Right up front let me declare that I’ve probably used more text editors on my Mac than any other app. From Pico and vi, to BBEdit and Coda, from Emacs to TextMate, and everything else in between.
Text editors, the tools coders use to create code, are like religious beliefs. We know what we think we know and nothing else matters. If I had to choose a single Mac text editor as the best, most valuable, most flexible, this is it.
Editing Text Is Not Processing
If you think of words as text to be processed, you’re not using a text editor. For the most part, programmers use text editors, usually more than one, and each coder’s reasons will vary from another.
My criteria for Best Mac Text Editor is simple.
First, it has to be free. Second, it must focus on code functions, not word processing.
Third, it must be a popular Mac app that’s acceptable to long-time professionals, yet can easily be mastered by new programmers, yet contains most of the functions easily recognized as usable by most programmers.
This is the little Mac app that can and does.
Think Of It As BBEdit Lite
Arguably, the popular BBEdit is one of the Mac’s premier text editors. I’ve used BBEdit since the last century, despite romances with Coda, TextMate and a dozen other editor flings through the years.
TextWrangler is what I would call BBEdit Lite. It looks, feels, and functions somewhat like BBEdit, so it’s powerful and familiar. It’s also free.
Syntax coloring and function navigation for all the above, plus integration with OS X, Unix shell scripts, even Apple’s Xcode. If you code and you need a free editor, TextWrangler is a good choice. Ditto if you’re new to coding but insist on using a Mac.
No decent text editor is considered worthy unless there are plenty of text manipulation features, such as Find and Replace, pattern matching, multi-file search and replace.
TextWrangler has all those, though learning to use the functions takes effort. As it turns out, TextWrangler’s user manual has a few hundred pages. Imagine that. A free app with extensive documentation.
If you’re learning to manage remote servers, TextWrangler can do FTP and sFTP, and function as a Unix or Linux server admin tool. Otherwise, the text functions alone are worth vastly more than the price of entry.
You can grep, sort, find code differences, and transform text from other editors. Seemingly derived from the old school user interface of BBEdit, TextWrangler is not difficult to use. It’s just not easy to learn.
There is not a shortage of quality, powerful, flexible text editors for Mac users. At any one time I have half a dozen running on my Mac. If I have to recommend an editor for the budget minded, TextWrangler is tops on the list.