What is a code editor?
Code editors are the bread and butter software of many developers, designers, and even writers. Complex integrated development environments (IDEs) are often too bloated and heavy for smaller tasks, such as working on a single project or file. On the other hand, basic text editors such as Notepad on Windows or TextEdit on macOS are underpowered for the tasks of editing code – too many necessary features are missing, making code editing cumbersome.
The interim type of software is the code editor. They shine at just this task, editing single files or single projects, managing a folder’s worth of content. Crucially, even the slowest of main code editors are still much faster and more responsive than dealing with a fully-fledged IDE.
Code editors often used to be very different on each operating system, but many of the editors in this list are cross-platform and work to ensure that the experience on different operating systems is very similar. This enables programmers to shift between work and personal computers, or even shared devices, and still get things done without having to adjust to a different environment.
In addition, many of the code editors here can have their behaviour modified via configuration option files (things like setting tab lengths, line lengths and wrapping, autocompletion, syntax highlighting, and more). This ability to dictate the program’s appearance and behaviour lets the programmer maximise the usefulness of the software, while the defaults enable a casual user to have a pleasant and useful ‘out of box’ experience.
How do you pick a code editor?
Picking a code editor can be a challenging task. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that you know what you need. What features are most important to you? Keyboard shortcuts? Appearance? Speed? Stability? Cross-platform experience? Open source? Syntax highlighting options?
Consider what you would like your editor to do for you. Do you enjoy autocompletion of function names, or automatic closing brackets or tags? Or do you find those things frustrating? Do you put a lot of stock in the ability to change the colour scheme of your UI often and easily, or are you a big fan of a simple light or dark mode? Do you wish to perform Git operations directly from your editor?
The list of potential features is endless, and only you can say which are the ones that are the most important to you. Which make you more comfortable, efficient, and productive? Decide on your priorities, and then take a look around and find the editor software that ticks off all the boxes.
Another important note about choosing a code editor is to allow time to invest yourself in the software. Take a moment to look through the available settings, plugins, or other extensions. Find out which things you can change or set up to ensure that the experience is the best that it can possibly be for you. Getting your editor customised to your needs and spending some time with it will give you a real taste for whether it is to your liking or not.
This article was originally published in net, the magazine for web designers and developers.