The best free and paid text editors for the Mac

The best free and paid text editors for the Mac

The best free and paid text editor programs for Mac whether you're a web developer, programmer, technical writer, or anything in between!

Word processors like Microsoft Word and Apple's own Pages software are just dandy if you want to write a college paper or fax a cover sheet, but their focus is on page layout and text formatting. Text editors are an entirely different story. Text editors are much more helpful if you're editing code, creating web pages, doing text transformation or other things for which a word processor is just overkill. Here's a roundup of the best ones you can get for your Mac at the moment.

Also, if you're looking for editing software for the iPad, make sure to check out our Best writing apps for iPad roundup.

To start the list, here's a roundup of three free text editors that I think are worth your time. Each of them caters to a different audience: Brackets is great for the DIY crowd, while TextWrangler is a great multi-purpose general text editor. TextMate 2 has a lot of fans that prefer it to TextWrangler's big brother, BBEdit, for aesthetic and occasionally philosophical reasons.

Brackets

Brackets

Brackets is an open-source text editor aimed at web designers and developers, and it's actually maintained by Adobe, of all people. It's developed using HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and as the developers put it, "if you can code in Brackets, you can code on Brackets." And that's largely the idea: developers more than anyone have an idea of how they want to work, so why not provide them with a framework to do so?

The software features a quick inline editor so you can view your changes on the fly, thumbnail image previews, navigation and debugging tools, and more. It's an early release and very much a work in progress, but if you want to customize a text editor to do your bidding, Brackets is a good place to start.

TextMate 2

TextMate 2

TextMate won the hearts and minds of app and web developers for having feature like nested scopes, folding code sections, project management, regex-based search and replace and more. The app's developer, Allan Odgaard, had long promised a 2.0 release but never delivered, then late in 2011 he made available a public build.

Then in 2012 something amazing happened: Odgaard released TextMate 2 as open source. He said he had long wanted to, he said, but Apple's restrictions on how apps can work on the Mac App Store pushed him over the edge. So the Mac App Store's loss is your gain.

TextWrangler

TextWrangler

Bare Bones Software's BBEdit is the 800 pound gorilla of Mac text editors, and no wonder - it's been around forever, it seems. TextWrangler is BBEdit's "little brother," based around the same core text editing technology and designed for anyone that needs a text editing and transformation tool.

BBEdit offers much more extensive web authoring and software development tools, but that's not to say that TextWrangler skimps on features: you get grep-style search and replace, AppleScript support, authenticated saves, extensive FTP/SFTP support and much more.

Here are three exceptional text editors that will cost you a little bit, but provide absolutely amazing capabilities depending on your needs.

BBEdit 10

BBEdit

Bare Bones Software's business has been built on the enduring success of BBEdit - its flagship text editor has been around for 22 years and is still going strong. BBEdit was originally designed as a programmer's utility for writing code, but has been modified in the intervening years to become an excellent web page editing tool as well.

The software features syntax highlighting for dozens of different languages, it's scriptable and recordable using AppleScript, features Perl-compatible regex support, sports built-in debugging tools, FTP and SFTP support, supports version control using CVS, Perforce and Subversion and has hundreds of more features besides. It is, quite frankly, overkill for many users, but for those of us who need it, it's indispensible.

Coda 2

Coda 2

Most of the other text editors on this list are general purpose tools that can be used by someone developing an application or writing source just as much as someone working on a web site. Panic's Coda 2 is a horse of a different color: it's specifically designed to act as a text editor for web developers and designers.

Coda started out a simplified way to write web code and get it to where it needed to go - it combined editing, FTP client, a web preview engine and, if need be, command line terminal access. Panic's moved Coda way beyond that with the new release - the editor adds features like code folding, the UI has been reworked, source code can be managed with either Git or SVN, a new MySQL editor is available, and much more - more than 100 new features in all. Coda 2 has a gorgeous, easy to use interface that makes your web page writing and tuning a breeze. It also works marvelously with Panic's companion iPad app, cheekily named Diet Coda.

Sublime Text 2

Sublime Text 2

Sublime Text 2 is billed as "a sophisticated text editor for code, markup and prose," making it the only one on this list that recognizes plain old wordsmiths as worth of love from the text editing crowd too. It has an attractive user interface and neat features like the ability to make multiple selections and changes at the same time. I have to admit, when I began researching this topic, I'd never heard of Sublime Text 2, but after reading some forceful comments promoting it, I looked it up - it's pretty slick.

I especially like Sublime Text 2's "distraction free mode," a full screen mode that focuses on just your text on the screen and nothing else. Other cool features include split editing, a hideable command palette, and a very fair cross-platform per-user license that lets you pay for it once but use it on as many computers as you like, whether they be Mac, Windows or Linux. While you are required to pay for it, you can download and use it to test it out without penalty.

A new 3.0 version is currently in development, with boatloads more features.

This isn't meant to be a comprehensive list of text editors for the Mac, just a few of my favorites that I think are worth your attention. I imagine you have other ones that I may have missed, so please tell me about them in the comments.

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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Reader comments

The best free and paid text editors for the Mac

25 Comments

And nothing about Textastic (I know it's more of a programming editor, but so is Coda 2)?

The querulous tone of Xytal and Chris BSomething's posts makes me think that they may have missed the final paragraph of the article.

I had to mention espresso, it's like Coda 2 but in my option better. I do have both, I got coda first and then I got Espresso, later I upgraded and got coda 2 to try it out. They are both great text editors but when I use Espresso, it just feels like a smoother experience.

http://macrabbit.com/espresso/ "not sure this link will work when I post it, but if it does it's to the expresso page so you can look for yourself"

Thanks - I haven't used Espresso but I've heard great things about it from other folks who recommend it. Definitely worth checking out for a future roundup!

I split my time between Coda and BBEdit. Coda is great for web sites and quick web page edits. BBEdit is also good for web site authoring, but also for longer writing and data manipulation.

Komodo Edit is fantastic - and I use it all day. It's also cross-platform. It's built on Firefox, so there are a few addons available, built in support for dozens of languages and has support for things like Emmet, regex find and replace, built in FTP (though I don't use that), snippets, macros, custom colour schemes and more.

Best editor I've ever used, and it's free.

I switched to Sublime 2 from Eclipse some time ago and absolutely love it. Written by coders for coders, the features of this editor save me so much time for my everyday development.

I just hope the sort out the migration to Sublime 3 as I can't just transfer my army of settings and plugins!

Sublime Text has gained a ton of popularity with developers thanks to its advanced text selection options and plugin architecture. There are Sublime Text packages for almost everything now.

Pardon me for not having a developer's point of view; I generate far more prose than code.

Whatever text editor is handy at the moment is probably what I'll use, which can end up being TextEdit, Bean, Word, TextWrangler, or WriteRoom. It was the latter that ended up serving my needs almost perfectly while on vacation early this year, as I realized I'd only have a little time while my wife was sleeping to finish her birthday poem. Good thing we had the iPad with us.

WriteRoom was clean, simple, and worked very well, indeed. Synched up with Dropbox and easily retrieved once we got back home so I could print out and finish the piece.