5 Popular Text Editors for Linux

5 Popular Text Editors for Linux

Yes, all of you Microsoft and Mac users, text editors are still a big deal in Linux systems! You may think graphical text editors are where it’s at, but in a world that is largely command line driven, things are different.

When speed and power are the top priorities, you can already launch, write, and email from a Linux text editor before Microsoft Word or Outlook even boot up.

Plus, if you’re connecting to a server across a less than perfect network, a lean text editor that only needs to transmit the bare minimum of data could be the difference between quickly updating that remote system configuration file or fuming over how slow everything is.

1. Vi (and Vim): an old faithful that still has friends

Vi or its later generation enhanced version, Vim, has been part of Linux from the start. You can duck in and duck out in a second, which is great for rapid changes in text files, like your list of things to be done.

User-friendliness is not its strong point, however. Some users get along fine with Vi in small doses. Others, with Vi so deeply ingrained in their psyche, manage to design whole websites with it.

More recent Vim extensions offer extra functionality, including syntax highlighting and many new editing commands, as well as mouse support and graphical versions.

Vi (and Vim)

Source: farm4.staticflickr.com

Pros: Vi is always available, no matter what Linux distribution you have. It’s also brutally efficient.

Cons: You’re faced with possibly the ugliest user interface of any text editor. Commands are short but often non-intuitive.

2. gedit: no nonsense, does the job

With an emphasis is on simplicity, gedit is the default Linux text editor for the GNOME environment. This text editor also has search and replace functionality, undo and redo, multi-language spell-checking, and tools for editing programming code and working with markup (HTML for example), as well as other structured languages.

Additional features include automatically detecting and alerting you to the modification of an open file by another application.


Source: www.portableappc.com

Pros: It’s well-known, popular, efficient, and its limitations may be overcome with available plugins.

Cons: It’s best run on a system with GNOME. For KDE, consider Kate (below).

3. nano and pico: tiny twins for fast emailing

To help users speed their emails along with the pine email system, the pico text editor was developed. Talk about small – at the last count, pico had all of a dozen commands available, which it helpfully displays at the bottom of the text editing area.

The nano text editor carried over the small and beautiful design objectives to become an open-source version of pico and add a few more features like, search and replace and smooth scrolling. This text editor also allows you to use a mouse or other pointer devices to position the cursor or activate commands on the shortcuts bar at the bottom of the screen.

Both pico and nano will check with you before making an action definitive and irrevocable, like vaporizing a file.

nano and pico

Source: www.prodevtips.com

Pros: These are immediately available for emailing, with compact command sets you won’t get lost in.

Cons: There’s limited functionality and non-intuitive commands (like CTRL-O to save work?).

4. emacs: macro functionality

Want power? Try emacs. Shell access, practically unlimited open files and sub-windows, and a wicked way with scripts you can call up with keywords are defining features of emacs.

Different flavors of emacs exist to match the major programming languages for text highlighting of programming keywords as you’re coding.

In fact, when you have an emacs session open, you can write, code, email, or even play arcade games.

Also, emacs has its own on-board help system, which together with its extensive capabilities, including the user-defined creation of new commands, means you may never need to leave.


Source: upload.wikimedia.org

Pros: It’s powerful, customizable, and extensible, and it lets you express all of your creativity.

Cons: It relies on extensive use of the control key, leading to “emacs pinky” fatigue among heavy users.

5. Kate: sweet to get to know and work with

Getting to know Kate (short for KDE Advanced Text Editor) is simple. The learning curve is gentler than that of many other popular Linux text editors, yet the feature set is rich.

Kate also covers a span of text editor requirements from clean, basic text writing to an integrated development environment (IDE). Kate is a KDE application, which is good for KDE users but not so good for GNOME users.

On the other hand, Linux users who (against their will, of course) must use Windows or Mac OSX will be happy to know Kate will run under these operating systems as well.


Source: i1-linux.softpedia-static.com

Pros: Window/pane splitting available, as well as the possibility to customize Kate’s functionality for different projects.

Cons: Plugins may not be so easy to find. Kate runs best under KDE. For GNOME, consider gedit (above).

