7 open source alternatives to Dreamweaver

Looking for an open source alternative to Dreamweaver or another proprietary HTML/CSS editor? Let's round up some of your options.
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Editor's note: This article was originally published in March 2016, and has been updated to reflect changes in several of the originally recommended tools.

Not all that many years ago, pretty much every webpage on the Internet was, at some level, designed painstakingly by hand. It was tough, and before CSS really took hold and became well supported across most common browsers, it often involved hacking a layout together by using HTML tables in a way they were never really envisioned to support.

While some designers developed workflows completely based around manual editing of raw HTML files, the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor began to emerge as a tool of empowerment to millions of amateur and professional designers who didn't know, or at least hadn't mastered, the art of hypertext markup.

Products like CoffeeCup, HotDog, FrontPage, GoLive, and many others filled the market, and many web-based WYSIWYG editors emerged as well. Among the more successful was Macromedia (later Adobe) Dreamweaver, which was among my personal favorites for many years.

These web authoring tools weren't just about WYSIWYG editing; even for those who were comfortable with direct authoring of markup language, these tools offered advantages with template control, file management, and simply reducing the time it takes to create functional code.

But just as these helpful editors were expanding access to webpage creation, something else was happening too. Content management systems like Drupal and WordPress (and many, many others before them) displaced the need for the average content producer to need to edit raw HTML at all. You could easily make a functional website without even worrying about the underlying markup.

So did the rise of the content management system change the web? Absolutely. Did it eliminate the need to hand code HTML? Well, for some people, yes. But as the web moved from a collection of content to a platform for applications, just as many new opportunities have arisen for doing markup. Every software as a service application, every social media network, and even many mobile applications rely on HTML and CSS to render their display. And those content management systems? They still need templates to function.

And though many helpful libraries exist to standardize and simplify the web development process, coding for the web isn't being displaced any time soon. Proprietary tools are still common, but there is a rich collection of open source alternatives out there. Here are some you should consider.

1. BlueGriffon

BlueGriffon is an open source WYSIWYG editor powered by Gecko, the rendering engine developed for Mozilla Firefox. One of a few derivatives of NVU, a now-discontinued HTML editor, BlueGriffon is the only actively developed NVU derivative that supports HTML5 as well as modern components of CSS. If your goal is to write as little actual HTML as possible, then BlueGriffon is the tool you want. It's a true drag-and-drop WYSIWYG website designer, and even includes a dual view option so you can see the code behind your design, in case you want to edit it or just learn from it.

It also supports the EPUB ebook format, so you don't have to just publish to the web: you can provide your readers with a download of your content that they can take with them. Licensed under the MPL, GPL, and LGPL, a version of BlueGriffon is available for Linux, Windows, and Mac.

2. Aptana Studio

Aptana Studio is an "open source development tool for the open web" which, in practice, means it's more of an advanced IDE specializing in web development. Based on the open source Eclipse project, Aptana Studio features tools for assisting in HTML and CSS authoring, including code coloring and completion, debugging, and outlining of documents. Its main selling point is its JavaScript support, making it a strong tool for developing more complex web applications.

3. NetBeans

NetBeans is a widely used software development platform for building web, mobile, and desktop applications with Java, JavaScript, HTML5, and more. It has been supported by Oracle (and its predecessor, Sun) since 1999, and in October 2016 moved to the Apache Foundation for open governance, and simplified and streamlined community contributions. Netbeans isn't exactly a drag-and-drop web design application, but it's a robust web-aware IDE. It's a great choice if you're developing web apps, or if you just enjoy coding for the web.

4. SeaMonkey

SeaMonkey is a community continuation of what was once a Mozilla-produced internet application suite. While Mozilla decided to narrow its focus to individual projects, SeaMonkey continues to make regular releases of its full suite, which includes SeaMonkey Composer, a simple WYSIWYG HTML editor. You'd struggle to do advanced layouts with Composer (for instance, you can't adjust the CSS display or property to create a two column text and image pair, but would have to use a non-responsive table instead), but for basic pages with zero code written, this is a realistic option.

