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The 5 best "lite" code editors in 2019

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You're a programmer. But don't need a full-blown IDE. You don't want to spend hours customizing your workspace. You want the best lean and mean code editors that will allow you to start working, pronto, without much fuss.

Thankfully, we're in the 21st century, not stuck on Windows 3.11, and there are lots of interesting choices. More like dozens of them. But we'll talk only about five (okay, technically six).

'Cause they're quite probably the ones you'd end up using, anyway.

Visual Studio Code

Code is a "lite" and free alternative to its established "big brother", Visual Studio. Although it looks similar to Atom and Brackets, it feels like a more full-fledged IDE and supports most programming languages by default. Plus full GIT integration - just like Atom. All this while somehow managing to keep feeling faster than most, theoretically, "lighter" alternatives.

The primary feature differentiating VS Code from its competition is IntelliSense. An umbrella term, IntelliSense includes "code completion, parameter info, quick info, and member lists".

Thanks to those, VS Code can autocomplete your code while you are typing but also show suggestions and offer information on how a function works.

Sublime Text

Sublime Text looks bland, even simplistic. This is by design, to keep it accessible, with more advanced functionality hidden behind shortcuts, sub-menus and a vast collection of "packages". Those (packages) act as plugins/service packs, adding extra features, altering the way the program works, or even turning it into a full-blown IDE.

Although it remains one of the best choices, Sublime Text has somewhat fallen behind compared to newer alternatives. Alternatives with hordes of individual developers providing tweaks and additions to their code.

Unfortunately, Sublime Text is a "closed source" application. As a result, its developers are the only people with access to its source code. And the only ones who can improve it and fix any problems and bugs.

Still, it can be a better option when working with large projects, where alternatives might struggle or underperform.


Being a GitHub product means Atom has the best integration with the popular software development version control host. One or two clicks and the code in Atom can sync with or push edits directly to GitHub.

With Microsoft's VS Code reaching for the throne, the team behind GitHub offered their own answer to IntelliSense. Partly. Since 2018, Atom uses a parsing system called Tree-sitter, that analyses the code as you type, "trying to make sense out of it".

As a result, it can understand when the user is switching between languages in the same file - for example, from HTML to JavaScript. And keep highlighting the code and allowing smart syntax-aware selection and folding without a hitch.

At least, in the select number of languages supported by tree-sitter up to now.


Brackets is made by Adobe Systems "for the web", and it shows - it is the most "visually oriented" code editor available today. It, too, is free and open-source, both qualities that helped in its rapid development.

Although Brackets is also "a code editor", unlike other alternatives, it comes by default with support for Live Preview: every tweak in the HTML and CSS markup can be instantly displayed in the browser. This vastly decreases the trial-and-error phases when designing sites and renders the need for constant refreshes obsolete.

It, too, can be extended by using extensions, but comes with LESS and SCSS/SASS preprocessor support built-in. Thanks to this, it can be used as a full-fledged web development environment with no need for tweaks or extras.

Brackets differs in allowing the tweaking of CSS values, while working with HTML markup, with no need to jump to separate files. It achieves this by displaying inline windows, that can show all selectors associated with any selected HTML element.

Vim & Emacs

As hardcore as can get, Vim (a leaner, meaner version of classic Vi) and Emacs are, still, the editors used to build thousands of projects. "Projects" ranging from "simple" static web pages to the latest and greatest First-Person Shooters.

By default, both offer advanced text editing functions but not more - and this is the reason they are the most lightweight programs of their kind. But like most similar tools nowadays, they can be extended using plugins. The difference being, they did it first.

Precisely because both are open source, free, and have been continuously evolving and "extended" for over four decades, today they are far from your typical code editor. They, too, can be turned into full IDEs, support any programming language, offer syntax highlighting, code folding but also turn into a file manager or even... a GameBoy emulator!

Also worth noting is that both programs are considered lifelong enemies - their fans still "clashing" online - with both looking similar but taking a different approach to text editing. And yet, both of those "approaches" come with steep learning curves.

Okay, but the winner is..?

There's no winner in this and no editor that's noticeably better than all the others, in every regard. Each excels at something different. Each has its strengths, quirks, shortcomings. And some might perform better for one project but worse for another, depending on the combination of languages used. Many people use two or even three of them, depending on the task at hand.

That's why we didn't talk about more editors. And that's why we didn't pick a winner, based on personal preferences.

(Hint: currently I'm mostly using Atom, but that's because one of VS Code's SASS plugins bugged on my latest project.)

Playing the seer, we know that in the not-too-distant future, you'll end up installing at least four of them. Keep two of them installed. And like both, but truly love one of them, that you'll also vigorously defend in online clashes with fans of One Of The Other Four.

Welcome to 2019. Where everyone codes, and fighting online about Your Favorite Stuff Of Stuffs is the daily norm. Fire up your Chosen Editor Of Editors, re-check your favorite plugins are in working order and start your next successful project in 3...