Linux Text Editors Comparison

In Linux, the text editors play an important role in editing texts and files. Each text editor has its features, strengths, and functionalities. The article will give you a comparative overview of the Linux text editors and help you choose the most suitable editor for your purpose. Let’s dive into the article to compare different text editors available for Linux.

What is Text Editor in Linux?

Text editors are the applications to create, view, and edit text files. There are a variety of text editors in Linux that allow users to copy, paste, delete, replace, highlight, search text, and navigate files. Some of the most used text editors are Nano, Vim, Emacs, Atom, and VSCode. Let’s introduce some popular text editors with key features and reasons to avoid them.

Nano

Nano is a text editor for the Unix-like operating system. It provides essential text editing functions such as writing, deleting, copying, and pasting text. To ease common tasks, it has keyboard shortcuts.

Key Features of the Nano Text Editor

  1. User-friendly interface: Easy to use and navigate, no learning curve is needed.
  2. Simple navigation: Provides simple but effective navigation features.
  3. Basic Text editing functions: Provides text editing functions such as copy, paste, delete, search, and replace.

Reasons to Avoid Nano

  1. Limited Features: No exclusive features that allow you to view multiple files at once, windows splitting, and macros.
  2. Dependency on Terminal: As a terminal-based text editor, it may create difficulties for the user who prefers a graphical user interface.
  3. Customization Constraints: Limited customization options compared to others like Emacs, and Vim.

Vim

Vim, the short form of Vi improved, is a very flexible and strong text editor. Vim is an improved version of the Vi text editor. It is a free and open-source screen-based text editor. Vim is not only designed for the command line interface but also for the graphical user interface.

Key Features of the Vim Text Editor

  1. Modes: Provides multiple modes such as normal mode, command-line mode, insert mode, select mode, visual mode, and ex mode.
  2. Customization: Provides keyboard efficiency by customizing it according to the user’s preference.
  3. Unicode and Multi-Language Support: Supports multilingual text. The Unicode allows the user to manipulate text in different languages.
  4. Availability: Not only available on the Unix operating system but also on other operating systems like Windows, DOS, and BeOS.
  5. Syntax Highlighting: Support syntax highlighting which helps to increase readability and improve productivity.

Reasons to Avoid Vim

  1. Steep learning curve: The unique editing system and extensive customization of the keyboard can make the text editor challenging to beginners.
  2. Non-traditional interface: Different editing modes that are different from other text editors may make it difficult and less approachable for the user.

Emacs

Emacs is a highly customizable and versatile text editor that is used for more than just editing text. The ones who prefer the extensibility of features mainly use it. Emacs mainly provides integrated calendars, web browsers, client email, debuggers, etc.

Key Features of Emacs Text Editor

  1. Flexibility: Used in both GUI and terminal windows. It is also used as a client to connect with another machine or window.
  2. Portability: Because of the modular code, you can use or move it on different systems.
  3. User-Friendly with system resources: As it is lightweight and has straightforward backend code, it uses low system resources compared to other text editors.
  4. Open-source: Build or modify the source code.
  5. Multiple Modes: Supports multiple modes like Deft mode for taking notes, Muse for writing papers, and Org for managing the calendar.

Reasons to Avoid Emacs

  1. Binding for Keyboard: For its difficult key combination, and sometimes it steeps the learning curve. For example, to save a file, you need to use CTRL+x CTRL+s which may be difficult compared to using Cmd-s or CTRL-s.
  2. Extreme Customization: Because of its extensive customization nature, users can face difficulties who are beginners and try to only use it for editing files and writing emacs lisp code.

Atom

Atom is a free and open-source editor for Linux, macOS, and Windows. It is a desktop application and can be customized using different programming languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Key Features of Atom Text Editor

  1. Free and open-source: Allow the developers to modify the backend code according to user preference. It is free to use.
  2. Multiple panes: Split the editor into multiple windows and also allow multitasking.
  3. Package system: To extend features and functionality, it provides packages.
  4. Customizable Interface: Allows to customize the appearance of the editor such as theme, color, and packages according to user preferences.
  5. Syntax Highlighting: Highlight the code text and breakpoints that increase user readability.

Reason to Avoid Atom

  1. Learning curve: Because of a huge number of features, it takes time to learn for the beginner.
  2. Stability: Due to instability, it leads to crashes and shows unexpected behavior.
  3. Performance: Because of multiple plugins, sometimes it slows down.

VSCode (Visual Studio Code)

VSCode, the short form of Visual Studio Code is a free source code editor that is developed by Microsoft. VScode is versatile and used on Windows, Linux, and macOS. To add functionality, user can change the theme, key shortcuts, and extensions according to their preferences.

Key Features of VSCode

  1. Debugging: Provide built-in debugging support.
  2. Syntax highlighting: Color the text of the code which increases the readability.
  3. Code Refactoring: It allows to change the code to improve code quality and increase readability.
  4. Embedded Git: Provide integrated Git support and it allows to clone repositories, change states, and code commits.

Reason to Avoid VSCode

  1. Complexity for Beginners: Due to its extensive features, it is complex for beginners to learn.
  2. Limited offline functionality: Because of the online dependencies of features, it limits the offline usage of features.

