Oh, Sublime Text, how do I love thee?

Let me count the ways…

Okay, so I never dreamed I’d ever spend $59 on a text editor. I mean, there are perfectly good ones out there that cost absolutely nothing. Some of them are so feature-rich they’re almost operating systems unto themselves. Others are smaller, more nimble, and less reliant on arcane text commands from the days of disco and BBSes.

I’ve spent the past six years or so making daily use of those smaller, less intimidating editors. See, while we’ve got a pretty excellent content management system here at TR, the gang and I do most of our writing in plain text in our editors of choice. We can insert custom tags and images at our leisure, and we’re not at the mercy of Microsoft Word’s godawful rich text to HTML conversion. Besides that, I double as TR’s resident web designer and CSS monkey, which involves long hours of code editing.

I started out with Scite, which served me well for… oh, probably four of those six years. Scite happily supports macros and other niceties, and it’s got a pretty barebones user interface. The default syntax highlighting isn’t too great, though, and I ran into limitations with the built-in regular expression support. Eventually, I felt a little constrained. I felt like I ought to find a more capable editor and stretch my wings a little.

So I tried a whole smorgasbord of editors. I tried Crimson Editor, E Text Editor, EditPlus, EmEditor, Notepad2, TextPad, UltraEdit, and many others I’ve now forgotten about. But none of them really thrilled me. In the end, I settled on Notepad++, which seemed to have the least obnoxious interface and a pretty good set of features. Macro support wasn’t great, but I got by. The regular expression implementation was limited, but I found ways around that. Syntax highlighting was ugly, and the the program seemed to forget all my customizations every so often, but I soldiered on.

Meanwhile, on my MacBook, I found what seemed like the holy grail: TextMate. It did everything I wanted just the way I wanted, and it felt a million times more polished than Notepad++. Unfortunately, there was no Windows version. (E Text Editor sort of counts as a Windows port, but last I checked, it wasn’t feature complete.)

Dispirited, I continued my search on the Windows side. Every few months, I downloaded a couple of new editors, tried them for a while, and then discarded them.

And then I found Sublime Text. Well, I’d already found it before, but in an earlier beta form that didn’t do everything I needed. When I revisited the app and grabbed the new 2.0 release, I was almost immediately taken with it. Here’s why:

  • It’s beautiful. Style doesn’t count for much in the nitty-gritty world of text editing, but if you’re going to stare at a piece of software all day, an elegant user interface is definitely a plus. Sublime Text looks downright sexy compared to the competition. There are plenty of stylish themes (both built-in and third-party) to choose from, as well.

  • It has awesome automation features. I only handle HTML and CSS with any regularity, but Sublime Text has keyboard shortcuts that speed up certain operations considerably. Instead of manually typing
    <a href="http://some.website.com">some website</a>

    for hyperlinks, for instance, I simply press A, hit TAB, paste the URL, hit TAB again, enter the hyperlink text, and hit TAB again to move the cursor after the tag. Done. When writing, say, ordered lists, I can automatically close tags by hitting ALT+. or wrap selections inside new tags by hitting ALT+SHIFT+W. I already instinctively try to use those shortcuts when inputting HTML outside Sublime.

  • It has a “distraction-free” mode. Press SHIFT+F11, and the program goes full-screen, the window decorations disappear, and your text or code turns into a single, narrow column in the middle of the screen. (You can adjust the width of the column in the settings.) That’s a godsend if, like me, you find that flashing IM windows and other background UI animations can curb a good writing or coding streak.

  • It supports multiple selections. By this, I mean it lets you select multiple, non-contiguous strings of text simultaneously. The main page of the Sublime Text website has some animated examples, but it’s just as convenient as it sounds. The best part is that there are keyboard shortcuts to speed up the process. For example, you can add the next instance of the currently selected string to the selection by hitting CTRL+D, or you can select all instances of it by hitting ALT+F3. You can even hit CTRL+SHIFT+L to split a multi-line selection so that each line becomes a discrete selection. It’s also possible to have the cursor in multiple places at once without anything being selected—so you can, for example, insert multiple instances of the same HTML tag in one go.
  • It has an apt-get-like package management system for plug-ins. No, seriously. You start by installing Package Control, which is done by entering a snippet of code in the editor’s console (accessible via CTRL+`). Then, you can look up and install virtually any plug-in right there in the editor by hitting CTRL+SHIFT+P, which brings up Sublime’s command palette, and typing “install package.” That command will refresh the Package Control repository and show you a list of available plug-ins. To install one, simply select it and press enter. If you’d like to get rid of an installed plug-in, just bring up the command palette again and enter “remove package.” You’ll see a list of all-your plug-ins, and you can remove one by selecting it and hitting enter.

