Using a professional code editor isn’t just for show – it is a necessity given the complexity of software development today. Gone are the days of writing your code in a Notepad file. To code efficiently, every programmer worth their salt needs to employ a set of developer tools to not only write their code in, but to optimize their coding experience and reduce errors as much as possible. One such tool a developer relies on is an integrated developer environment (IDE). Another option is a code editor.
Code editors allow coders to open multiple coding files and windows in conjunction with a built-in terminal environment. They help programmers shorten development time and code more efficiently, with features like syntax highlighting and code lookup.
In today’s article, we will discuss what a code editor is, the role it plays in the software development lifecycle (SDL), and how to choose a good code editor, regardless of the language you write your applications in. We will also discuss the difference between a code editor and an IDE.
What is a Code Editor?
Just as a rich text editor is a custom application for editing articles and books – with many advanced features custom-made for writing and editing, a code editor has many custom features especially designed to meet the needs of a software developer. At the same time, it’s lightweight and more practical than an integrated development environment (IDE), which has its own benefits and drawbacks, depending upon a programmer’s needs.
A code editor is a stand-alone application for creating, editing, and saving coding files. It is designed specifically for managing development projects and associated project folders in customized methods to facilitate the coding process and save a developer tons of time and effort. The code editor is the developer’s tool for creating more professional source code and software. It contains elements for differentiating and highlighting syntax, autofilling code, debugging, and more.
While code editors still instruct and save the text in a plain format exactly like basic text editors, they do have some features designed specifically to help programmers and the software development process, including:
- Auto-completing and code suggestions
- Code snippets
- Syntax highlighting
- Facilitate navigation of code files and resources
- Adding more functionality via extensions
What is the Difference Between a Code Editor and an IDE?
You will often hear the phrases “code editor” and “integrated development environment” – or IDE – used interchangeably. While that is fine when you are having a casual discussion, the truth of the matter is that there is quite the difference between the two developer tools.
We just learned what a code editor is: essentially, a code editor is a glorified text editor that has features and functions that help a developer create cleaner, more efficient code, An IDE, on the other hand, is a group of developer tools combined into one platform that help a coder do much more than simply write code. They have built-in debuggers, code analyzers, compilers, and a plethora of other features that help a developer navigate the entire software development lifecycle (SDL) – from coding to versioning and distributing the final product.
Because of these added features, IDEs are much more complicated (and often more pricey) than traditional code editors. So again, when making a choice between which route to take with regards to where you write your code, always keep the software project’s needs in mind.
Choosing the Best Code Editor
Selecting one or two of the best coding editors is sometimes considered a critical step in the life of a developer; since he or she may get used to using a particular coding environment and it can be hard to change to anything else. Others consider it not such a major decision and say to focus, instead, on memorizing and practicing code fundamentals, as your code is all that really matters. In truth, both matter, as a good code editor can only serve to enhance a programmer’s coding abilities.
With the above in mind, it’s worth researching, exploring, and testing some common choices, or even new, emerging coding software. This guide will focus on enlightening you with some great features to look for in a code editor and give you some advice on how to choose a code editor, rather than simply listing a number of choices. Remember, there is no one best choice for everyone; each software developer has their own unique needs and coding styles that will dictate what developer tools work best for them.
What Features Should You Look for in a Code Editor?
Below are some of the most important features of a good code editor a developer should look for when choosing their coding environment. They include:
- Main features: Syntax highlighting, auto indentation, auto-completion, brace matching, showing line numbers.
- User experience: Reduce difficulties in writing code and increase coding efficiency.
- Ease of learning: Depending upon your experience level, some code editors may be easier to learn than others, and therefore better for newer developers. Atom and Visual Studio are good for new coders for example. Advanced programmers might seek out a code editor such as Vim, which might have a steeper learning curve or less intuitive interface.
- Extensibility: ِSome code editors have the ability to add extensions for more functions and tools, such as VS Code, Sublime Text, and Atom.
- Speed: You need a fast editor that helps you code more efficiently. Some code editors perform better than others in the speed department, especially if your laptop or desktop hardware is not up to par.
- OS platform: You need to consider the availability of the code editor across multiple platforms and Operating Systems.
- Git support: Since Git is the standard version control system, you will want to ensure your code editor has Git support.
- Community support: You want an application with a supportive community. Having a place to go to ask questions, get technical support, and ask for feedback is crucial for a developer.
- Multiprogramming language support: Most developers will code in more than one language during their career and not just their primary programming language. Finding a code editor that supports multiple programming languages is always a good idea. Most modern code editors support the most common languages.
- Price: Some code editors are free while others are premium with more features. Choose based on your current needs, as well as, your future needs. A little investment upfront may be a wise decision.
- Keyboard shortcuts: Keyboard shortcuts help developers create functions faster without needing to reach for a mouse each time.
- Preview window: Look for a code editor with a “preview” mode or view that lets you see your code’s output.
- Multiview: Multiview lets developers view multiple files side by side for easier code comparison.
- Error and warning marks: Color-coded error and warning codes make find issues in code a lot easier.
- Other features: Such as undo and redo, backup saving, the multiverse, and more.
What are the Most Popular Code Editors?
While you can find many guide articles for the “best Code Editors”, they can often leave developers confused as to which they should. A better approach is to take note of the most common use for each code editor, its benefits, and their features when determining which coding environment to work with. As a caveat the “most common use” of a product usually does not necessarily reflect which code editor is, in fact, the best, but at least may reflect the easiest to learn or use, as they are popular for a reason.
At the end of the day, there really is no bad choice in the grand scheme of things. Learning multiple code editors and having experience with them is always a nice thing to add to your resume and personal developer tool kit. Most developers tend to use more than one code editor or development environment, switching between them as their needs dictate.
Below you will find a list of some of the most popular code editors developers use to create software in. Feel free to visit the linked product websites, read the features, and test a few out to get a feel for which code editing environment you like best. Scientifically, a person does not learn from mere reading, but rather learning is a constructive process that also includes experimentation, so always keep that in mind when trying to choose code editing software or code editing tools.
- Atom (cross-platform, great choice for Python as a beginner)
- Visual Studio Code (cross-platform)
- Emacs (cross-platform)
- Gedit (cross-platform)
- Notepad++ (Windows)
- Sublime Text
- TextMate (macOS)
- vi/Vim (cross-platform)
- Kite (Autocompletion based on machine learning)
Looking for more code editor and IDE suggestions? Check out our other articles on the best coding environments for developers: