If you’re new to macOS, you might be wondering what your options are when it comes to text editor applications for your Apple computer. You’re familiar with Notepad and even Notepad++, but is there an equivalent for macOS?
As a former Mac administrator and everyday Mac user, I can help you find the program that best suits your needs.
In this article, we’ll look at five of the best text editors available for Macintosh computers. Whether you’re coding, writing scripts, or just looking for a place to jot down a few notes, we’ve got you covered.
Let’s get started.
- Best for: Quick and basic text files; those who don’t want to install additional software.
- Cost: Free with macOS.
- Where to get it: TextEdit comes installed as part of the operating system. Find the program in your Applications folder.
If you’re looking for a one-to-one Notepad equivalent on macOS, TextEdit is as close as you’ll get. The software comes pre-installed on the operating system and offers the most basic of functionality with few frills or extra features.
The program does have text formatting options–a few typefaces, font sizes, and colors. Because of these features, TextEdit behaves more like Microsoft’s WordPad than Notepad out of the box, and it saves files in the Rich Text Format (RTF) by default.
But if you want TextEdit to function as a pure text editor more akin to Notepad you can change the software to do just that. Click on the Format menu and choose Make Plain Text.
TextEdit lacks features some of the options below have, but the software has the advantage of residing on macOS out of the box. Its convenience makes TextEdit a compelling option for those who need just the bare bones out of their text editor programs.
- Best for: Those who want a diverse feature set.
- Cost: Free, with a $49.99 upgrade option for advanced features.
- Where to get it: barebones.com or the Mac App Store.
Speaking of bare bones, the “BB” in BBEdit actually stands for Bare Bones. But despite its name, BBEdit has quite a few useful features.
Whether it is the ability to run Unix commands to filter out text, multiple document tab support, or HTML preview options, BBEdit is a very diverse text editor for the Mac. It’s also one of the most popular and for good reason: BBEdit has been around since 1992.
While BBEdit has many features catered to programmers, if you’re a hard-core coder there are probably better options out there.
That said, the software is my go-to editor on the Mac, having abandoned TextEdit long ago. I use it for writing Bash and Zsh scripts and editing xml files, among other things.
The program’s bread and butter seems to be its HTML tools, offering support for all of the current standards and in-app preview of your markup.
Many of these extras come at the cost of a one-time fee of $49.99 or a $39.99 subscription price if you download the software from the App Store. You can try out all the advanced features for free for 30 days and then revert back to the free version with no hassle if you don’t want to pony up the cash.
- Best for: Those who love open-source code and can’t get enough plug-ins.
- Cost: Free (as in beer) and free (as in speech) too!
- Where to get it: atom.io.
The Atom text editor is an intriguing option worth checking out if you’re on the lookout for a new option for your Mac.
More than just a text manipulation program, Atom is actually a “specialized variant of Chromium.” In essence, then, each text file you work with in Atom is a local web page rather than just a block of characters.
Taking this approach enables the software to be as flexible as you need it to be, offering myriad plug-ins that can change anything from the way the software looks with specialized themes to packages like Linter that will analyze your code for errors.
Another intriguing package is Teletype, which allows for real-time collaboration on documents in Atom. You can browse and search all available Atom packages at atom.io/packages.
Atom’s Chromium core also means the software can be installed on Windows and Linux, making the platform a great choice for people like me who switch between operating systems.
The software’s open-source status might be its best attribute, because it allows anyone to write packages to modify or append the code to fit their needs.
The people at GitHub (prior to Microsoft’s acquisition) created and maintain the software, so it follows, then, that Atom comes with a package pre-bundled to enable direct integration with the popular code repository website.
Atom strives to be simple enough for anyone to use out of the box, but flexible enough to support the needs of advanced users.
4. Visual Studio Code
- Best for: Programmers who want a full-blown source code editor.
- Cost: Free.
- Where to get it: code.visualstudio.com.
Who would have thought a Microsoft product would have ranked on the list of best text editors for macOS?
Perish the thought!
That Visual Studio Code appears on this list is a testament to how far Microsoft has come since CEO Satya Nadella took the reins in 2014.
With its purchase of GitHub in 2018, an embrace of open-source code, and even its support for the Linux bash shell in Windows, Microsoft has worked hard to change its image as the company that doesn’t play well with others.
For those looking for a simple text editing program to replace the functionality of Notepad or even Notepad++ on the Mac, Visual Studio Code (often referred to as VS Code) is overkill.
Does the program have text editing capabilities? Yes.
But as implied in the software’s own name, Visual Studio Code is designed for coders.
First announced in 2015, Microsoft’s VS Code features packages for Linux, Windows, and macOS and supports an impressive array of programming languages (including Apple’s own Swift) with features like auto-complete, debugging, extensions, and GitHub integration.
While Microsoft’s distributions of VS Code are proprietary, the majority of the program’s source code is available on GitHub.
One of the software’s best features is IntelliSense, a code completion tool with support for several coding languages out of the box, though you can add more with extensions from the marketpace.
Though I’m no coder, I use Visual Studio Code for Mac when writing PowerShell or simple batch scripts.
5. iA Writer
- Best for: Writers who want a simpler experience than word processors can offer.
- Cost: $29.99 after 14-day trial.
- Where to get it: Mac App Store, or ia.net/writer/mac/trial/download for the trial version.
Brought to you by the Switzerland- and Tokyo-based design firm, Information Architects GmbH, iA Writer aims to be the most elegant yet simple piece of writing software you’ve ever used.
On the surface the program might appear to be nothing more than a glorified Notepad with word wrap, but iA Writer’s simplistic appearance betrays its usefulness.
Features like style check, markdown preview mode, and syntax visualizers only show up when you need them. The goal is focused writing, so iA Writer eliminates as many distractions as possible so you can get to work crafting your best prose.
To this end, the program offers three focus modes you can toggle through to suit your needs: Sentence, which dims everything in your writing window except for the current sentence you’re writing; Paragraph, which focuses only on the paragraph in which your cursor lies; and Typewriter, which doesn’t dim any text but keeps your current line centered on the page as you type.
With HTML support, iA Writer is a godsend for bloggers looking for a more focused writing experience.
Don’t know any HTML? The software has its own markdown language you can export to HTML, PDF, or even a Microsoft Word DOCX file, as well as a built-in preview mode for ensuring your document looks just the way you intended.
iA Writer began as an iOS app but is now available for Windows, macOS, and Android too.
Here are some other questions you might have regarding macOS and text editing programs.
Does Mac have its own text editor?
Yes, macOS actually has multiple text editors out of the box. The option most similar to Notepad for Windows is TextEdit (see above), but the command line text editor VIM as well as the Notes application also come packaged with the OS.
What is the best free text editor for Mac?
It depends on multiple factors including personal preference and how one intends to use the software. BBEdit is a great all-around text editor. Although it does have a paid version, the free version works quite well, and the software doesn’t beat you over the head to upgrade. If you need a text program for coding, Visual Studio Code is probably your best bet.
Is Notepad++ available for Mac?
Sadly, no. The popular Notepad-on-steroids application is only available for Windows.
So Many Text Editors
Who knew so many different text editors exist?
These are just five of dozens of programs at your disposal. While that thought might seem overwhelming, the myriad options can only be a good thing for users; competition drives innovation, and the successful applications carve out a niche for specific uses.
What about you? Do you have a favorite text editor for your Mac?About Andrew Gilmore