5. Aloha Editor

Aloha Editor is a JavaScript-based WYSIWYG HTML5 editor that allows users to edit content in the same layout that readers view it. This is a pretty unique model, as it's not exactly an application itself, but embeds an editor into your HTML page. It requires a Node.js stack, so if you're not a developer familiar with Javascript then it can be difficult to configure. However, if you're a site admin looking for an easy editing interface for your users to make quick updates to their pages, then you should say "aloha" to Aloha.

6. Wordpress

The open source content management service (CMS) and blogging platform, Wordpress, features a structured yet flexible page layout interface. It lets you create blog posts and pages with just enough flexibility to let your creativity thrive, and with just enough restriction to ensure that your creation renders correctly in all browsers. With Wordpress, you can have choose your desired level of complexity at every step. You can self-host it using their famous 5-minute install method, or you can buy hosting from Wordpress.com. You can use the drag-and-drop designer to create pages, or you can hack on HTML and PHP yourself. You can choose a contributed theme or you can design and create your own. It's a great resource for anyone who wants to run a website.

7. Try an advanced text editor

While not necessarily the best for beginners, a number of text editors provide additional functionality that is incredibly useful to those editing HTML/CSS documents. When used side-by-side with a modern browser with built-in debugging tools, you may be just as productive with one of these as you are with a more dedicated solution. Some of our favorites include:

  • Atom describes itself as a "hackable text editor for the 21st century." Developed by GitHub, it has support for HTML and CSS out of the box and many additional plugins available.
  • Brackets is a JavaScript-based text editor developed by Adobe for web design and frontend development. It touts its inline editor, live preview, and preprocessor support functions for making it easier to do web design in the browser.
  • Vim or Emacs. Without participating in the holy war between these two traditional text editors, I can safely say that there are a number of enhancements for web editing available for both. So if you're already a terminal junkie, take your pick. Or, if those don't satisfy, try one of these Emacs/Vim alternatives.

Are any of these solutions a feature-by-feature reproduction of Dreamweaver or another proprietary tool? Of course not. They weren't designed to be. They each have had their own roadmap and goals, and their own strengths and weaknesses. Web design is a big world with lots of applications and lots of approaches. Take the time to find the workflow that meets your needs. Try out a new tool, see what you like and don't like about it, and share your feedback with the broader community in the comments.

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I use technology to make the world more open. Linux desktop enthusiast. Map/geospatial nerd. Raspberry Pi tinkerer. Data analysis and visualization geek. Occasional coder. Sysadmin. Web maker. Red Hatter since 2013.
Seth Kenlon
Seth Kenlon is a UNIX geek, free culture advocate, independent multimedia artist, and D&D nerd. He has worked in the film and computing industry, often at the same time.

51 Comments

Call me a traditionalist, but I really believe the only "right" way to do web design is by typing.

(...in Emacs, but I digress.)

There's a place for getting a quick webpage online, but in those cases I think it's best to keep it as simple as possible. I say this because I've seen way too many over-designed sites that abuse little hacks in GUI design applications, and it ends up not rendering correctly on browsers, or for screen readers.

tl;dr: I don't think GUI designers are bad, just mis-directed.

Today WYSIWYGs are an outdated technology because web development is fully modular, and I don't know any WYSIWYG that works at server level.

For web development y I use NetBeans. NetBeans supports PHP, JSP and lots of frameworks.

True, what is needed is the integration with development platforms for server-side applications. Good opensource environments exist for various languages, including Java, Javascript, CSS, HTML, C, C++, notably the excellent Eclipse.
During this develomement you may use some WYSIWIG editor to help generating a template page or create some fragments, or to modelize a general visual layout.
However, most of the time you'll work only on fragments of the pages.
A WYSIWIG ediotor however ''may'' be helpful for creating various static sections such as documentation pages, but even for them it is now simpler to use a dedicated software such as a wiki, or to templatize also the documentation (which can be also partly generated automatically from the application design.
For interactive pages, such as support forums (like this one) or blogs, there are also dedicated applications that you can deploy on a subdomain or in a HTTP subdirectory of your website. All those apps have convenient ways to customize the layout and integrate them them to the rest of your website.
You'll need a real development only for complex interactive pages that are linked to a background process, such as online catalogs and shops, or pages showing the state of a process or organizing some collaborative work and measuring the advancement. For bug tracking there are also convenient applications that are easy to deploy and you'll use your WYSIWIG editor only to create a template from which you'll extract some fragments to integrate in the layout of these apps.