And all the others…

Unfortunately, picking five Linux text editors doesn’t allow us to do justice to others that are firm favorites with users too, like Geany, Joe, Sublime, and many more.

Like Linux distributions themselves, there is a wide range of text editors to choose from, so if the ones above don’t quite meet your requirements, there’s still a good chance somebody somewhere in the Linux world has what you need.

Photo Sources: lorenabathey.wordpress.com

Toby Sembower

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  • Ewing Caldwell

    I’ve recently been working with large text-only files with typical sizes of around 250KBmin – 1MB max. The Linux text editors I’ve tried so far are generally unable to cope. Now, these files are sections of a much larger file (think sections the size of War and Peace) but further sectioning is awkward from a continuity POV.

    1. Vim: starts losing chunks of text somewhere over 100KB. It’s very sly, you don’t notice them missing at first. Proof reading may pick it up and at first it looked like a bunch of typos. It’s only when the size of the file is over 500KB that these missing chunks become noticeable as whole paragraphs MIA. At around 750-800KB, it starts crashing.

    2. Kate: very flaky: it crashes regularly when a maximum line length is set. I can even force a crash but I haven’t nailed down the exact key sequences quite yet. It’s a mix of the cursor keys, delete key and text entry (space bar). It does have the advantage of exact file recovery but recovering the files every couple of minutes cuts heavily into productivity.

    I’ve found the max line length feature addictive. Without a max line length, it’s a lot more reliable. But then it seems to have Murphy’s Laws hard coded.
    With files over 500KB it randomly turns on text formatting. It’s favourite is C coding style with indentation, keyword highlighting etc which really f*x up the text I’m working on. Badly. Editing the meta-info file to keep these formats turned OFF and making that file read-only (so Kate couldn’t modify it) didn’t stop it. It was like a bull scenting the heifers—unstoppable. (Yet Kate is supposed to be a female name…)

    Nano and Pico: not tried. I like to TYPE, dammit, fast and I’ve never found that a strong point of that style of editor.

    Joe: not tried. I hit it nearly twenty years ago and bounced. I have no intention of trying it again.

    GEdit: fine on small files. I’ve not yet tried it on anything big. To be tested now Kate is annoying me.

    emacs: also on my list to try. I’ve used it a lot but not on anything the size of these files so I have no idea how it will perform, yet.

    Machine is relatively recent with 16GB of RAM, a Terrabyte of disk of which 64GB is set aside as a swap partition. The editors are those as supplied in Debian Stable (ha!) 7.8.0 and the system is overall relatively lightly loaded with no unnecessary processes (as far as Debian thinks— Nepomuk is to be KILLED with extreme prejudice… soon.).

    • leidner

      I recommend you try Emacs/XEmacs/Aquamacs. Emacsen are generally very reliable and perfectly capable of handling massive files. It’s also the most flexible editor, with macros, integrated ELisp programming language, integrated e-mailer, newsreader, games, FTP client, hex editor, AI dialog system… for almost everything there’s a package (even a Web browser). It can do weird stuff (like 2-dimensional cut+paste of rectangular regions) that first you think you will never need and once you’ve tried it you can’t live without any more (think: cutting columns in tab-separated files).
      I’ve used it to edit large text corpora, monographs, lexicons and source code since 1992.
      The downside is it takes some time to learn, but that’s an investment with a clear ROI. And you can start using just a sub-set of 5-10 commands. Emacs supports X11, but can also run in text mode.

      Other editors you could check out are:
      – Sublime (the only non-FOSS [=free/open source software] I run on the laptop that I’m writing this response on);
      – Atom (similar to Sublime, but but FOSS (and written in JavaScript; and
      – Tilde (text based, lets you have a mouse-enabled GUI in a terminal window if you occasionally need to work on machines without X11 installed.

      Sublime is fun and great for note-taking (it has an excellent distraction-free full-screen mode), whereas Emacs has the advantage that you won’t ever need another editor, it really more like a whole operating system.

  • Ewing Caldwell

    I’ve found the world’s simplest text editor: cat > filename
    or cat >> filename when adding to the previous file.
    or cat -n >> filename if line numbers are wanted.

    perhaps the most reliable editor so far. But it’s purely line oriented. so all bollixes are in the mind of the user :-).