can be a huge advantage.
Extensibility – Text editors are typically relatively low on features, so the ability to extend the platform to include additional features and functionalities may be important to some developers. Some text editors will include a library of add-ons, while others may be open source and require manual customization. Regardless of how the platform is customized, users should be able to build an experience that works best for them without compromising core functionalities.
Collaborative editing – Coding projects can be long and complicated, and everyone can benefit from another set of eyes checking their work. With collaboration abilities within a text editor, multiple developers can work on the same file simultaneously while on different computers, add notes, and even chat with each other within the platform. Text editors can also integrate with version control systems to ensure that no work is lost and all changes are approved and meet any standard practices.
With cloud-based software becoming a presence in every industry, it’s no surprise that cloud-based development software is on the rise. Because text editors are so lightweight with relatively few features compared to an IDE, it’s easy to make them accessible within a browser. With cloud-based text editors, developers can access their projects on the go and easily collaborate with other programmers anytime, anywhere. However, the downside is that these text editors will likely be more difficult to customize, since the source code will live within a web page that needs to be accessed by multiple users.
Text editors are most commonly utilized with markup languages such as HTML and CSS, but a user may want to leverage a text editor to write code using a language like Ruby, Java, Python, or even C++. For some text editors, users can download plugins or additional libraries to support other programming languages, but this is not necessarily always available. Open-source text editors often have large communities creating plugins and add-ons to customize the user’s experience, but, again, there is no guarantee that every programming language will be supported.
Text editor vs. IDE — Text editors differ from IDEs (integrated development environments) in that they have significantly fewer features and support fewer languages. While an IDE is intended to be a single platform that contains all the tools needed to program almost anything, text editors are typically built to support markdown languages like HTML and CSS with minimal extraneous features. Text editors, however, can be extremely customizable because they are often open source. IDEs tend to be less customizable with a set library of add-ons and plugins.
Text editor vs. static code analysis — Text editors are primarily an environment in which to write code. Having minimal features, text editors often have basic search and replace functions and search strings, but there are no dedicated debugging features. Static code analysis tools, however, are specifically built to analyze large chunks of code without executing it in order to aid in debugging and ensure best practices. However, unlike a text editor, you cannot write code within a static code analyzer.
Text editor vs. document creation software — Since a text editor is built primarily as a place to write code, one might think it could also be used as a document creation tool for writing projects. However, the reason text editors work well for coding is that they are completely devoid of typical formatting tools used to make text more legible. Document creation tools contain features meant to help create legible writing documents and basic visuals, while text editors are intended to make it easy to write code that doesn’t adhere to the typical formatting used for writing text.
Text Editor reviews by real, verified users. Find unbiased ratings on user satisfaction, features, and price based on the most reviews available anywhere.
UltraEdit is a powerful text editor with 2+ million users and many Fortune 100/500/1000 enterprise customers. For almost 25 years UltraEdit has been the go-to editor in a diverse range of industries for professionals’ most important editing needs. Renowned for its power and performance in handling and processing huge files and data, UltraEdit is also a highly configurable and themed code editor with support for nearly any language or syntax. Often called the "Swiss army knife" of text editors, UltraEdit is a tool that no IT professional should be without. From programming and project management to large file manipulation, from data sorting and text record formatting to remote (FTP/SFTP) file operations, from advanced file searching and text data reformatting, there's almost no problem that UltraEdit can't solve in the world of text editing. UltraEdit is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux and is backed by a professional development team and support staff.
NoteTab Pro is currently the world’s most awarded text and HTML editor. It has won awards from PC Magazine, PC World, WUGNET, the Shareware Industry Awards and the People’s Choice Awards. For some NoteTab is simply the best Notepad replacement out there. For webmasters it’s the fastest HTML editor. For others it’s the most versatile text editor. For power users it’s a unique text-processing work horse.
First Draft quickens the writing process by generating well-written first drafts (business articles, research reports, fictional stories, etc.) so that authors can finish and publish an unlimited number of website articles, blog posts, sales letters, and more. It saves content as text files, web pages (with standard HTML), and Word document files. It additionally corrects some of the most common spelling, grammar, and typing errors at the click of a button.
CKEditor 4 is a browser-based rich text editor. Its plug-in based architecture allows bringing common as well as advanced content processing features to the web. With almost 15 years in the market it serves as a battle-tested editor, when you need multiple features and legacy compatibility. CKEditor 4 is distributed under the GPL, LGPL, and MPL Open Source and commercial licenses.
A new Text File Editor EDITFILE 7.0.1 from GVSR Mapping Technologies, this has been specifically designed for Business Users, Business Analysts, Data Analysts, Programmers and Developers who need to work on various EDI, Application text files data in a day to day business activity.
When we released our first blog post about Light Table back in April of 2012, it was just a new concept for an IDE. Thanks to the community, our concept was pushed to become a reality. You all helped spread the word about the future of tools and made Light Table the most funded software technology project ever on Kickstarter.
SciTE is a SCIntilla based Text Editor. Originally built to demonstrate Scintilla, it has grown to be a generally useful editor with facilities for building and running programs. It is best used for jobs with simple configurations - I use it for building test and demonstration programs as well as SciTE and Scintilla, themselves.