  • It has spell-checking built in. That’s not particularly remarkable, but it’s handy for someone like myself, who uses his text editor for both prose and code.
  • It has really good plug-ins. I’ve only got a couple of those installed right now (in addition to Package Control, of course), but they save me a ton of time. One of them allows me to select a bunch of images in a directory and automatically generate HTML image codes, complete with size attributes. The other provides a scripting system to automate search-and-replace operations that involve regular expressions. I’ve got that one set up so hitting ALT+SHIFT+1 automatically trims the domain name out of internal TR hyperlinks and appends our affiliate codes to Newegg and Amazon links. The macro code looks like so:
        "amazon": {
            "find": "\"http://www.amazon.com/(((?!thetecrep08-20).)+?)\"",
            "replace": "\"http://www.amazon.com/\\1?ie=UTF8&tag=thetecrep08-20\"",
            "case": false
        },
        "newegg": {
            "find": "\"http://www.newegg.com/([^\"]+?)\"",
            "replace": "\"http://www.kqzyfj.com/click-1800524-10487648?url=http://
    www.newegg.com/\\1\"",
            "case": false
        },
        "techreport": {
            "find": "\"https://techreport.com/([^\"]+?)\"",
            "replace": "\"/\\1\"",
            "case": false
        }
  • It has pretty solid regular expression support. See above. Not all text editors that claim to support regular expressions do so properly. The regular expression for the Amazon affiliate code, for example, just doesn’t seem to work in Scite. Some other editors I’ve tried also have spotty regexp support.
  • It’s totally cross-platform. I don’t have to use one editor on my Mac and one editor on my PC; I can install the same one on both, and I can carry over my plug-ins, settings, macros, and so on. That’s supremely convenient. There’s a Linux version, too, in case I ever need to use that—and since the $59 license covers all platforms, I wouldn’t need to pay another dime.

  • It’s extremely customizable. You don’t have to rely on plug-ins for customizations. Though Sublime Text lacks a graphical settings control panel, it has fairly well documented plain-text config files defining virtually any conceivable behavior, from the scrolling speed to the text encoding to the auto-complete delay. The default config file is literally over 300 lines long, with detailed comments explaining each individual setting.

There are probably other cool features I forgot to mention, but those are the ones that swayed me. They’re the reason I paid $59 for Sublime Text. And they’re the reason I don’t regret my purchase.

I know some of you are going to scoff at this post. Some of you will gloat that your IDE of choice—Visual Studio or otherwise—does much more to save you time and is much better suited to sophisticated coding projects. You’ll probably point out that some of the aforementioned automation features are really nothing new.

And of course, the hardcore geeks among you will feel compelled to toss in a recommendation for vim or Emacs.

I’m not gonna argue. The thing is, though, I don’t want an IDE, and I’m not comfortable with old-school, command-based editors. I just want a modern, graphical editor that lets me edit prose, HTML, and CSS—and Sublime Text is head and shoulders above every other solution I’ve tried to date. The fact that it works on both my Mac and my PC is a big deal, too, because it means I don’t have to remember different sets of behaviors for each platform.

In short, I think I’ve found my text editing nirvana. Maybe you’ll find yours elsewhere, but I suggest at least giving Sublime Text a try. You can grab it here. The free trial never expires; it just nags you at regular intervals until you either pay up or move on. I say it’s worth a shot.

Comments closed
    • aim18
    • 7 years ago
    • DanIonic
    • 7 years ago

    After finding with Dreamweaver I was only using the text editor and FTP functions 95% of the time, i downgraded to Notepad++ a year ago.

    After having a good play around with the (limitless!) demo of sublime text 2, I must say im definately thinking of purchasing it.
    It looks great, runs awesome, and has development functionality pouring out of it (tag auto closing and multiple selections save me considerable amounts of time!)

