For the vast majority of digital-age folks out there, a text editor is nothing more than a back-to-basics word processor for those who aren’t ready to pony up for a subscription. Or, they may see it as a sort of minimalistic typing interface, which is no doubt great for focused writers or bloggers. But if you’re a programmer or a developer, having featureful free text editors is a must-have in your toolset.
After all, code is difficult enough to understand on its own, so why complicate matters beyond what a blank canvas like these free text editors can give you. Just plain text is what you need, without any of the flashy formatting or furnishings to mess it all up. Whether it’s for complicated web development, or you’re just getting started with code, here are some of the best free text editors to help you out.
Why Use Free Text Editors When You Already Have Them Installed?
“Why shouldn’t I just use Windows’ Notepad or Mac’s TextEdit”, I hear you asking. As they’re already installed onto your system, you might simply gravitate to use them, instead. Nevertheless, there are a few key features that third-party applications might offer over a pre-installed solution. In more ways than one, they’re certainly more impactful and feature-packed than your out-of-the-box text editor.
A third-party text editor may be more performant or could enable you access to more tools that your free editor might not have. It may prove easier to use, or sport those creature comforts that can aid in further optimizing your workflow. Furthermore, we’ll have to consider how friendly a certain text editor may be with your code. You’d be surprised how barebones some text editors can be.
Here are several criteria that our guide on free text editors are based upon, and what you should be on the lookout for if usability and functionality concern you:
What Are The Key Criteria In Choosing The Best Free Text Editors?
- Ease Of Use – A good text editor should be pared back, and enable you to navigate around its settings or interface easily, or with some degree of familiarity without confusion.
- Learning Curve – Every text editor will have distinct interface and layout, which you’ll have to get used to at some point. So, may as well pick one that’s easiest to work and live with.
- User Experience – While a text editor should be as simplistic as possible, it should also offer you some customisability, such as font sizing, coloured text, page settings, and so on to fit your workflow.
- Find And Replace – If you’re writing long code, the simple ability to highlight a single word or a string of text within the whole page, and then readily replace it will prove quite useful.
- UTF-8 Encoding – Text editors should be able to handle UTF-8 encoding, and allow you to play around with the text without excess formatting, unlike a word processor.
- Syntax Highlights – This should make it much easier and more convenient for you to read any code, as well as highlight and pick-up any errors in the text for you.
- Plugin Support – For serious coders, they may want to enhance their text editor’s abilities with added features, which may necessitate easy pairing and support for external plugins or extensions.
- Domain Compatibility – Some text editors are locked into a particular coding ecosystem or language, which will be important for you to determine if it’s compatible with your domain.
- Performance – Regardless of whatever hardware you’re running on, a good text editor should be slick and speedy in day-to-day use or to boot up, even with incredibly long lines of code.
What Are Some Of The Best Free Text Editors Out There?
As they say, good things don’t come cheap. The same goes for most text editors, as your pickings for the more featureful and powerful of the bunch will cost you. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that you can’t find good (nay, great) selections among these free text editors. They’re priced at nil, yet offer a fantastic experience to bring you top-notch plain text editing, with none of the compromises.
Whether you’re using Windows, Mac, or Linux, here are some of the best free text editors that are all ready and waiting for your next stretch of code…
Compatible With: Windows
- Extensive syntax highlighting options (with plenty more highlighter extensions you can pick from)
- Supports most of the major languages, such as C++, Java, HTML, CSS, Python, PHP, XML, and more
- Compact file size and installer, at just 1.57MB in its latest v0.98.6 build
- Support for multiple native languages
- Has settings for setting up multiple workspaces
- In-depth help files and guide built-in
- Detailed file explorer, with favorites and sorting functions
- Able to sort text (i.e. alphabetical order)
- Bookmarking and commenting functionality
- Search and replace, either in a particular text or across all files
- Detailed export configurations to whichever format you want
- Fast and capable command line handling
If what you want is a lightweight text editor which nonetheless packs a punch, ConTEXT editor is one of the best ones that you can find. It’s downloadable as freeware and is natively written in Delphi. As for the rest, ConTEXT is incredibly powerful despite its diminutive size. Its most noteworthy features are a thorough syntax highlighting function, as well as easy text sorting and file management.
In addition, you can find ample help files to guide you along built into the editor, and you can readily fine-tune your workflow down to a T. Bountiful support for coding languages, on top of the ability to export and import configurations in any format is a massive boon. Then, there are all the neat touches that complete the experience, like bookmarking, leaving comments, or searching and replacing text.
Compatible With: Windows
- Compact program size, which is also compatible with ARM64
- Fast execution speeds, despite the minimal processing load and power draw
- Text auto-completion, both with wording as well as function
- Macro recording and playback for processes such as task automation
- A heavily customizable user interface, such as multi-view windows
- A simple tabbed interface allows for a familiar yet clutter-free workflow
- Supports numerous native languages
- RegEx-based search and replace
Should you want what Windows Notepad experience, but with more kit tacked on top of it, then download the aptly-named Notepad++. No doubt its best and most prized functionality is auto-completion, which is the coding version of auto-correct on your keyword, but better. It can predict what you’re going to write next, whether it’s with bare text or code functions, and complete it for you to save on time.
