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My name is Rob Cherny and I'm a professional Web Developer with 16 years of experience creating Web sites and Web-based applications. This site is where I write about my work, and random other things...

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Web Development

Code Text Editors for Web Development

So a conversation I had with a co-worker got me thinking. He was asking what tools I used to develop sites with, and I realized the list has been pretty short. Over my whole career even, about 11 years now, I haven’t used a lot of different tools.

HomeSite, the Original HTML Editor of Editors

Anyone who’s been in the industry for a while should know that the HTML editor back in the day was HomeSite, a tool that on Windows at least, was the almost defacto standard of any HTML coder (unless they were just doing like, Notepad).

Nick Bradbury was the guy who created it, and I was a fan since something like version 1.5. Allaire bought it, then Macromedia and finally Adobe bought Macromedia. Of course now it has stagnated so much so that the HomeSite product page still says Macromedia HomeSite.

Maybe that’s for SEO reasons, I don’t know, but it doesn’t look good, IMHO.

For years, even when I was coding ASP or other server-side technologies, I still used HomeSite, since it was just a solid code editor, with great text editing features and user-contributed scripts.

TopStyle

After leaving Macromedia, Nick Bradbury wrote TopStyle filling a hole in the market as CSS was really picking up. It rapidly became my editor of choice, and eventually became a solid XHTML editor. Nick Bradbury just creates well designed, lightweight, common-sense tools which are easy and fun to use.

I all but gave up on HomeSite, except for in one case: Extended Search and Replace. Well, as I posted recently, Nick Bradbury is creating TopStyle 3.5, and just added Extended Search and Replace.

But I digress.

Text Editors

I love text editors. I use text for everything: todo’s, email and blog drafts, meeting notes, just about any draft of anything that goes into a word processor, anything and everything. My computer’s littered with text files.

I usually keep a general purpose text editor around and a full featured code editor around, since rarely has the feature set I’m after met in the middle between the two. UltraEdit is the closest I’ve ever come, but it’s missing a few features (at least without extensive customization) that I look for in a code editor.

Text Editor Features for Web Development

So what features do I look for in a text editor?

  • fast and lightweight
  • code insight and/or code assistance while typing
  • color coding / syntax highlighting
  • customizable user interface
  • custom keyboard shortcuts
  • scripts, code templates, actions, macros, and/or snippets that can be assigned keyboard shortcuts
  • scripts, code templates, actions, macros, and/or snippets that can use replacement tokens
  • scripts, code templates, actions, macros, and/or snippets that can act on text selections
  • text manipulation features: move, delete, copy lines; upper and lower case selected text, split and join wrapped lines etc.
  • find/replace (in selections especially) etc. basic editing features of course, out of the box
  • column selections

Nice to have, might include:

  • clipboard history
  • append to clipboard
  • file diff features

I really wish I had the time and capability to create an editor, because I’ve never been 100% satisfied with any tool I’ve used, and I’ve tried tons. Seriously, I’ve tested and downloaded more text editors than I can explain or quantify, and most annoy me at some level. I frequently am asked, “have you tried such and such”, and either I do and I don’t like it, or it just is missing key aspects of the way I work.

Text Editors for Web Development

So what tools have I used over the years? Tons, but for any length of time, I’d distill the list to the following:

And that is it.

I should note, as an aside this doesn’t include any tools used for any specialty projects or for unique tasks, including but not limited to things like Visual Studio.NET, Dreamweaver, SharePoint Designer, etc.

The Aptana IDE for Web Development: JavaScript, HTML, CSS

Aptana is my tool of choice right now, but I still use TopStyle and HomeSite for the aforementioned search/replace features. What’s attracted me to Aptana is mixed. It’s open source and free, which is wonderful. It’s based on Ecplipse so there’s a thriving community and plugins and other resources. It’s under active development, so you can have input into what’s happening with it, which is fantastic. But what got me?

  • great document outline panel
  • really cool keyboard enabled text manipulation features: move line, duplicate line, delete line
  • local history and diff features
  • JavaScript aware, meaning as you create objects with methods and properties, it’s aware of these and a single keystroke can take you to the declarations
  • edit location history, with keystrokes to get to the locations
  • keystroke only to access files in your projects and open editors (type the name and a filtered list appears)
  • cross platform: I’m about to switch to a Mac

It’s no where near customizable enough in terms of toolbars, but I keep unearthing features, and I’m sure there’s things I’m missing. It’s a different paradigm in some ways, with notions of “perspectives” and so forth that I’m just starting to pick up the usefulness of. A lot of the features I don’t touch, which is quite often the case: the 80/20 rule.

I Type Too Much

I’ve noticed one thing about my behavior in editors, and that’s the fact that I’m a keyboard junkie. Anything that forces me to stop, point, and click, and I’m annoyed. It’s that simple. Lists of tags, like in UltraEdit? Toolbars which force me to click a button to surround text with tags? It does nothing for me, I’m not interested except in the edge case. I want to be able to type, dammit. Is that so much to ask for?

Mac OS X Editors

So Aptana does appeal to me since I am considering, and almost there, a jump to the Mac from Windows. The reasons and motivations are another article or post, to be sure. But, suffice to say I’ve been keeping my eye on editors. What interests me?

skEdit has long interested me in terms of simplicity, and TextMate seems “uber”-powerful, yet lightweight. The column selections and typing in those selections looks so great, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Not having a Mac, I’ve never tried them, although that could change in the next few months. I’ll blog about it, no doubt.

I’m always curious what editor someone uses.

Jul 5, 10:35 AM in Web Development (filed under Web101, Reviews)

  1. Robert    Jul 5, 12:38 PM    #

    On the Mac, I currently use Smultron because it is good and free. Before that, while it was free, I used SubEtha Edit. SubEtha Edit was great, even though I felt it wasn’t designed for HTML editing. Smultron is designed for code editing, but some of the UI stuff in SubEtha that I liked is not in Smultron. Of course, I did all my development on Windows in NotePad (for about 5 or 6 years). So, it didn’t take much to impress me.

    That said, TextMate is supposed to rock.

  2. rob    Jul 9, 09:10 AM    #

    Robert, hey you know Smultron (despite the odd name) actually sounds like a great editor, plus, you can’t beat the price. I’ll have to add it to the list of editors to evaluate when I get my Mac. Which, as I’ve been saying for months, should be “any day now”...

  3. Adam V    Jul 18, 04:50 PM    #

    TextMate is awesome:

    1. Its scriptable. I’ve got one project where I’m fixing some old and stinky markup into something nicer and I wrote a nifty little macro lets me select a chunk of text and have it converted into my markup of choice. You can write scripts in almost anything that runs from a terminal (perl, ruby, bash scripts).

    2. The JavaScript Tools bundle lets me run Crockford’s JSLint every time I save. Keeps my code clean. Plus it adds various JS compression techniques.

    3. No IntelliSense or the equivalent but you can do some other equally useful (just different) things. Like wrap a selection of text in a P that you can then edit (change to a dd, say) and have both open and close tags updated correctly.

    4. support for more languages than you could want (from WIKI & Markdown to C and PHP; from Make files to subversion). You can add your own if you like too.

  4. versicherungen vergleichen    Feb 6, 08:24 AM    #

    i use dreamwever, it fits my requirements very well. honestly i haven’t heard about the ones you mention above, so i will give them a try.

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