A New Breed of Free Source Code Editors

Many outstanding free source code editors have come out recently, and they’re giving paid apps a run for their money.

Beautiful user interfaces, practical features, and the ability to enhance your setup with extensions are just a few things this fresh crop of code editors are offering.

In 2008 and 2009, I wrote about some text editors that can be used for web development. I talked about Notepad++, Vim, Emacs, and 21 other text editors.  Five and a half-ish years later, there is bound to be some good additions and innovations in this realm. And there are.

Characteristics that modern source code editors share are:

What follows is a discussion of five free source code editors that exhibit the traits outlined above.



Atom sports a distraction-free interface and a pragmatic feature set that includes integration with your browser’s developer tool, a fast batch search-and-replace that traverses all the files in your project, theming, and more.

Atom is developed by GitHub, and I can’t think of any other company that’s had as much experience and exposure to code and developers as much as they have.



Brackets, an open source project led by Adobe, is not only pretty but also practical. It’s built around the concept of designing in the browser, a commonsense approach to creating sites and web apps.

This code editor gives you a live preview of your work: As you’re composing code, it dynamically updates your browser so you can see your changes almost in real time (there’s a tiny bit of a delay while the app processes your changes).

Code hints, its own JavaScript debugging feature called Theseus, on-the-fly syntax error warnings, and a highly extensible core make Brackets a great choice for web designers and front-end developers.



This code editor works purely in your browser whether you’re plugged in to the Internet or not.

But just because ICEcoder is browser-based doesn’t mean you’re being shortchanged: It has a robust feature set that includes real-time JS linting, a find-and-replace builder which essentially gives you a simple UI for regular-expression matching, themes, and much more.



CodeMirror is an interesting text editor: To install it, all you need to do is reference its JS and CSS files in your HTML documents, and then instantiate it with a line of JavaScript. You don’t need to run any software installer or anything like that.

CodeMirror supports 60 programming languages, autocompletion, and endless configurability of even the minutest of options using its Programming API.

Light Table

Light Table

This gorgeous code editor has got a lot of unique features going for it. It has, for example, Inline Evaluation, which displays the results of your code within the editor, saving you a bit of time from having to output/query the results in your browser’s developer tool.

The development funds of Light Table came through Kickstarter. The project was backed by over 7,000 people and was able to raise over $300,000 in funding, indicating the interest and excitement around it.

Other Options

Here are a couple of other awesome code editors/IDEs to check out.

Sublime Text: This is a well-loved code editor. But it’s not entirely free: You can download and try it for free, but it will cost you $70 to continue using it, a price plenty of developers are willing to pay because of how useful and awesome it is.

Cloud9: Cloud9 is a cloud-based code editor. It requires you to register for an account in order to use it, a prerequisite that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. You’ll also have to pay in order to unlock its premium features.

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About the Author

Example of a website with a large background image: Jacob Gube is the founder of Six Revisions. He’s a front-end web developer by profession. If you’d like to connect with him, head on over to the contact page or follow him on Twitter: @sixrevisions.

This was published on Oct 7, 2014


Richelly Italo Oct 07 2014

Nice tips, I’ll test all editor, thanks for article Jacob.

Marc Mandev Oct 07 2014

Don’t forget NetBeans — — because I almost ALWAYS fall back to this editor when dealing with long code or something as simple as finding a closing tag. It matches commercial editors easily and is hugely dependable.

While a bit old, J is very nice, because it works on a variety of platforms (pure Java).

Marijn Oct 08 2014

Might be worth mentioning that both Light Table and Brackets are actually built on top of CodeMirror (which is an editor component, more than a stand-alone editor).

sunil vashist Oct 08 2014

I’ve been using sublime text editor for my coding purposes, but the list you’ve shared seems to be pretty handy as well. Looking forward to use one of them for my upcoming work. Thanks for sharing these .

Matt Pass Oct 09 2014

Marijn is quite right, plus ICEcoder is built on top of CodeMirror also :-)

Alexandre Gomes Oct 09 2014

Actually you don’t have to pay for Sublime Text 2 if you don’t want. All it does is popup a small “buy now” pop over every 2 hours or so. Press esc and you’re done.

Derron Oct 09 2014

I like the look and sound of what Bracket has to offer. Think I’ll give it a try.

Alex Whinfield Nov 02 2014

@Alexandre You’re right, you don’t even notice it after a few days.

Atom has become my newest IDE over the last month or so, still waiting on a better interface from the FTP plugins, but other than that, it’s brilliant. Amazingly lightweight.

Jose M. Velazquez Dec 11 2014

Anyone knows what’s the name of the color scheme displayed on the pic of Atom? Looks really colorful and want to give it a try.

Evoluted Jan 19 2015

We’ve been using Sublime Text here at Evoluted for quite some time now. We all love the minimalistic interface and find it really helps us to concentrate when coding.

Cathy Mayhue Feb 27 2015

I have always used Dreamweaver, which was created by Macromedia but now owned by Adobe. I hope some of the cool features of DW might find its way into bracket. I would love to try this out.

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