Moreover, Notepad++, despite its many can-do abilities, is rather light and fast. The latter is crucial, as it can execute code rapidly, while also not taking up too much of your CPU. Their user interface is brilliantly simple with its familiar tab layout, which you should be able to get used to right quick. On top of that, it’s compatible with a wide array of languages and has macro record and playback.
Compatible With: Linux (Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora), Windows, Mac
- Compatible with most programming languages
- Lightweight, with small file size and hardware requirements
- Fast boot-up and load times, even with low-end computers
- File explorer and document interface could readily load up 500+ text at a time without difficulty
- Search and replace that’s compatible with regular expressions or sub-pattern formats
- Enables you to work on multiple projects at a time, with automatic setting restoration for each one
- Customizable interface, including the ability for you to set macros and keyboard shortcuts
- Easy support for external extensions and plugins
- Built-in spell-checking that’s aware of code-specific wording
- Automatic saving and recovery in the event of a crash
- Supports numerous encoding formats
- Translated into several languages
Built for heavy-duty programming and web development, Bluefish is a strong contender as one of the best free text editors. Despite how small of a program it is, Bluefish is amazingly fast and is rather light on your hardware. It’s known to boot up quickly, or you could crack open over 500 documents at once without the editor breaking a sweat. In fact, it’s known to open more than 10,000 at a time.
Nevertheless, its feature-set goes beyond performance. There’s a reference browser and several help files built into the editor, so you’re able to learn more about code-specific syntaxes on the fly. You can pop-open several projects at once, with support for auto-saving and recovery in case something goes wrong. That’s not to mention its ability to be customized and tweaked to your heart’s content.
4. Visual Studio Code
Compatible With: Windows, Mac, Linux (Debian, Ubuntu, Red Hat, Fedora, SUSE)
- Wide-ranging compatibility for varying operating systems and hardware (including Apple Silicon)
- Completely open-source, and supports the most popular languages
- Extensive support for extensions and plugins through its marketplace
- Amazingly customizable with API access
- Tried and trusted to be built on a robust architecture
- In-depth syntax highlighting with search and replace
- Smart auto-completion for text, variables, functions, as well as different modules
- Easy in-app code debugging through its interactive console
- Git, SCM, and other commands built-in
- Ease of deployment on Microsoft Azure cloud computers and virtual machines
- Detailed file explorer and navigation tools
Developed by Microsoft themselves, it’s not a surprise that Visual Studio Code remains to be among the top free text editors today. Leveraging their expertise, you’d be right to expect (and get) quite a lot of intelligent functionality and processing. The foremost notable addition in Visual Studio Code’s most recent updates is the inclusion of IntelliSense auto-completion and syntax highlighting.
It’s code-aware, enabling you to breeze through your coding with smart suggestions and filling in not only text but also supports variables and functions. With this ease of use in mind, they’ve included a copious amount of creature comforts. For example, the ability to debug straight from the editor, or a vast marketplace for APIs and extensions, and supports working on multiple projects at a time.
5. Komodo Edit (Or Komodo IDE)
Compatible With: Windows, Mac, Linux
- Directly compatible with the Komodo IDE suite of development tools
- Native debugging tools within the editor
- Easy code refactoring
- Smart auto-completion for functions and text
- Code profiling and testing
- Fully open-source (the same goes for the more advanced Komodo IDE)
- Real-time collaboration tools and file sharing (Komodo IDE)
- Individual line previews for better visualization for HTML renders
- Multi-select and easy tracking of all changes made
- Ample customisability, such as personalized keyboard shortcuts
- Split window mode to work on multiple projects at a time
Another great little free text editor is Komodo Edit. It’s a brilliantly lightweight and simplistic editor that’s best suited for beginners or smaller coding work. Or, if you’re an advanced user or require a beefy editor that can support commercial web development, you can upgrade to Komodo IDE. In any case, both are free and fully open-source, not to mention packing plentiful features within them.
With either editor, their USP is code refactoring, which is a feature natively built into the core app, as well as debugging tools at your disposal. It also offers you auto-complete functions to get your code compiled together with ease. For the less experienced users out there, you’ll no doubt appreciate its ability to give you quick line previews and help you keep track of every single edit made to the code.
Compatible With: Windows, Mac, Linux
- Real-time collaboration tools and workspace sharing
- Allows you to directly code for GitHub with native Git support
- Open multiple projects within a single window with its file manager
- Smart code-aware auto-complete
- Multi-view split windows to work on numerous projects at once
- Search and replace text across one project or all at a time
- Full open-source integration with extension packages
- Myriad of customization themes to alter the UI
- Extensive personalization options
Atom is a fantastic pick as one of the best free text editors, owing to its versatility. As it’s built on top of the Electron framework, it’s a great choice for those who’d want to dabble around with code for developing cross-platform apps. It also enables you, as well as other users, to modify and tweak the user interface of capabilities of the Atom editor with ease, thanks to its open-source nature.
