You can make writing code as complicated as you want, but at the end of the day, all you really need is your favorite, trusty text editor. You can use a simple one like Microsoft’s Notepad, but oftentimes it’s helpful to have a text editor that has syntax highlighting/coloring, support for multiple languages, a robust find and replace feature, and other features and options that make writing code just a tad bit easier.
If you’re in search of a good, free text editor – you’ve come to the right place. Below you’ll find 12 first-class free text editors that are designed with coders’ needs in mind. Whether you use a Windows, Mac, or Linux machine – you’ll find a few options here that will satisfy your code-authoring needs.
NOTEPAD++ is the premier replacement for Microsoft’s Notepad. It has an auto-completion feature (for most supported languages) that guesses what you’re trying to write, a tabbed interface which is great for working with multiple files without cluttering your task bar, a powerful RegEx find-and-replace feature, code folding, support for a large array of languages (even Assembler!) and much more. These are just some of the features that make NOTEPAD++ my personal default text editor.
Bluefish Editor is a robust, open source text editor geared towards programmers and web designers. It’s known as being a fast, lightweight text editor that can open 500+ documents with ease. It has a built-in function reference browser (for PHP, Python, CSS, and HTML) so you can quickly learn about with particular syntaxes. Check out the Screenshots section to find movies/screencasts (such as learning about working with remote files) and screen shots of Bluefish Editor.
TextWrangler is a multi-purpose text editor for the Mac OS. It is a programmer-friendly text editor and Unix/Server Admin text editor. It has a useful "plugin" system allowing developers a way for extending TextWrangler’s built-in features. It also has a function browser so that you can quickly find and jump to the function you’re looking for (very helpful for those really long files).
Smultron is an easy-to-use text editor. Its simple interface makes it perfect for the minimalist coder. It has the basic features you’d expect from a text editor such as syntax highlighting/coloring but also has cool, helpful features such as the ability to split the viewing pane in two so that you can view files side-by-side, a code snipplet library to allow you to store your often-used code blocks, and a full-screen mode that’s intended to make you focus on the task at hand.
Caditor is an open source portable text editor written in the .NET framework (C#) that puts speed and performance at the forefront of its design. It has a convenient search box built into the tool bar of the text editor’s interface so that you don’t have to open another dialog box to perform a search. It has other handy features common to developer-oriented text editors such as line numbering, a compiler feature to allow you to hook it up with your compiler, and FTP feature.
gedit is the official text editor of the GNOME desktop. Unlike Microsoft’s built-in text editor (Notepad), gedit is a more feature-packed text editor geared towards usage for programming and mark-up. With its syntax highlighting, tabbed interface for editing multiple files, and spell-checking feature – gedit is an excellent, free text editor for coders.
(Windows, Mac, Linux)
GNU Emacs (more commonly referred to simply as Emacs) is a cross-platform, extendible text editor geared towards programmers. One of its defining features is Emacs’s ability to be extended – offering you the ability to use it as your project planner and debugger, among other things. It has a file-comparison feature (M-x ediff) that highlights differences between two files (useful for figuring out changes in a file made by coders who don’t document/comment their revisions).
Crimson Editor is a light-weight text editor for Windows that supports many languages. It has a "Macros" features which lets you record a sequence of tasks so that you can reuse the sequence with a click of a button. It has a built-in FTP feature, allowing you to upload/download files from your FTP server. Crimson Editor is a solid option for Windows users.
ConTEXT is another excellent, light-weight, freeware (meaning it’s free – but close-sourced) text editor for Windows. It has countless of handy features such as text sorting (helpful when you need to sort things in alphabetical order, for example), ability to export configuration options so that you can share your configuration or import it into several machines, and a macro recorder for repeating a sequence of tasks. In 2007, ConTEXT development was turned over to David Hadley but continues to be freeware.
SciTE, written on top of the open source Scintilla code-editing component, is a speedy text editor aimed for use in source code editing. It has a standalone .exe version which you can use for portable storage drives (i.e. USB flash drives) so that you can conveniently carry it around and use it on any computer without having to install it. SciTE is a compatible with Windows and Linux operating systems and has been tested by the developer on Windows XP and on Fedora 8 and Ubuntu 7.10.
(Windows, Mac, Linux)
Komodo Edit is a freeware, cross-platform text editor created by ActiveState. It is a simple text editor based on the popular integrated development environment – Komodo IDE. It has a convenient and flexible Project Manager feature to help you organize and keep track of your project files.
(Windows, Mac, Linux)
jEdit is a text editor that specifically caters to programmers. It’s written in Java and runs on any operating system that supports You can download a ton of plugins (check out the Plugins Central on jEdit’s website) to extend its built-in features. jEdit was designed to combine the best features of Windows, Mac, and Unix text editors.
What do you think?
There’s a ton of text editors out there so be sure to share your experiences and opinions on the text editors above, and if your favorite isn’t on the list – please tell us about it in the comments.