I do a lot less coding these days but I like to have an editor on hand. Preferably something that can handle more than one language at one time. A recent project caused me to look beyond my normal editor, Bluefish, to see what other open source options there were for a Windows-based editor. There are plenty, but here’s where I ended up.
I love Bluefish. It’s an open source editor out of the Netherlands. It has been a mainstay for me for sometime. It has the basic features you’d expect, where it can auto-complete your tags and also highlight problems. In particular, I like that it’s not part of a massive IDE (Eclipse, Virtual Studio, Komodo) because all I want is something richer than a basic text editor.
Unfortunately, the one feature I needed for a recent project continually broke in Bluefish: the ability to search and replace. I’d frequently get an error message that nothing was selected. In some cases, I could restart the editor and search would work; other times, I was out of luck. Since I had a long HTML document that had originated in Microsoft Word, you can imagine the amount of cleanup it needed. Doing it manually was a huge time sink.
- You can customize the toolbar so that if you have codes that you want to click regularly, you can access them quickly;
- You can click on a line number and highlight the entire line of code. I use this a lot when I’m trying to throw a pair of tags around a length of text, like a <p></p>.
RJ Text Editor
After quite a bit of searching, I came across the RJ Text editor out of Sweden, also open source. I started off immediately with the search (find and replace) and it worked excellently. I was quickly able to replace the Microsoft-generated code with either empty space or proper tags. Unfortunately it relied more on the keyboard (SHIFT-CTRL-P, for example, to add a paragraph tag set) which meant I was moving more between the keyboard and mouse than I would with Bluefish. It has a nice tag explorer, as you can see below, in case you’re needing HTML help.
RJ Text Editor supports a wider variety of languages than Bluefish, so if you regularly code in PHP or C##, this might provide you with the best mixture of support short of using an IDE-based editor. I missed the toolbars of Bluefish, but I liked:
- the find and replace functionality;
- the preview options to see your page as either an Internet Explorer or Google Chrome page;
- the visual indicator (not shown above) when you’re coding that shows your unsaved changes with a yellow margin line next to the line numbers, that turns to green when you save. When you’re 900 lines of code down, and skip to the end, it is a huge time saver in returning to where you last were.
I looked at ActiveState’s Komodo as well. I’d used it in the past and had a vague recollection of its value as an HTML editor. They have changed their product offerings pretty substantially from what I remembered, so now your choices are the full Komodo IDE or the very light Komodo Edit. The IDE isn’t, but Komodo Edit is open source. Edit is the most stripped-down of the three editors. You can create a new HTML file (use the NEW from Template option when creating a new file) and when you open up existing code, it will color-code it. Komodo Edit was the best of the three programs at identifying nuanced code problems, like apostrophes or quotation marks that weren’t plain text.
I also like – and have used occasionally – Microsoft’s Expression Web editor. It’s great if you don’t have access to Virtual Studio (or don’t want to download the monstrous free Community version). It’s not open source but it is free now that Microsoft is no longer supporting it.
In the end I used RJ Text Editor for my project. Once I got used to how to use the code editor, the ability to find and replace was the real killer feature. I like Komodo Edit but it’s too stripped down for me; I like a little bit more chrome and buttons to help me out. It’d be a great editor if I was starting something from scratch, though.