It’s a fairly simple and well-designed editor, which makes it approachable for less experienced users. Yet, Atom offers powerful features to make programming as effortless as possible. One example is its integration of real-time collaboration tools and workspace sharing, so you’re able to work with other developers over the web. Or, perhaps utilize its auto-completion tools, and syntax highlighting.
Compatible With: Windows, Mac, Linux
- Ported versions of the editor app exist on mobile platforms (Android and iOS)
- Lightweight text editor with low hardware requirements
- Neatly configurable user interface
- Wide-ranging support for plugins and extensions
- Compatible with hundreds of programming languages and text formats
- Painless integration with third-party tools that you might already be using
- Thorough search and replace functionality
- Macro recording and playback
They’re definitely one of the oldest of these free text editors, as VIM can trace its roots from back all the way in 1991. Its core user interface might appear fashionably old-school, too. Nevertheless, you can configure and tweak the GUI as much as you want. As it’s open-source, you could even create a bespoke user interface for it, as well. Although, it does have a steeper learning curve than most.
If you can get around that, then VIM could very well be one of the most powerful plain text editors on this list. Compatibility with third-party plugins and extensions is practically endless, as is its language support. Should you want to code on the go without a laptop, then VIM has been ported as a mobile app. You can find VIM functionality on Android or iOS, the latter pairing perfectly with an iPad.
Compatible With: Windows, Mac, Linux
- The inclusion of visualization tools, making it a great choice for web developers
- Open a window directly once selecting a line of code, instead of creating endless tabs
- Live preview to let you see code changes on the screen through your browser
- Native support for pre-processors
- Easy customisability thanks to its long list of extensions and APIs
- Neatly organized file management system
- Close-kit integration with other Adobe products, like Photoshop
Who knew that Adobe would be responsible for one of the best free text editors out right now? Their Brackets editor is geared towards web developers, and as such, it has the right functionality to help folks in web development to expedite their coding. For example, there are ample visualization and live preview screens that let you spot changes in real-time, as well as show off the code in action.
It has a chic user interface, paired with support for pre-processors to boost coding performance. It’s that attention to detail, such as Brackets’ inclusion of inline text editing, that makes that much easier to use. Oh, and let’s not forget to mention the benefits of it being closely tied with Adobe. It has some integration with other Adobe products, such as Photoshop, from which you could sync PSD files from.
Compatible With: Windows, Mac, Linux (Debian, Slackware)
- Native macro language (or more could be added through plugins)
- Sizeable compatibility and ecosystem of extensions
- Powerful syntax highlighting for more than 200 coding languages
- Vast support for major character encoding standards, such as UTF8 and Unicode
- The user interface is easily configurable
- Could readily be configured for any operating system or virtual machine
- Unlimited undo and redo functions
- Unlimited quantity of clipboards for copying and pasting
- An expansive set of keyboard shortcuts (which can be reprogrammed)
- Multiple windows can be opened at once, or split them into different panes
More specifically, jEdit is designed from the ground up to cater to programmers and is subsequently one of the most powerful free text editors there is. It’s compatible with many languages, upwards of 200, in fact. To add to that, you can also tack on additional functionality on top of the base editor. Its versatile build means that support for plugins and extensions has practically no limits.
The editor side of things is filled to the brim with nice-to-haves, such as being able to undo and redo any mistakes infinitely throughout a project. Or, how you can save an endless amount of text onto its clipboards. Another terrific advantage of jEdit is the fact that it’s fully open-source and built on Java. In other words, you can essentially install it seamlessly on any operating system.
Compatible With: Mac
- A paid version is available to access more features
- Add multiple insertion points to make numerous changes at once
- Detailed search and replace for one, or all of your projects altogether
- Different views that allow you to spot version changes in entire files or singular lines
- Built on UNIX, it can work with any coding language
- Integrate snippets for commonly used text or code
- Macro recording and playback
- Easily customizable for varying languages, workflows, UI changes, and more
- Scoped settings to distinguish between different languages or build systems in a project
Here’s one free text editor for all you Mac-native folks out there, and it’s undoubtedly one of the best, period. Although you could pay for a premium version, the free one is already more than capable for most people. TextMate has the ability to let you add numerous insertion points. Thus, enabling you to make several changes to your project at once. Then, we’ll have to consider its UNIX architecture.
If you wanted to, you could adapt TextMate to work with any coding language at all. You could easily find code within your projects with its thorough file searching tool. Or, take advantage of how it can offer you differing views to show updates within a single project or file. Meanwhile, scoped settings is a brilliant tool for those times when a single project might interchange languages or formatting.
Final Thoughts On The Best Free Text Editors
Well, there you have it… Some of the best free text editors that we’ve come across so far. Naturally, your own preferences may vary, as there’s a whole lot more than we’ve not mentioned. At the end of the day, it’s about picking the right one to suit your workflow, what programming language you plan on interacting with, or perhaps also gauge how easy it may be to extend its capabilities and tweak it.
Even the best free text editors could always do with some subtle refinements in the way of extensions or plugins. It’s just another way of making yourself feel more at home. Whether you’re a beginner at this whole programming thing. Or, maybe you’re already an experienced web developer or coder, a good text editor could make or break your big new project. So, remember to choose wisely.