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The best code editors in 2021: our guide to the top options

best code editors
(Image credit: Ngampol Thongsai/EyeEm via Getty)

The best code editors can have a huge impact on your productivity and workflow. Many of us stick with what we know out of habit, but shopping around can uncover fast and intuitive interfaces or killer features that can help get the work done more quickly and efficiently. 

The best code editors offer a fast, flexible interface that allows you to be more efficient at writing code, and they offer functionality to help you examine code for mistakes and see where edits need to be made. They also offer the potential to be easily customised, so you can create the UI and user experience that suits you (quality website builders can also help here). That might sound like a lot to ask, but when you consider how many hours you spend looking at your code editor, day in day out, you want to make sure it looks and works the best it possibly can (make sure you've got one of the best monitors for programming or the best laptop for programming too). 

Everyone codes in a different way, so it's impossible to single out one code editor as the best. Below you'll find our selection of the seven best code editors available for web developers and designers, with details on what each one offers to help you pick the best one for you. On Page 2, you'll find more code editors to try, and on page 3 advice on how to pick the right one. Read on, and you may find a tool that makes a positive difference to the way you work.

While you're considering your toolkit, also check out our roundup of the best web design tools. If you're worried about troubleshooting, our guide to the best antivirus software will keep your programming safe, and a top web hosting service will give you more support.

6 best code editors for developers and designers

best code editors: Sublime Text 3

01. Sublime Text 3

The best code editor overall – but you'll have to pay for it

Specifications
Price: $80 (free indefinite preview)
Platform: Windows, Mac OS, Linux
Developer: Sublime HQ
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight and speedy+Extremely extendable
Reasons to avoid
-Not free-Nagging popup

Sublime Text really changed the way the best code editors work. It's lightweight, open and ready to edit your file almost as soon as you've managed to click the button. This responsiveness is one of the things that makes it the best code editor in its class overall. If you want to open a file and make a quick edit, waiting a few seconds for loading may not sound like much, but the delay can quickly grow tedious. 

Another big benefit of Sublime Text is that it's wildly extensible, with a huge and ever-growing list of plugins available to install via the package manager. Options include themes to customise the editor’s appearance, code linters (which can assist with more quickly locating any errors in your code), Git plugins, colour pickers, and more.

Sublime Text is free to download and start using, but for extended use you'll need to shell out $80 for a licence – and the programme will remind you fairly regularly about payment until you cough up. If you decide to pay, you can use the same licence key for any computer you use, so you can enter the same code on all your machines to get rid of the payment reminder popup. The paid licence, however, is perhaps Sublime Text’s biggest downside since there are a number of competitive products available at no cost.

best code editors: Visual Studio Code

02. Visual Studio Code

The most fully featured, well-rounded code editor

Specifications
Price: Free
Platform: Windows, Mac OS, Linux
Developer: Microsoft
Reasons to buy
+Good for complex, larger projects+Very robust+Built-in Git support
Reasons to avoid
-Slow to start up

Visual Studio Code is a code editor developed by Microsoft, and surprisingly, it's open-source software. Of all the code editors in our list, this is probably the closest to being an IDE. It's very robust – and it's one of the slower programs when starting up. However, while using it, VS Code is quick and can handle quite a few interesting tasks, such as quick Git commits or opening and sorting through multiple folders’ worth of content.

VS Code has seen a meteoric rise in popularity. It's continually growing its user base and drawing developers away from other editors. It has a built-in terminal, as well as built-in Git support, both of which are big winners among fans. The ‘IntelliSense’ feature offers autocompletion of code and data on the parameters of functions and known variable names.

Best code editors: Codespaces

(Image credit: Microsoft)

03. Codespaces

A browser-based code editor from Microsoft and Github

Specifications
Price: Free
Platform: Browser
Developer: Microsoft
Reasons to buy
+Work from anywhere+Good for collaboration+Functions offline
Reasons to avoid
-New and untested

Github's owner, Microsoft, made it clear that its vision for the 2020s is all about the cloud, and here's a good example. Launched in May 2020, Codespaces is a browser-based code editor based on Visual Studio Code. It has support for Git repos, extensions and a built-in command line interface so you can edit, run, and debug  your applications from any device. Obviously this enables you to work from anywhere, and makes collaboration with other devs easier. 

Code-editing functionality in GitHub will always be free, although Microsoft plans to offer simple pay-as-you-go pricing for Codespaces cloud environments. You launch Codespaces straight from Github, which makes for a nice bit of synergy. If you prefer not to use a browser, that's fine too, as support for Visual Studio Code and Visual Studio is built in.

best code editors: Atom

04. Atom

The best free code editor, with a friendly UI

Specifications
Price: Free
Platform: Windows, Mac OS, Linux
Developer: Github
Reasons to buy
+Integrated with Git and GitHub+Quick and reliable
Reasons to avoid
-Slow to launch-Historical performance issues

Atom is an open-source code editior developed by GitHub. In its initial development, it was heavily influenced by the new style of editor made popular by Sublime Text, but there are key differences. Atom is free and open-source, and it offers easy out-of-box integration with Git and GitHub. It has historically had performance and stability problems, but those have diminished as Atom has matured. It’s true that it still launches more slowly than some code editors, but it’s just as reliable and quick to use as any once it's running. See more in our piece on how to get more from Atom text editor.

best code editors: Vim code editor

06. Vim

Command line software that's a favourite among old-school programmers

Specifications
Price: Free
Platform: Windows, Mac OS, Linux
Developer: Vim.org
Reasons to buy
+Rock-solid and very fast+Good for keyboarders+Included with Linux OS and macOS
Reasons to avoid
-No UI – navigated via keyboard

Vim is perhaps the most contentious code editor in this list. A command line software included natively with Linux operating systems and macOS and available for download for Windows, Vim is a favourite for many old-school programmers and keyboard enthusiasts. It's navigated entirely via the keyboard, making it much faster and more efficient, but only if you make the effort to learn how to operate it. It's also extremely customisable – to the extent that a command line program can be customised). You can use a number of keyboard shortcuts to speed up code editing, and even better, create customised commands to fit your own workflow.

Without a doubt, Vim makes for the steepest learning curve and perhaps one of the worst user experiences in our selection due to its complete lack of UI. Learning how to navigate the program isn’t so challenging, but building the muscle memory of shortcuts and figuring out how best to customise the editor (which you really need to do to get the best from it) takes a lot longer. However, that said, Vim is incredibly stable, fast, and a joy to use for veteran command line aficionados and new, interested users alike. If you have the time to learn, Vim can really increase your coding productivity, and, with so little UI to consider, it’s a nearly seamless cross-platform experience.

best code editors

(Image credit: Espresso)

07. Espresso

One of the best code editors for Mac users

Specifications
Price: $99
Platform: Mac OS
Developer: Kangacode
Reasons to buy
+Sleek, easy-to-use interface+Live preview while you code
Reasons to avoid
-Can be buggy-Mac-only

Espresso is a long-standing option for Mac users. Some have found it to have become buggy of late, with some unexpected crashes, but its sleek interface, live preview and drag and drop functionality make it easy for beginners to use for front-end design work. It's divided into three columns – your files, the code editor and the navigator, which lets you see the various sections of code you’re working on. The live styling feature allows you to change CSS code for live websites and see the changes in the preview without publishing or saving. It costs $99, and there's a free trial.

Next page: More great code editors

Jeffrey is a technical writer at Auth0.