Operating systems

Five free (or open source) text editors for developers

Even if you do most of your development work in an IDE, you're likely to need a good text editor for certain tasks.

If there is one topic that can get programmers into a debate, it is their personal choice of text editors! While most developers are now doing their work inside IDEs, there are still lots of ways to use text editors for development work. And for those who do not use IDEs, text editors are even more important. Here are five free or open source text editors that developers will want to check out.

1: Notepad++

Notepad++ is quite possibly the most popular open source text editor for Windows. It has a number of developer-friendly features, like syntax highlighted and regular expression search and replace. It recognizes all of the major programming languages out there and has a thriving ecosystem of plug-ins.

2: vi/vim

vi/Vim (Vim is a more advanced version of vi) is the most unique item here. It's been around for quite some time, and it's open source. What makes vi so interesting is that instead of the standard mode being "input text" with access to commands, the command mode is the normal state. Entering text is simply one of many commands. With its heavy emphasis on commands, vi has a steep learning curve -- but there's a big productivity payoff for those who are willing to learn it. Using vi is like using a *Nix shell in many ways. It's a small programming environment that lets you string commands together to accomplish lots of work easily.

3: Emacs

If you ever want to see a fight between code-heads, ask a group of *Nix devs whether Emacs is better than vi. Emacs is the other big editor on *Nix platforms, but like vi, it is open source and available on Windows and other platforms, too. Emacs has grown to be almost an operating system unto itself, and it uses a Lisp interpreter to provide a macro environment. As a result, you see things like chess game plug-ins for Emacs. If you want a text editor with ultra-powerful customization capabilities, Emacs is where it's at.

4: NoteTab Light

NoteTab is my personal favorite text editor. It has most of the same features as Notepad++, but I feel that it is a more refined and better-documented product. The Standard and Pro editions are paid products (albeit very inexpensive, with free upgrades for life), but the Light version is freeware. With features like super-fast searching across directory structures and regular expression find/replace, NoteTab Light is definitely not lightweight on features.

5: SciTE

SciTE is a handy open source text editor. It has the advantage of being a zero-install-needed application, and will run on both Windows and X-based desktop environments. It too supports all the usual code editing features, like syntax highlighting and regular expression find/replace. Like Notepad++, it is based on the Scintilla editor, so the two share a lot of capabilities.

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

20 comments
spacepioneer
spacepioneer

I didn't see HTML Kit 2.92 in your list. it is my choice and is consider by some to be the Rolls Royce of Free Text Editors. It is offered by Chami (www.chami.com) and has several plugins and support for several languages standard and over 400 additional plugins available.

mountney
mountney

A great thing about it is that it allows up to 4 panes to view line of code - of the same source file or other source files may be displayed. These panes can be resized. Nice search capability (forward and backward) and one of the nicestfeatures is column select whcih allows seleting a block area for formatting for example. Additional feature is creating macros for common editing functions... Very intuitive and straightforward with a lot of features...

kschlotthauer
kschlotthauer

When I worked for the government and we had SPARC systems' we had to use VI. I detest VI...to cumbersome to get the job done. When I worked on SGI systems their text editor was "JOT" which was more intuitive and straight forward.

ian
ian

For me, it's as powerful as I need an editor to be. It has syntax highlighting for just about every programming languages you will ever use. Features include tabbed workspace, search of complete file structures, built in ftp for remote editing, macros, undo all the way back to the last save, open in DOS shell, open in browser, evaluate line by line, column mode editing and a whole lot more. I think the latest version is Emerald Editor but the older Crimson is still great.

kjg48359
kjg48359

I like an editor called "JEdit" available from SourceForge. I do a lot of mainframe development and it can cut and paste in columnar formats, has multiple interfaces to the same file (for instance if you're editing code, you can work in two different parts of the same program/source), it can color code just about anything out there (from JCL to COBOL, to Java, to VB etc), and it's plug in library is extensive including file and source compare plug ins, and other configuration options (including hex formats, and integration with source control systems).

JohnBoyNC
JohnBoyNC

I work in a severely locked down desktop environment (DoD) and use Notepad ++ portable. Yes, it has to be (minimally) installed but doesn't touch the Windows registry, so it works in this environment. One of the best features is its ability to convert EOL to Windows, Mac or Unix. Nothing makes me crazier than all those EOL ^M's in a MS Notepad file sent to a Unix box. If working in a Unix box, then it's VI all the way. Been using vi since it was more commonly known as "six." Yeah, I'm that old. Now get off my lawn.

IT Pixie
IT Pixie

But since it doesn't work on Mac, I use TextWrangler. It's a great alternative, and it's free! I like free... :)

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

If you like notetab buy the Pro version from Fookes.

laolusrael
laolusrael

Was hoping I'd definitely find Editra in the list. Its open source, nad its quite great. No unneeded features, just straight cute aesthetic code editing, don't let the beta on their homepage fool you. Its really a coding experience. http://editra.org

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Vim.. worth the time to learn. As I've said before, my problem now is finding out I types "jjjjjjj" instead of moving down several rows in other editors. Zim is nice too though it's more for collecting notes then editing specifically. I'd love to figure out a way to combine Zim into it as the editor. Kate is another editor I'd love to plug Vim into as the editor component.

rm_mainframe
rm_mainframe

Although Programmers Notepad is Windows only, it is a brilliant text editor with syntax highlighting, different line ending support, regex search/replace and many other features that make it a worthy addition to this list. (I was very surprised that it wasn't directly under Notepad++) http://www.pnotepad.org/ This is what others think of it: http://www.pnotepad.org/userssay/ I use it every day - it's fantastic.

Justin James
Justin James

I love Notetab Pro, use it all the time, but the Light version is fine for a lot of folks, and it's a great way to fall in love it the app. J.Ja

kschlotthauer
kschlotthauer

Actually I used the predecessor to KATE...KEdit. Love the editing capabilities. I used it to edit CNC code for PCB probe testing machines. I see that KEdit is still expensive.

perry_rivera
perry_rivera

Instead of 7 j's, you can just type "7j" no quotes!

Justin James
Justin James

It's one that I haven't personally used, but I have definitely heard good things about it in the past, thanks for bringing it up! J.Ja

Realvdude
Realvdude

I think Textpad may be a little off topic "Free", but there is lite version listed, I'll throw my vote in for Textpad. The custom macros are a godsend.

tommy
tommy

Used TextPad for years. It's hugely versatile, and the macro edit functionality is incredibly useful.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

I agree that textpad is worth a look: http://textpad.com/ It has a powerful macro language that can simplify a repetitive or batch text processing job.

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