    I actually wrote a post about sublime text and other ‘cheap’ or free design/development tools, aimed at startout web designers who might find the adobe package a little expensive. Perhaps you’d liek to take a read?

    [url<]http://www.ionicmedia.co.uk/blog/web-design-on-a-budget[/url<]

    • Ratchet
    • 7 years ago

    Wow, very nice. I had no idea this existed. For added benefit, try Source Code Pro, the new Adobe font designed specifically with coders in mind.
    [url<]http://blogs.adobe.com/typblography/2012/09/source-code-pro.html[/url<]

    • Tamale
    • 7 years ago

    Interesting to read through the post and comments – I almost exclusively use Sublime Text, geany, and VIM myself as well… also because of the cross-platform conveniences. I actually use ubuntu about 50% of the time, windows 20% of the time, and OSX about 30% of the time if you look at where I spend my time working and playing, so something working well on all three major operating systems is a huge deal for me.

    • GatoRat
    • 7 years ago

    Don’t see the big deal. I just uninstalled it.

    • Horshu
    • 7 years ago

    Anyone else use Visual Studio as their text editor? It may seem like overkill, but a) I didn’t pay for it, and b) I always have it open.

      • just brew it!
      • 7 years ago

      I used to do that back when Windows was my primary OS.

    • Deanjo
    • 7 years ago

    Meh. Typing it out on an IBM Selectric and scanning it in with OCR is the only way to go. 😛

    • xeridea
    • 7 years ago

    No mention of Netbeans? I use it for web development, the PHP version, though it does a lot of other languages. Works great for HTML, CSS, JS, PHP, and SQL, and IDE features. It may be useful for some advance text features, I haven’t really explored any of these in other editors.

    Having full IDE for my web development is invaluable, project management, and coding features, such as function completion, go to definition, project wide find/replace to name a few.

    I haven’t learned Regex, so can’t comment on the support of it. I am not sure what the hype is for general use, unless you take the time to become super fluent, I feel in many cases the required knowledge and brainpower isn’t worth the effort, because it is extremely easy to mess up.

      • DrCR
      • 7 years ago

      Netbeans. I tried that. Once, for one project. Glad it works for you though.

    • oldog
    • 7 years ago

    Disclaimer: I have never done any text editing in my life; but why, oh why must all software be free to be “good”. Cyril obviously uses text editors a lot! I say $60 is cheap for an oft used well designed tool.

    I would certainly pay that and more for a good hand drill which largely sits in the garage. Isn’t well designed work software worth at least that?

      • Zoomer
      • 7 years ago

      It has to be compared with the alternatives. Good free editors exist, and thus, this is compared against it. Is your good hand drill worth $60 more if you already have another that just lacks a few features and isn’t as snazzy?

        • oldog
        • 7 years ago

        I up voted you because you are of course correct.

        I was speaking to the larger issue of devaluing intellectual innovation over hardware innovation.

    • Duck
    • 7 years ago

    I use [url=http://xhmikosr.github.com/notepad2-mod/<]notepad2-mod[/url<]. It's probably too basic for some. But it's pretty good though, and does syntax highlighting for autohotkey scripts which is what led to me to find it in the first place.

    • Star Brood
    • 7 years ago

    jEdit has the most features for me. The only thing I missed about notepad ++ was smart highlighting, but such is the beauty in using both programs at once.

    • hoboGeek
    • 7 years ago

    Yes, I have to admit Sublime Text looks good.
    But have you tried Bluefish?
    It has a lot of features, it’s cross-platform, accepts skins, it’s based on GTK+ so it’s also very pretty.
    Plus, it’s open source.. Can’t beat that!

      • moog
      • 7 years ago

      Why do you care if it’s open source? Are you changing the source code?

        • just brew it!
        • 7 years ago

        Well, I can’t speak for hoboGeek, as I have no idea whether he cares about mucking around with the source code or if its a purely ideological thing. But as another Bluefish user, I will say that yes, I HAVE modified the source code a couple of times, to fix annoying little bugs (incompatibilities with newer distros) that the original developers hadn’t addressed yet. It’s not the sort of thing I do on a frequent basis, but it is nice to know I have the option to fix my tools myself if the need arises.