In reply to by Eduardo Medina (not verified)

Agreed. I make Wordpress templates for many of my clients. I don't use my WYSIWYG editor to design whole pages, but I do use it to make the basic layout and then snip those pieces into a text editor. The open source world still needs a good WYSIWYG editor. Templates don't appear from nowhere, someone still has to design them.

In reply to by verdy_p

Quanta Plus was actually pretty good, but it's dead in the water so no joy there. Bluefish is pretty dire.

I mostly use a decent editor that knows what html/css is rather than anything else. Kate is okay, as is Geany, but there are plenty of them to choose from.

I recently discovered Brackets. A really awesome editor for html/css/js.

Recently found brackets myself for my first web development project in a long time,found it incredibly easy to use, with a very intuitive manner of displaying what you are doing in a live web page.
It's awesome.

In reply to by Jason Baker

For my projects I use mostly Netbeans, it's like eclipse / aptana, and all that kind of IDEs... but if i need to fix something really quick and i don't want to wait all the time netbeans or any other IDE takes to fully load, i edit files on vim... i've used atom, and sublime text.. but netbeans auto-completion code, or the control+click link on file includes or methods, are very usefull when your code start to grow in number of methods, and classes. but in my work at the data center, if i have to fix some client codes... vim is my tool.

You don't have to run emacs in a terminal window...

Brackets without compromise

I used Bluefish for many years but then moved on to vim. Hooked ever since.

Geany it's great! Very simple and very fast. I liked and I use!

For those using an X desktop, geany remains an excellent and very much active editor. Geany website at www.geany.org ; HTML/CSS plugin add-ons at plugins.geany.org

Apparently brackets is the next awesome tool, also headed by Adobe. I've used Eclipse for JSP, I've use VS with .NET (but hate VS because of it's insane 10GB install size, I resent it VS) I've used BlueGriffon and BlueFish a lot for PHP, CSS, HTML

Adobe Brackets is free and I use it.

Another vote for Brackets.

I recently started to use Silex a free / libre website builder which I use a bit like Dreamweaver. But a modern one, online and all...

Also webflow is awesome, but not open source though

Great article Jason! I've used CoffeeCup, HotDog, FrontPage, GoLive, Dreamweaver, Nvu, Seamonkey, and gEdit. My first HTML was written using the MS-DOS text editor. I really liked Nvu when working with teachers and students because it was so easy to use.

Actually license wise Emacs is not open source, its creator is quite adamant about this.

I don't believe even Richard Stallman would actually say that Emacs does not fit the definition of open source software. Rather, his position is that he supports his program as Free Software because the open source software movement is not about the principles that he supports.

In other words if you asked Richard Stallman if he would characterize Emacs as open source software, his reply would be "No, it's Free Software." However, if you asked Richard Stallman if Emacs was technically open source he would say, "Yes, technically, but it would be more accurate to call it Free Software."

In reply to by Darryl (not verified)

Why hasn't anybody mentioned KDEVELOP? It's what Quanta and QuantaPlus was based on and it's still actively developed and extremely capable and feature rich. Whilst it doesn't have WYSIWYG as such, it's still fantastic for web development.

I first tried Atom, but a bug that causes parts of its window to disappear made me search for another editor, i tried bluefish which is really nice, but also tried Brackets and i liked it very much. Now Brackets is my first choice.

My vote is for Sublime. Used it for everything from config files to .js to .php to .py to

Sublime, while it can run on an open source OS, is not open source, and the title of the article is "open source alternatives to Dreamweaver".

In reply to by JJ

I've used Netbeans, which includes a cool Google extension that helps in debugging. It allows me to make changes and view the changes without having to refresh the page.

