10 of the Best Cross-Platform Plain Text Editors for Programmers

Laptop With Code Feature Image By Altumcode

Once you started programming, you’ll quickly realize that your operating system’s default text editor isn’t quite up to the task. That might be okay at first, but it’s like trying to make a portrait with a box of eight Crayolas. The plain text editors below provide robust and efficient tools and options, with all kinds of built-in features to make writing, reviewing, and revising code easier and more pleasant. They’re also cross-platform.

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1. Sublime Text

Price: Free / $99
Available for: Windows, Linux, and macOS.

Venerable, powerful, and customizable, Sublime Text checks just about all of the boxes for a good text editor for programmers. It’s well-known and broadly recognized as one of the best available and for good reason. With multi-caret editing, you can type text in several places at once. This way, it would be easy to update your code when all you want to do is replace some names and values. There’s also a search and replace function that lets you use regex (regular expressions) to make things easier to find.

Sublime Text in-editor view.


  • Easier Git access with Sublime Merge
  • Minimalist design
  • Multi-caret editing and regular expressions


  • Personal license can only give you up to three years of updates

2. Pulsar (a fork of Atom)

Price: Free
Available for: Windows, Linux, and macOS.

Pulsar is the open-source successor to the Atom editor after GitHub officially dropped support for it on December 15, 2022. Like its predecessor, it’s hackable down to the core. You can add or remove features as much as you’d like, which is great if you’re looking for a fully-customizable plain text editor to write code. However, it doesn’t show any indication that it’s loading when you try to run it, so if you happen to press Enter a bunch of times, you’ll be surprised at how many windows might pop up when it does run.

Pulsar in-editor view.


  • You can add any feature it doesn’t currently have
  • Lets you remove features you don’t want or need
  • Easily-moddable if you know how to work around Electron JS
  • Does not collect telemetry data
  • Can set new tabs vertically or horizontally


  • Official development is slow
  • Can take a while to start up
  • Doesn’t differ much from the original Atom editor, as it’s new
  • Still need to watch out for public packages that might contain unwanted features, like collecting telemetry data
  • Might not work on some Linux distros

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3. Light Table

Price: Free
Available for: Windows, Linux (64-bit), and macOS.

Light Table was one of the top technology Kickstarter projects ever, and it has some sleek features that make it unique. The best one is probably the ability to open a browser tab next to your code within the application to see the changes you make to your code reflected in real-time. It’s one of the few code editors to have features like this built-in.

Light Table in-editor view.


  • Lets you browse the Web in one tab
  • Differentiate one set of tabs from another with tab sets


  • All tab sets are vertical
  • Limited plug-ins

4. Vim

Price: Free
Available on: Windows, Unix (including Linux), macOS, Android (as VimTouch), and iOS.

Vim (and its Unix built-in counterpart, vi) is a small text editor that can be run just about anywhere. You have to make sure that you download from the official GitHub repository, as the official website can be slow at times. In general, it is small, fast, and basically the speed-coder’s best friend. Rather than rely on modifier keys to indicate commands, Vim uses regular characters. Commands are only a little bit intuitive (e.g., you type :q! to quit), but you shouldn’t ever need to move your fingers from the home row. Once you get fast in Vim, every other editor will feel like sludge sliding downhill.

Vim in-editor view.


  • Allows for fast coding
  • Super light
  • Starts up as a tiny screen


  • For a tiny little app, it takes so long to download it from the main website
  • Coding beginners will have to spend some time getting used to Vim

5. Emacs

Price: Free
Available for: Windows, Linux and macOS.

Emacs is best known for its extensibility and general flexibility. Thanks to this expandability, Emacs is sometimes called “an OS within an OS,” and users have created web browsers, music players, and news readers to run inside it. Among other built-in features, you get a broad library of shortcuts, the ability to execute arbitrary code at startup, and multi-user collaboration. The application makes extensive use of modifier keys (which Vim avoids) to provide additional functionality. Also, Emacs has its own church. Make of that what you will.

Emacs in-editor view.


  • Can be extended into a simple IDE
  • Easy to make hotkeys and key bindings


  • No portable version

6. UltraEdit

Price: $79.95 per year (editor only) / $99.95 per year (all tools)
Available for: Windows, Linux, and macOS.