        • Flatland_Spider
        • 7 years ago

        Open Source software is much more future proof then closed source software. If company X sponsoring EditorX goes out of business, the source is still available, and it can be fixed and compiled to run on newer operating systems. This is especially important if EditorX creates it’s own proprietary data format.

          • Scrotos
          • 7 years ago

          That’s good in theory and I hear it bandied about quite often, but opensores is a landscape full of abandoned projects. Yes, there are successful and maintained ones, but there are also lots of interesting ones that never got enough interest for someone to maintain. There may be a bunch of people commenting, “please update this!” with the source available but it means nothing unless someone with the right skills takes up that mantle.

          For every jbi who can hack at the code, there’s tens of thousands who can’t. And does jbi commit stuff upstream or do his fixes just go away, used only by him and not helping anyone else out? Does the original author even care if he tries to commit fixes? Not picking on him specifically, just sayin’.

          Even if you had the source to something abandoned, like DesqView/X, stuff of that era would all be in ASM anyway. How many programmers want to try to translate that to a modern language to run on modern hardware? You need only look at something like AmigaOS and that mess.

          Yeah, it’s better than nothing but it’s no panacea. I don’t think moog should be downvoted for asking such a question. It’s relevant and should be an obvious question to anyone who’s been involved in trying to get source freed up on old projects in the vain hope that it would allow said project to live on.

      • Duck
      • 7 years ago

      Can’t even download the program binaries (usually in a zip/7z format) for Windows to try it out. Only an installer is available. I hate that.

        • just brew it!
        • 7 years ago

        I’m not sure why you’ve got such a strong averse reaction to installers. Installers became “the Windows way” because for years Windows didn’t have sane DLL dependency management built into the OS, and having an installer was the lesser of two evils.

        Also bear in mind that Bluefish is natively a *NIX app, so the Windows port may have some rough edges (including the installer)…

        • Flatland_Spider
        • 7 years ago

        You can unpack .exe and .msi files.
        [url<]http://www.askvg.com/add-context-menu-option-to-extract-unpack-files-from-msi-microsoft-installer-package/[/url<] [url<]http://legroom.net/software/uniextract[/url<]

    • eoi
    • 7 years ago

    Unfortunately it does seem to lack Asian language support, so for example the file of Yui lyrics that I can edit with Notepad++ using Shift-JIS is unreadable in Sublime Text. I’m also studying Korean, not supported, and occasionally also need Chinese encoding, not supported. Or maybe I just missed it — I only played around with it for a few minutes. Nice editor, but seems unusable if you need Asian languages.

    • holophrastic
    • 7 years ago

    I think you’ve followed your nose to find a smell. Most of the editors you tried and dismissed can do all of the same things if you take the time to tailor them.

    For example, UltraEdit will let you clean up the interface, add all of those shortcuts, also has the whole tab complete thing for hrefs and such (called smart templates), full macros, full javascript scripting support, multiple files, tabbed paned, and windowed all combined.

    The point is that you would have needed to spend about five hours to adjust and tailor UE to get it the way you want. Oh, by the way, you can save all of that into what it calls environments so you can swap your world appropriately.

    So like I said, I think you kept searching until the default configuration suited you. But you could have easily configured most editors to suit your needs.

      • Ringofett
      • 7 years ago

      I don’t know what he does for a day job, or if TR is his full time source of income, but lets use your 5 hour figure to make those other programs do what Sublime did out of the box.

      $60 he paid / 5 hours = $10 per hour effort, as his opportunity cost.

      Almost every white-collar professional values their labor at significantly more then $10/hr, even at the entry level when one includes benefits. Therefore, Sublime paid for itself in his case immediately upon installation.

      Then there’s the intangible value of just not having to do any of that, or worry about it, and just plain liking somethings style. That’s even more in its favor — in his case.

      The key being, he’s talking about HIS case, where HE saw value personally. And he points this out. Sour grapes somehow he didnt personally dig your preferred solution? 😛 But again, he points out its purely his own situation he’s commenting on and sharing, several times.

      • Deanjo
      • 7 years ago

      Ya, I personally love UE (especially being portable and crossplatform) as well but all in all it just comes down to personal taste.

