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.
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.
- Free - Download now
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.
- Free - Download now
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.
- Free Download now
Here are three exceptional text editors that will cost you a little bit, but provide absolutely amazing capabilities depending on your needs.
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.
- $49.99 - Download now
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.
- $74.99 - Download now
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.
- $70 - Download now
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.
Master your iPhone in minutes
iMore offers spot-on advice and guidance from our team of experts, with decades of Apple device experience to lean on. Learn more with iMore!
"It was a relief to us that the reaction to both of those was so disappointing" — LumaFusion on Apple Vision Pro, its history, and serious rival struggles
This simple iPhone weather app is a must-have for travellers
Future Apple Pencil could work with Vision Pro thanks to modular 'sleeve'