TextWrangler: The must-have free text editor for Mac!

Whether you're looking for a no-nonsense text input system or are looking for something to do transformations to big chunks of text-based data, a text editor fits the bill like nothing else. Bare Bones Software makes a terrific one called TextWrangler that ought to be a part of every discriminating Mac user's app arsenal. What's more, it's absolutely free.

Text editors serve important roles that word processors do not. While Pages, Microsoft Word and others may make your text look pretty and give you powerful layout tools besides, text editors specialize in actually doing things with text.

You can certainly create and edit readable documents with text editors, but that only scratches the surface. Text editors are indispensable tools for programmers who need to write source code and want to be able to highlight the code syntax to easily see what they're doing. System administrators depend on them to manage and edit system logs and configuration files and scripts. Anyone can use them to find and replace text, add editing and formatting, filter.

To that end, TextWrangler is chock full of useful features. It can read any file that contains plain text. It sports pattern-based search and replace — so you can look for a specific word, phrase or block of text, or you can use tokens and modifiers to find near matches to what you're looking for.

TextWrangler's search functionality is based on Perl Compatible Regular Expressions (PCRE), a common library for search functionality. So if you're familiar with the Unix grep function, you can create really complex search and replace patterns that can save you hours.

Beyond editing and manipulating strings of text, TextWrangler can manipulate entire files. You can merge the contents of a file into another one, for example. TextWrangler's support of system-level versioning makes it easy for you to track what you're doing, and it can auto-save files. It'll even save what you're doing if you quit the app or need to restart your Mac.

TextWrangler is built on the same underpinnings as Bare Bones' flagship software app, BBEdit. BBEdit costs money, though — it's available for $50 from the Mac App Store. The price tag gets you a whole ton of features you don't get with TextWrangler, especially if you're working with web documents — BBEdit has a complete set of HTML markup and editing tools, along with a clipping system, integrated support for version control systems like Perforce and Subversion, Automator workflows, the ability to read (and write) files stored in Zip archives, and much more.

The Bottom Line

If you're just getting started in Mac programming or Mac system administration and don't want to spend money on an industrial-strength text editor, TextWrangler is perfect for the job. Even if you're not a code monkey or an IT monkey, having a powerful text editor can save you a lot of time and work when it comes to searching and transforming text-based documents you might be working with.

If, for some reason, you're averse to downloading apps from the Mac App Store, TextWrangler is also available for download directly from Bare Bones' web site

Peter Cohen