Whether you’re in the business of developing software, building websites or are learning a new coding language for a weekend project, you definitely need a good IDE to code with. There are several available to suit various needs and budgets but if you’re just starting out, it’s a good idea to first check out what’s on offer for free.
Notepad++ is a great option for both novice and advanced coders, and everyone in between. The app is open-source, free to download, supports multiple languages, comes with a boatload of functionality out of the box and supports plugins to too. It also allows for fine-grained customization so you can tweak it till you’re comfortable. Let’s build something with it and see how we go, shall we?
When you run it for the first time, you’ll be greeted by Notepad++’s simple interface, featuring a toolbar with several buttons and a tab bar for files that you’ll work on. It’s fairly light on memory too, taking up just 10MB of RAM even with multiple files open.
The User Interface
Notepad++ is more easily comparable to a light text editor like Wordpad than a full IDE like Aptana Studio. The toolbar just below the Menu Bar has a fixed set of buttons to cover all your basic text-editing functions (New document, Open, Save, Print, Find, Replace, etc.) as well as shortcuts to plugins when they’re installed. Below that is a row for tabs representing each open file.
You can begin working on any file by simply dragging and dropping it into Notepad++. You can indicate which language you’re working in on the Menu Bar to activate syntax highlighting. This makes your code much easier to peruse and edit. Notepad++ also features a vertical gutter to the left in the editing window to collapse code sections and also to show bookmarks which you can place.
Notepad++ also features a Style Configurator to customize your editing windows’ colors and fonts. You can create, edit and save themes depending on what you’re working on – making it a snap to switch from a high-contrast code editing setting to a zen-like writing/blogging space. You can also work in full-screen mode or even hide all toolbars and status bars with Post-it mode.
Notepad++ for Writers
Over the past couple of years I’ve found myself constantly referring to notes that I’ve made in advance while I write – be it an app review, a blog post or even new lyrics for my band – and I’ve been using Evernote and kewlpAd simultaneously on my dual-monitor PC to do so.
Notepad++’s tabbed interface and full-screen viewing option allows me to keep my notes and article drafts open at the same time, with minimal clutter and distraction.
There’s also a spell-check plugin, along with line count, word count and the aforementioned bookmark system to help stay on track while writing. All these features negate the need for separate zenware writing apps like OmmWriter and WriteMonkey – and also allow writers to enjoy power user features at the same time.
Notepad++ for Developers
Many novice coders are advised by peers and online resources to use a no-frills text editor (like Notepad) while starting out in order to learn proper syntax and coding techniques. Once you’ve got the hang of things though, you’ll want something that helps you put your ideas down faster – and that’s where Notepad++ scores big.
For starters, the app comes with some great features baked right in, such as the aforementioned syntax highlighting for multiple languages, line numbering, auto-indent, macro recording and playback, saving and loading of sessions, detection of file modifications and even autocompletion of words and functions. You can launch your code in various browsers or custom programs too.
Another major feature in Notepad++ is plugin support. There are plenty of plugins (which just require dragging the necessary DLL files to the app’s plugins folder to install) to extend this app’s functionality into a compact IDE -
- View your local project files easily with Explorer
- Get access to the console with NotepadExec
- Debug your code with DBGp (handy setup tutorial here)
- Get total source control with Subversion (requires TortoiseSVN)
- Access your sites online via FTP with FTP Synchronize
While these plugins won’t level the playing field when comparing full-blown IDEs to Notepad++, they do help users get familiar with advanced features before transitioning to more powerful apps. It’s great that you can add only the features you need, thus minimizing bloat and keeping your app streamlined.
Wait, there’s more!
Notepad++ has a few more cool features that are worth checking out:
- It maintains clipboard history, which can be accessed via a sidebar for easy copying and pasting whenever you need to
- Keyboard shortcuts for most functions, including switching between tabs, launching programs, etc.
- Fully customizable environment – you can even edit the popup context menu if you want to!
- Set up backups easily
- Use MarkDown in Notepad++ (handy setup tutorial here)
Notepad++ is a great app for coders and writers alike. It offers a great feature set out of the box, consumes very little memory and can be taken with you wherever you go (as a portable app on your thumb drive). I’m looking forward to writing with Notepad++ more often – the clutter-free full-screen mode lets me get more done than when I have several windows open!
I don’t code much, but take care of my fair share of website customization (using HTML and CSS) and Notepad++ is perfect for my needs. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a lightweight coding app – especially those who are learning a new language or need a handy tool for personal projects and working on code from home.