Currently for PHP, my preferred program is WebMatrix 3. Unfortunately it is Windows-only. Visual Studio is also pretty good, but their PHP support is lousy (without paying for a 3rd party plugin).

Brackets is the one

Open element...anyone ?

Open element is not (in spite of its name) open source, meaning that even though it costs $0 to use, programmers cannot look at the source code of open element and improve it, or change it, or learn from it, or ensure it's secure, or port it to other operating systems (open element runs only on windows, for instance). This article is about open source alternatives, so open element doesn't really qualify. Citation: open element forums post ?TID=407

In reply to by Rafie (not verified)

We do use notepad++ for editing the codes. Pretty good in handling many a number of programming languages.

I too use notepad++ and love that editor. I have used it for many years. Tried dreamweaver and other wysiwig software, but always come back to notepad ++. Guess that comes from being a COBOL programmer in another life.

In reply to by Vishnu M (not verified)

What about VS Code? https://code.visualstudio.com/

It's actually a relatively new and excellent open source alternative to Dreamweaver (no WYSIWYG though).

Learning more from the comments ☺️
Thank you Jason

Lately I have been doing more with Drupal and Wordpress where style is controlled by themes (which I edit with a text editor of some sort).

These frameworks then contain their own editor tools that can have as much, or as little, options as you include.

Like at work I give them some, but not all, formatting tools so as to keep everything within the theme's guidelines, while at home I give more.

Of course, for myself I give ALL but that's because I can go into the source and do whatever the heck I want ;)

This article brings me back to having to deal with other people's Web pages which they made with a WYSIWYG editor. FrontPage's procedurally generated HTML code was truly frightening to behold. Both Dreamweaver and Netscape Composer (later replaced by Mozilla Composer, which became Seamonkey Composer) generated much cleaner code (I mostly dealt with Mozilla Composer code, but I seem to remember even the original Netscape Composer's code being much better than that from FrontPage).

I never understood the attraction to FrontPage because both DreamWeaver and Composer were easier to use, and while Composer was mostly about being easy, DreamWeaver was also more powerful than FrontPage. I guess it was just the Microsoft name that got people using FrontPage.

Great roundup! Thank you.

WYSIWYG editors have their place. Yes, it's true most of the web is now managed by content systems, and development is best done in a text editor or IDE. However, for some people, using a wysiwyg editor is the fastest way to bring ideas to life. They want to focus on content and layout, and not html markup.

I'll admit it's a while since I've used one of these tools, as I now seem to do most of my HTML authoring with tinyMCE and CKeditor inside Drupal.

But, every now and again, I do find I want to conceptualise something quickly... so it's great to have this handy guide. I'm going to have a play with Aptana and Bluegriffon now!

Thanks!

I really prefer something that is quick, flexible, easy and poweful to use. Mostly bcs of that I choose Joomla that is the best CMS together with some template frameworks tools and page builders like SP Pagebuilder etc https://www.joomshaper.com/page-builder

Great list. I myself have moved away from Adobe Dreamweaver since I learned HTML and CSS. My Main Web Designing software is Aptana Studio. I really love Bluefish Editor as well. Kompozer was great, but sometimes I use it for Email Design.

Can anybody say what is going on with Aptana? Is it still being supported?

This review, from October 2017, talks about Aptana as if it is a going concern, but the Eclipse Marketplace links are broken, the Aptana website is slow and the downloads section doesn't work correctly, there is not mention of it on the Appcelerator website.

I found a link to install Aptana Eclipse plug-in on some forum, but when I try to run it downloads fail with an Eclipse internal error.

Hi, my personal favorite is htmlpen.com

You should consider adding it to your article. Check it out. You'll agree with me. And since it is online. It works great on mac as well.

I personally use Wordpress, and am super happy with it

I am using Codelobster

Hey, someone used GoDaddy or HostGator?

Great question.

Those are both web hosting services. You'll still have to design whatever site you choose to have them host for you.

There are a few hosts that support open source software that might serve you better than either of the two you mentioned. For instance, https://anhonesthost.com/shared-hosting/ does a lot for several open source communities, and https://webhosting.coop/ is a co-op web hosting service. Check them out!

In reply to by LizaPold

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