Which Should I Use: A Text Editor or IDE?

A quick look at the similarities and differences

woman using laptop

For all the coders out there, having a text editor or integrated development environment (IDE) is non-negotiable.

But you really only need one or the other, not both. So whether you are just getting started with coding or are looking to switch up your system, it is worth getting familiar with the differences.

Text Editors

A text editor is inarguably the simplest way to write code. It is a program that strips all formatting down to the basics so that code can function properly when moved to the web.

It is important to note that text editors do not include word processors. Writing code in a program like Word or Pages could cause problems for you down the road, since fonts and formatting can impair code functionality. Code should be written in plain text, which is exactly what a text editor program offers.

Simplicity is one of the biggest perks of text editors. They are lightweight, fast, affordable, and easy to use. They do exactly what they are meant for, without any bells and whistles to add confusion.

To sweeten the deal even more, many text editors out there are actually free. Notepad++ is a popular option for Windows users, while TextWrangler is for Macs only.

If you’re willing to pay for some extra features and sophistication, Sublime Text is available for $70 and functions across operating systems (Mac, Windows, and Linux).

IDEs

An “integrated development environment” also allows you to construct plain-text code, but it comes packaged with numerous other programs and functions as well.

This has its perks (since it allows you to do more than you could with a simple text editor), but IDEs also take up more space and are not as intuitive, especially for first-time coders.

Typically, an IDE will include the following:

  • A text editor

  • A compiler (which translates a programming language into output code)

  • A debugger

  • A GUI (graphical user interface) builder

If these are functions you would like to have, and foresee yourself legitimately using, an IDE is probably the right direction for you. An IDE will save you the time of switching between different applications and keep you focused while programming.

Like with text editors, there are quite a few free IDEs out there. Aptana Studios is one of the more popular free IDEs and is functional for Windows, Mac, and Linux, as is NetBeans. Microsoft’s free cross-platform Visual Studio is uber-professional, supports all programming languages, and is ideal for developing Windows apps. (And hey, since they’re all free, there is nothing to say you can’t download them all and experiment to find out which one you like best!)

Conclusion

Whether you opt for a text editor or IDE really depends on your coding style. If you like fast and simple, text editors will serve you well. However, if you’d prefer a full-featured program at your fingertips, IDEs offer things that simple text editors do not. Of course, because of all the additional features, IDEs typically cost more than text editors. 

Ultimately, it comes down to whatever process makes you feel more productive and efficient.

So take both for a test run! There is no wrong choice.