Text Editors

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What is a Text Editor?

A text editor is a software application that allows you to create and manipulate text files. They are an essential part of any digital project that involves working with plain text, markup, or programming languages.

Text editors differ from word processors (like Microsoft Word or Google Drive) because they are focused solely on content and work with plain text files. Plain text files do not contain any special formatting characters or spacing. They are used primarily for composing in programming and markup languages such as HTML, JavaScript, Python, Markdown, XML, etc.

Who would want to use it?

Anyone who wants to work with plain text must use a text editor. All operating systems come with plain text editor like Notepad for Windows and TextEdit for Mac, but there are more options depending on your needs. The variety of text editors available range from lightweight applications (like the programs that come with your computer) to the more robust Integrated Development Environment (IDEs) that streamline compiling and debugging, or finding errors.

For the purposes of demonstrating their differences, I’m going to call these lightweight options “Text Editors” and the more robust options “IDEs.”

A text editor is sufficient if you want to make quick changes in a text document, and don’t need any of the extra features of an IDE. It is also recommended for beginners, who might find the extra features of an IDE to be excessive or distracting. A text editor will work just fine for working with languages that don’t need compiling, like markup languages (HTML, XML, Markdown, CSS).

An IDE is more comprehensive and powerful. It has features that help web developers and programmers to work productively, like code completion, auto-indentation, and proper syntax highlighting. They generally have a project navigation and overviews, which is useful for working on large projects.

Below is a description of some effective programs for text editing.

How do I get access to it?

Atom is one of the more advanced text editors, and has many of the features of an IDE. It can support programming and markup languages, and comes highly customizable with themes and various plugins that can be installed for extended functionality. Atom works across platforms, and can be downloaded for free.

Visual Studio Code, or VSCode, is an IDE that works as a powerful dashboard for all stages of your project. It is highly customizable, which means you can configure keyboard shortcuts, themes, and extensions that add functionality and support for specific languages. VSCode also allows you to embed Git (version control) and access your command line without leaving the program. It works across platforms and is open source.

Where can I get more help with it?

Check out these articles to give you a more comprehensive sense of the potential editors available:

What are some projects built with it?

Most projects out there use a text editor at some point. Whether you are marking up transcriptions with XML tags or customizing animation for your website, you’ll likely be using a text editor.

Right now, VSCode is enjoying some popularity, and perhaps is involved in many DH projects. In 2019, it was ranked the most popular developer environment tool.