Like Sublime Text, UltraEdit is a powerful text editor that gives you many tools and much freedom. It even includes features such as multi-caret editing and a customizable user interface. UltraEdit also brings a customizable, icon-based toolbar and ribbon, something that other text editors lack. You get integrated FTP, SSH, and Telnet to work with server-based code. It has more of an enterprise-level focus than the other editors on the list, and it’s priced to reflect that.

Ultraedit in-editor view.


  • Built-in FTP and SFTP capabilities
  • Use SSH within the text editor


  • Paid editor
  • Closed source

7. ICECoder

Price: Free
Available for: Can run in any browser with PHP, regardless of OS.

What could possibly be more cross-platform than a browser? ICECoder runs inside a Chrome tab, providing much of the power of other editors in a ubiquitously available platform. ICECoder’s focus was initially on browser-based programming and markup languages like HTML and JavaScript, but it has since expanded to include C and Java and more. Be careful about accidentally pressing Ctrl + W, or you’ll end up closing your window.

ICEcoder in-editor view.


  • Works in your browser
  • There’s also an experimental desktop app


  • Desktop version still in beta

8. Visual Studio Code

Price: Free
Available for: Windows, Linux, and macOS.

Visual Studio Code joins Emacs and Light Table in the group of code editors that blur the line between IDEs and customizable plain text editors. Mostly, it’s used to edit code outside of the Visual Studio IDE. You could turn it into a light IDE by installing plug-ins with just a few button clicks, making it simple for someone new to start with. But when you get to the point where you want everything personalized the way you want it, you’ll have to move (at least temporarily) to other editors that are easier to customize by yourself.

Visual Studio in-editor view.


  • Super stable
  • Detects what code you’re using in a file


  • Microsoft takes telemetry data from this app and its plug-ins
  • Can become slow depending on how many plug-ins are added to it
  • No portable version

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9. VSCodium

Price: Free
Available on: Windows, Linux, and macOS.

VSCodium is the little sister to Visual Studio Code without the proprietary plug-ins and opt-out-by-default telemetry data, so it’s basically the same thing. It uses the same resources, looks exactly the same, and works with all the same plug-ins, as it’s a fork to the open-source version of Visual Studio Code. Only use this if you like Visual Studio Code but don’t like Microsoft and love data privacy.

Vscodium in-editor view.


  • Can do anything Visual Studio Code can do
  • Does not take telemetry data by default


  • Doesn’t really add more to what Visual Studio Code already does
  • Has no access to Visual Studio Code’s proprietary plug-ins

Honorable Mention: Notepad++

Price: Free

While Notepad++ is a Windows exclusive, you can get it to work on Linux (unofficially) via a Snap application. One of the more straightforward plain text code editors, Notepad++ is great as a quick and portable code editor that you could save into a thumb drive and plug into a work computer without taking up too much space. Although you could do the same with most other code editors, this one in particular starts up pretty fast and is great for making quick notes anywhere.

Notepad++ in-editor view.


  • Lets you apply colors to tabs
  • Can set tabs to read-only
  • Runs fast like regular Notepad


  • Dragging a tab to the right doesn’t make a new tab set
  • Plugi-ns are rather lacking

Tip: no coding skills? These platforms let you build apps without any programming knowledge.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between Vim and vi?

The original plain text code editor on UNIX systems is vi. It comes with the OS install. Vim is an improved version that has more commands and a GUI to work with. Its name is short for “vi, improved.”

What is the difference between an IDE and an editor?

An IDE has all the tools needed to make coding easier, while an editor generally only works with helping you type things better. Besides linking to a compiler, an IDE can be connected to a version control software like Git or a debugging program like GDB. However, the difference between IDEs and editors is rather murky, and some, like Visual Studio Code, can blur the line deeper by having these available through plug-ins.

Why was Atom discontinued?

Because Atom has been losing in popularity over the years, the folks at GitHub planned to discontinue it and focus on their other projects. However, the source code for the latest Atom version has been turned into a public archive, letting anyone make a fork out of it while preserving the code for future generations to see.

What is Electron JS?

Electron JS is a JavaScript framework for building web apps that look like desktop applications. It’s used in a number of plain text code editors, like Sublime, Pulsar, and Visual Studio Code.

Image source: Unsplash. All screenshots by Terenz Jomar Dela Cruz.

Terenz Jomar Dela Cruz
Terenz Jomar Dela Cruz

Terenz is a hobbyist roboticist trying to build the most awesome robot the world has ever seen. He could have done that already if he wasn't so busy burning through LEDs as a second hobby.

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