Feature Comparison of Linux Text Editors

To differentiate the best text editor, you need to know the comparative analysis of all Linux text editors. When comparing the text editors in Linux, consider the features below:

1. User Interface

A comparative analysis of the UI (User Interface) of commonly used text editors is:

Features Vim Emacs Nano Atom VScode
Interface Type Terminal-based Terminal-based with graphical  options Terminal-based Graphical User Interface Graphical User Interface
Visual Appeal Simple, minimalist, text-based Variable depending on setup Simple, minimalist, text-based Modern appearance Customizable
Mouse Support Limited Yes Limited Yes Yes
Modes Normal, Insert, Visual, Command Multiple modes for different tasks Basic text input mode Single text editing mode Operate in one mode

2. Learning curve

Less learning curve indicates easy to learn, which makes the software suitable for beginners. A comparative analysis based on the learning curve of commonly used text editors is:

Text Editor Learning Curve
Vim Steeper
Emacs Steeper
Nano No Learning Curve
Atom Moderate
VSCode Moderate

3. Customization and Extensibility

A comparative analysis based on customization and extensibility of commonly used text editors is:

Text Editor Plugins Scripting Portability
Vim Provides a plugin ecosystem via Vim plugins. Supports scripting using Vimscript. Portable across Unix-based systems, Windows, and macOS.
Emacs Provides a package ecosystem with Emacs Lisp (Elisp). Supports scripting using Elisp. Highly portable because of modular code.
Nano Limited plugin ecosystem. Does not have a native scripting language. Lightweight and use fewer system resources compared to others.
Atom Provides a plugin ecosystem via Atom packages. Supports scripting using JavaScript. Portable across Unix-based systems, Windows, and macOS.
VSCode Provides extension ecosystem via VSCode extensions. Support scripting through Javascript and TypeScript. Portable across Unix-based systems, Windows, and macOS.

4. Performance

A comparative analysis based on the performance of commonly used text editors is:

  Features Vim Emacs Nano Atom VSCode
Speed and Efficiency High High High Slow Slow
Startup Fast Average Fast Slow due to heavier resources Slow due to heavier resources

5. Availability and Installation

A comparative analysis based on the availability and installation process of commonly used text editors is:

Text Editor Availability Installation
Vim Pre-installed on most Unix-based systems. Available for download on Windows, macOS, and Linux. Typically installed via package managers (e.g. apt, Homebrew) or downloaded binaries.
Emacs Available for download on Windows, macOS, and Linux. Typically installed via package managers or downloaded binaries.
Nano Pre-installed on most Unix-based systems. Available for download on Windows, macOS, and Linux. Typically installed via package managers or downloaded binaries.
Atom Available for download on Windows, macOS, and Linux. Download the Atom installer or install it via package managers.
VSCode Available for download on Windows, macOS, and Linux. Download the VSCode installer or install it via package managers.

Application-Based Comparison of Linux Text Editors

The practical applications mainly help to choose the appropriate text editor in Linux. You should consider the below criteria for application-based comparison of text editors in Linux:

  1. Coding and Development
  2. Text Editing and Formatting
  3. Use in System Administration

Let’s see various applications-based comparison of different text editors in Linux:

Text Editor Coding and development Text editing and formatting System Administration
Vim Syntax highlighting, Automatic command completion. Provides modal editing, Insertion, deletion, and paste. Lightweight nature and efficiency in working over SSH connections.
Emacs Syntax highlighting, autoconf, interactive search. Provides extensive text editing. Editing configuration files, Version control systems, and Shell commands.
Nano Autoconf, Interactive search, replace, edit. Provides copy, paste, search & replace. Suitable for basic text editing. Lack of complex system administration
Atom Color code, multiple panes, search & replace. Supports an extensive set of editing commands for efficient text manipulation. Software development and system administration with plugins and extensions.
VSCode Text highlighting, extensive library, debugger. Provides editing with line wrapping, code indenting, and formatting. Provides built-in integration tools for managing system configurations and workflows.

Conclusion

To sum up, the article mainly shows a comparing overview of two different kinds of text editors one is terminal-based and another is graphical user-based. Among them, the Emacs text editor is terminal-based and also has a GUI option. Choosing the best text editor depends on user experience, customizability, and applications. In general, there is no single best text editor. It mainly depends on the user’s preference. But for beginners, Nano and Vim can be useful ones.

People Also Ask

Which text editor is used in Linux?

There are some popular text editors used in Linux that can be categorized into two sections based on their interface: terminal-based and graphical user interface-based. Among terminal-based text editors Nano, Vi, Vim, and Emacs are the popular options. The well-known options in GUI-based text editors are VSCode, Atom, and Sublime Text.

What is the fastest text editor for Linux?

Vim is considered the fastest text editor for Linux. For modal editing, lightweight compared to emacs and atom, with efficient commands and customization vim shows the fastest editing result.

Why is Vim so popular?

The Vim text editor is popular for several reasons such as for its flexibility, stability, and portability. It provides multiple modes like normal mode, command-line mode, insert mode, select mode, visual mode, and ex mode. Although it has a steep learning curve, once the user learns Vim, then it will show the best result.

Which is faster Emacs or Vim?

Vim is faster than Emacs because Emacs takes a longer start-up time than Vim. While editing files, vim shows faster results compared to emacs. Once, you learn the Vim text editor then it will be more efficient with code and commands.

Is Sublime free to use?

Sublime is a text editor that is known for its speed, extensive features, and uses. You may try it for free but in the long run, you have to buy the license for better support.

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Afia Zahin Oishi

Assalamualaikum, I am Afia Zahin, completed my graduation in Biomedical Engineering from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, currently working as a Linux Content Developer Executive at SOFTEKO. A high achieving professional with a strong work ethic and able to work in a team in order to consistently achieve my goal and build my skillset. Able to handle difficult problems with patience and swift decision-making. Read Full Bio

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