    • StashTheVampede
    • 7 years ago

    Went through roughly the same means to find Sublime Text myself and just found another friend that is using it. When I need cli, it’s quick and dirty to use vi. 99.9% of the time, I’m in front of some form of GUI on my local box and getting a single editor (isn’t vi/vim) that works on the three platforms I’m using is a big help!

    • jaymuraleedharan
    • 7 years ago

    I’m fan of this Sublime too. But you missed to mention a big plus which is the reason I use it – you can tile and work on 2 to 4 windows (files) at the same time. When I was searching for a text editor more than a year back, no other tool had this capability.

      • Goty
      • 7 years ago

      Didn’t look too hard, eh?

        • jaymuraleedharan
        • 7 years ago

        enlighten me please

          • Geistbar
          • 7 years ago

          [url=http://notepad-plus-plus.org/<]Notepad++[/url<] lets you open multiple files simultaneously in tabs, similar to web browsers.

            • zgirl
            • 7 years ago

            I think his point here was that he wants a text editor that allows for the viewing of files side by side. A true multi-document interface, something that sadly seems to be disappearing from applications these days.

          • Goty
          • 7 years ago

          [url<]http://www.techfuels.com/windows-7-2000-nt/17241-split-windows-vim.html[/url<] You can split windows as many times as you like. I often work in two collumns, one column displaying a single window and the other displaying three separate windows.

    • dashbarron
    • 7 years ago

    But Word adds all that free code for you.

      • RenatoPassos
      • 7 years ago

      Am I detecting sarcasm here? 😀

    • dmjifn
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<]The thing is, though, I don't want an IDE, and I'm not comfortable with old-school, command-based editors. I just want a modern, graphical editor that lets me edit prose, HTML, and CSS[/quote<] ...and perl, C#, javascript, ruby, batch files, SQL, etc. I'm with you on this. I used to use visual studio 2003 for [i<]perl[/i<] development - without any syntax highlighting - just for the awesome environment. To easily column select, bookmark, do simple transforms, etc. from the keyboard and with minimal keystrokes. I don't care a lot about an [i<]Integrated[/i<] Development Environment - just a fancy text editor and package/project explorer. In fact, where I am required to use some "assistance plugins" like resharper, its attempts to actively "help" (read: hijack my frickin' cursor in the middle of flow so it can think about something for 5 seconds then barf on my screen) causes me to [i<]rage[/i<]. I use notepad++ outside .NET work. It's good but not great. I think I'll try Sublime.

    • liquidsquid
    • 7 years ago

    Anybody use it for embedded C/C++ projects? Been using Notepad++ and Eclipse, but it would be nice to get some cross-platform goodness.

    • hans
    • 7 years ago

    Notepad++ seems to do column-based selections better. Aside from that, it’s Sublime all the way.

    If you like the color scheme and want to apply it to other apps, check out Solarized:
    [url<]http://ethanschoonover.com/solarized[/url<]

    • nagashi
    • 7 years ago

    Sublime is *definitely* the best editor to appear in a long, long time, and it’s become my go to editor whenever I’m on OSX (about 10% of the time). Geany is still my favorite though. Only one feature is really keeping me on geany: the inbuilt webkit browser. My programming setup is dual screen layout. To the left is a dell 1600×1200 monitor turned vertically, and the main screen is a 1280×800 laptop (16:10 ftw ,wish I had more pixels though D:). On the vertical monitor is the webkit browser with the inspector tool open, which means there’s effectively a 1200×800 browser on top (pretty close to the most common resolution of our clients), and a 1200×800 space for the inspector (basically the minimum the inspector tool needs to be usable). The main screen just contains geany + vertical file list. The nice thing about using the inbuilt browser is that it automatically reloads whenever you save your file, and you can set it to autosave. It seems like such a little timesaver, but it seems to make a big difference to me, not having to constantly alt-tab over to the browser to reload.

    Screenshot here: [url<]http://www.zimagez.com/zimage/screenshot-09212012-081646am.php[/url<] . Color theme is a modified Solarized Dark (I don't like the background color), font is a very slightly modified ubuntu mono (I like slashed 0's and consolas' $). Unquestionably though, if I weren't using the webkit plugin in geany, I'd be using sublime all the way 😀

      • Flatland_Spider
      • 7 years ago

      Geany is by far my favorite text editor. It’s very lean with just the right amount of features, but it can be very feature rich thanks to the plugins. I’ve tried other IDEs, but Geany just lets me do what I want.

