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Tools of the Trade: Text Editors

In this segment of Tools of the Trade, we will discuss the work horse of the software professional, the text editor. Every operating system comes with one or more options for for editing plain text. Plain text is different than rich text in the sense that the plain text files store just the text information on disk and do not store extra information such as formatting.

As with many other tools used by software professionals, text editors often invoke strong feelings akin to religious debates regarding which editor is best. This article does not seek to promote one solution over another, but it does seek to point out what a full featured text editor can do for you.

The first and most important rule when it comes to text editors is to heed the advice of the programming classic The Pragmatic Programmer:

Use a Single Editor Well

Features that you will grow to cherish:

  • Syntax highlighting – Add variation to what you see on your screen
  • Color schemes – Reduce eyestrain by switching to a color scheme that eases eye strain
  • A Variety of Search and Replace Options – Spend some time reworking a legacy code base or absorbing a large code base
  • Display Line Numbers – Code is already hard enough to describe to others, line numbers are invaluable when discussing technical details with others
  • Show White Space and Non Printable Characters – You don’t recognize how wonderful this is until you have to debug a carriage return line feed issue.
  • Support for Multiple Character Encodings – One thing you find out real quick when working with plain text is it is not always so plain and different operating systems and languages can throw a wrench in your plans.

With any tool, whether it be physical or software, it is important to try a few offerings and see what fits your work style and budget best. Keep in mind that plain text is perhaps as old as computing and there are a dizzying array of options for text editing.

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Categories: Tools of the Trade
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