Battle of the editors - Sublime Text 2

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As most of us, I've been struggling with finding the "perfect" editor. For me, that meant an editor that could be used for many different languages (C, Python, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, ... ), could also be used for "normal" use (Markdown, RST, LaTeX), would start up fast and generally be fast enough so I didn't have to wait around for it and could optionally be extended with various plugins.

Furthermore, I'd like the "out of the box" functionality to be good, and if at all possible, it should be easy to synchronise my settings across devices. Working under multiple platforms would also be a plus, since I couldn't count on always working on the same operating system.

In the end, I have found what I have been looking for in Sublime Text 2, which, at least for now, is close enough to my "perfect" editor that I do not feel the need to test out new editors.

This editor is light, fast and has a nice & clean design. The out of the box functionality is good, and can very easily be extended using packages from the Package control. It's also Python based, so writing or changing/adding to plugins is a breeze. Additionally, it offers some really useful features I haven't seen in other editors I have used.

Editors I have used in the past

The editors I've gone through until now are:

  • Vim: While complex and "strange", it allowed me to do practically everything and could be extended in many ways. Since it's a console editor, I still use it when I don't have access to the GUI and for simple tasks.
  • TextPad: We used this at the university, and while it was OK for what we needed it, it didn't impress me in any way.
  • Notepad++: Same as above.
  • Eclipse / Aptana studio: As I started working with Python more I started looking for an IDE that I could use instead of just using Vim. I've come across Aptana studio (Eclipse for web development and Python). While powerful, it was too big, clunky and slow for my tastes.
  • Sublime Text 2: Another editor I came across at the university - this time a professor used it on his Mac, so I didn't really pay attention to it. Later found out it works in Windows and Linux too so I took it for a test run and haven't looked back since :)

Best Sublime Text 2 features

This is in no way a complete list of Sublime Text 2 features, it is just a list of my personal favourite things about Sublime Text.

Goto anything

This here is amazing and I use it all the time. Basically, it allows you to press Ctrl+P to search over all the files opened in the editor and (very!) quickly search and change between them. It is also not only limited to simple file searching and opening, but you can also:

  • Start typing to search between the files
  • Type "@"" to search between sections of the file (headers, function definitions etc.)
  • Type "#"" to search within the file
  • Type ":" to go to a line number

And now the real catch - these options can be combined! So I can fire up the Goto anything using the command Ctrl+P, write "edit" to find the "battle-of-the-editors.markdown" file, then continue with "edit@got" to find this section, or do an "edit#combined" to directly search for "combined", or do "edit:50" to go to the 50th line of the file.

Of course you can still use the normal Ctrl+F to search inside the opened file and Ctrl+G for goto line.

Command palette

Just press Ctrl+Shift+P to fire up the command palette, which holds infrequently used functionality (indentation settings, changing the syntax, sorting, ... ). No more trying to remember hundreds of key bindings or searching through the menu for every minor thing. As above, this is dynamically filtered on each keystroke and is very fast.

Multiple selection

Press Ctrl+D to select the next occurrence of the selected word. Once you have all of them selected, you can simply change them in one go (useful for changing a variable name etc.).

An even more impressive feature, and one that you find yourself using way more then you thought you would, is the command Ctrl+Shift+L, which splits the selection into lines. Let's say you want to convert a list of student names from a .txt file with each student in it's line to an actual Python list. To do this, you need to add the opening and closing brackets and quotation marks around each one. Using the above command, it is really simple - just select everything (Ctrl+A), split selection into lines (Ctrl+Shift+L)), press Home to get to the beginning of each line and add the quotation mark, press End to go to the end of each line and add a quotation mark and a comma. All that remains is to add the brackets at the beginning and end. Of course, if you wanted them all to be in a single line, you could just press Delete after adding the comma.

Believe me, once you get used to doing things this way, you will wonder how you ever managed to make do without it.

Hard line wrap

This is a feature I didn't at all until I started writing some more stuff in Markdown, as I wrap my code by hand. Do you know that feeling when you write a big paragraph and everything is nicely wrapped at the 80 char limit ... until you see you forgot to write a word or two that is - you add the words at the start somewhere, and now the whole paragraph is wrapped wrong. Do you want to go through the whole thing again by hand and fix it so it's wrapped nicely? I sure don't.

And that is exactly the reason why I started using the hard line wrap (Alt+Q), which does the work for you. If you ever add or delete a word somewhere in the paragraph, just press Alt+Q and it's done.

To make sure everything works fine even in markdown lists, code comments etc. I recommend installing the Sublime Wrap Plus package (read below how to install packages easily).

Spell check

Integrated spell checker to use when writing LaTeX, Markdown, RST etc. It uses LibreOffice dictionaries so you can download the language you want. Enable it with F6.

Moving selected lines up or down

Select a few lines of your text, hold down Ctrl+Shift and press up or down. The selection will move up or down according to your commands, "pushing" the other lines above or below it (depending on which way you're going of course). A simple and fast way of moving some code around, plus it looks like magic to anyone looking over your shoulder :).

Sort lines and removing duplicate lines

Sublime Text 2 comes with an integrated command to sort lines (F9 or open up the command palette and find it there). Those pesky imports at the top of each file that you want to sort alphabetically? Well, now you can do it, quick and easy.

Another great feature can be found under Edit > Permute Lines > Unique, which gets rid of the duplicates.

Using a combination of those commands together with the TableCleaner you can make data gotten from logs, debugs etc. presentable and readable very quickly and easily.

Package control

Leaving the best for last, this is the heart and soul of Sublime Text 2 for me. It is a great and easy way to install and manage your packages.

Basically it allows you to download packages through the Command palette (Ctrl+Shift+P) with the "Package control: Install Package" command, which looks on the web to find the list of all packages with their descriptions that can be searched as all other commands in the Command palette can.

Once you find the package you are looking for, just press enter to quickly and easily install it and add it to your packages, which will automatically update the packages when a new version is released.

Each package is also neatly organised, and comes with it's own commands automatically added to the Command palette and it's own default and user settings.

Personal settings

A blog post with my personal settings, the packages I use and how I keep everything synchronised between machines will follow soon.

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