      Too bad Geany doesn’t work that well on Windows.

        • nagashi
        • 7 years ago

        I used it on windows once about 5 years ago. What’s missing from the windows version?

          • Flatland_Spider
          • 7 years ago

          Stability and smoothness.

          Geany is an *ix first project, and the Windows port is very much a second tier project that happens after the fact. It just feels clunky, and it would crash when I opened some files. They were pretty extreme files, but Geany on Fedora 16 handled them just fine.

          Consequently, I use PSPad on Windows.

      • Master Kenobi
      • 7 years ago

      I dunno, Primalscript has been the defacto standard for many a coder. That thing rivals Visual Studio and Eclipse as an IDE though. So much power.

    • Jafo
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<](in addition to Package Cotnrol, of course)[/quote<] It says Cotton Roll. Cotton. Roll. So much for spell check. 🙂

    • chuckula
    • 7 years ago

    i
    VIM
    <ESC>:wq

      • LocalCitizen
      • 7 years ago

      <ESC>ZZ

      • DragonDaddyBear
      • 7 years ago

      Being a Unix/Linux guy, I bounce around between distros/flavors and vi/vim is always there. I’ve never found any reason to learn anything else. Though, I did use gedit when I was taking a python and HTML class.

        • just brew it!
        • 7 years ago

        Yeah, I was a vi guy going way back. It’s a useful thing to know how to use, since it is always present on pretty much any flavor of UNIX/Linux. I still use it on a frequent basis for quick edits of system config files and such, especially when logged in to other machines remotely (much more efficient use of bandwidth than a remote desktop or X forwarding to run a GUI-based editor).

        For day-to-day code editing I’ve been using Bluefish for the past couple of years. It’s not the best, or the most polished, but it’s available in the major Linux distros’ repositories, gets the job done, and doesn’t get in my way.

        I’ve been meaning to learn emacs…

        Edit: And based on other comments in this thread, I just installed Geany… I’ll give it a whirl.

      • Goty
      • 7 years ago

      :%s/VIM/gVim/g

      <ESC>ZZ

      • WillBach
      • 7 years ago

      VIM for life! That said, my manager is letting me expense Sublime Text. So seductive…

      • Scrotos
      • 7 years ago

      pico = <3

        • DrCR
        • 7 years ago

        nano ftw.

        I messed with vim, but since I really only edit config files, I found I forgot what I had learned just ended back with nano.

    • thesmileman
    • 7 years ago

    jEdit is my homeboy!

    But actually I really like Sublime and have bought a copy for home use but still use jEdit at the office because free is hard to beat and it is cross platform and I have always really really liked it.

    I will agree I don’t think it is worth $59 to most people but I really like it.

    • Meadows
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<][i<]"Sublime Text looks downright sexy compared to the competition."[/i<][/quote<] I wonder if you wrote this blog with your pants on.

      • Meadows
      • 7 years ago

      Speaking of blogs and web development, TR doesn’t display editors’ blogs like it used to.

      Instead, we have this obnoxious facebook box at the bottom that does nothing useful for me, and it sometimes doesn’t even finish loading properly. (At least on Opera, I may sometimes get minutes of maintained continuous unsuccessful connections to [url<]http://www.facebook.com[/url<] until I stop the page.)

        • yogibbear
        • 7 years ago

        Speaking of pants… what are those?

          • bthylafh
          • 7 years ago

          The things that most people wear instead of a kilt.

      • DeadOfKnight
      • 7 years ago

      How do you know he owns pants? Maybe he only wears short-shorts.

        • demani
        • 7 years ago

        Or a kilt.

    • shank15217
    • 7 years ago

    ehh notepad++ is 90% of this at 0% of the cost

      • nico1982
      • 7 years ago

      Agreed, but unfortunately is not available on Mac. I ended up with Notepad++ on win and TextWrangler on osx.

      • Geistbar
      • 7 years ago

      More love for notepad++!

    • Unckmania
    • 7 years ago

    Another Sublime Text Believer here.

    I’m never going back… At least for a few years… I wonder how Text Mate 2 will try and counter this beauty.

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