Skip to main content

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

What is a code editor?

Code editors are the bread and butter software for many developers, designers, and even writers. Complex integrated development environments (IDEs) are often too bloated and heavy for smaller tasks like working on a single project or file, but basic text editors such as Notepad on Windows or TextEdit on macOS are underpowered for the tasks of editing code, with too many features missing for efficient editing.

In the perfect spot in the middle is the code editor. These shine at this task, editing single files or single projects, managing a folder’s worth of content. Crucially, even the slowest of main code editors is still much faster and more responsive than a fully-fledged IDE.

best code editors: laptop screen

Code editors sit between IDEs and text editors in terms of capabilities

Code editors often used to vary greatly on each operating system, but many of the editors in this list are cross-platform, ensuring that the experience on different operating systems is now very similar. This enables programmers to shift work across different devices, even shared devices, and still get things done without having to take the time to adjust to a different environment. 

In addition, the behaviour of many of the code editors can be modified via configuration option files (for 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 you maximise the usefulness of the software, while the defaults enable a casual user to have a pleasant and useful ‘out of box’ experience.

How to pick a code editor

When it comes to picking a code editor, the most important thing to consider is what you need. Ideally, you'll want to know what features are most important to you – keyboard shortcuts? Appearance? Speed? Stability? Cross-platform experience? Open source? Syntax highlighting options? 

Think about what you want the editor to do for you. Do you enjoy autocompletion of function names, or automatic closing brackets or tags? Or do you find those things distracting? 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 decide which are the most important to you – and which help you work most efficiently and productively? Once you know your priorities, you can seek out the editor software that ticks off all the boxes.

Note that it's also important to allow time to invest yourself in the software. Take the time to look through the available settings, plugins, or other extensions. Find out what you can change to make the experience the best it can possibly be for you. Customising your editor to your needs and spending some time with it will give you a real taste for whether it's to your liking.

This article was originally published in net, the magazine for web designers and developers.

Read more: