3 lightweight text editors for Linux

Improve your productivity with these plain text editors.
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135 readers like this
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Original photo by Marco Tedaldi. Modified by Rikki Endsley. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Anyone can use plain text to work more effectively. The one tool that you need in order to do that is a decent text editor.

Unless you're a coder, a system administrator, or a DevOps person, that editor doesn't need to be brimming with functions and features. A lightweight text editor is more than enough for most people.

When it comes to picking one, choices abound. You can use the editor that's baked into your Linux distribution, or you can consider one of these lightweight text editors:

FeatherPad

As its name implies, FeatherPad is quite the compact editor. Its compactness hides quite a few useful features, making FeatherPad an effective editor for almost anyone.

When you first fire it up, FeatherPad doesn't look much different from most text editors out there. It does launch quickly, though. FeatherPad's features include automatic syntax highlighting of markup and coding languages, automatically closing brackets (again, useful when working with markup and coding languages), and an extensive set of keyboard shortcuts.

One feature that grew on me was the ability to position document tabs. In most text editors that open documents in separate tabs, those tabs appear along the top of the editor window. With FeatherPad, you can put tabs at the top, bottom, left, or right. I've found that putting the tabs on the left reduces visual clutter and distractions.

All in all, FeatherPad is a good choice if you want a small and fast editor that packs some useful features.

featherpad screenshot

Code

Don't let this editor's name fool you; while you can program using Code, it's still light enough for everyday text editing.

Designed for Elementary OS, Code has a simple and clean user interface. In fact, there are only a few items on the toolbar. In addition to icons to open and save a file, there are options to change the syntax highlighting of the file you're editing, an option to change the size of indents, and a line counter. As I said, simple and clean.

Code's configuration options are quite basic: you can set the font, indents, and enable text wrapping. For most of us, that's enough. With Code, you can focus on your work and not on tweaking options. That, for me, is the hallmark of a good tool.

If you do need a bit more, Code also packs several extensions. Those extensions are similar to the ones that you find in gedit, including bracket completion, a spelling checker, and word completion. Not all extensions are enabled out of the box, however; you have to go into the settings to turn them on or off.

Of the general-purpose editors I've tried with Elementary OS, Code is hands down my favorite. It does what I need it to without a bunch of options I'll never use getting in the way.

Code screenshot

Leafpad

Scoff if you will, but there are more than a few Windows users who call Notepad their text editing home. Notepad is the extreme example of a lightweight editor—it has no fancy features or functions; it just works.

If you've jumped ship from Windows to Linux, or are a long-time Linux user looking for a barebones text editor, then you'll want to check out Leafpad.

There are no frills. You can change the editor's font, turn word wrapping on and off, and automatically indent text. You also get a good search and replace function. And that's about it.

What you do get is a simple canvas on which to get things done. That could be writing, taking notes, maintaining a to-do list, editing a web page, or fiddling with a configuration file.

Leafpad is a snappy, simple, solid tool for quick and dirty text editing.

Leafpad screenshot

Conclusion

You can't discount a lightweight editor for working in plain text. For some, lightweight text editors are ideal tools: they're small, they're fast, and they don't have a lot of cognitive overhead. They let you focus on your work. As I chronicle elsewhere on the web, maybe all you need to be as productive as you want to be is plain text.

Do you have a favorite lightweight text editor? Feel free to share it with our community by leaving a comment.

What to read next
That idiot Scott Nesbitt ...
I'm a long-time user of free/open source software, and write various things for both fun and profit. I don't take myself all that seriously and I do all of my own stunts.

19 Comments

No love for Geany ?
I have been using it for almost a decade

Geany got a mention in another roundup article, and has a good article devoted to it. It's gotten quite a bit of love, to be honest.

In reply to by Mehargags (not verified)

Definitely not lightweight... But given how much I use it as a developer... I use Visual Studio Code on Linux, Windows and Mac.

The integrated terminal, directory and remote ssh support are hands down above any editor I've used.

Mousepad (xfce) is a great lightweight editor. It has all the basic features you want like syntax highlighting, line numbers, margins etc but no more

Just use vi.
So lightweight, it's built into your system and runs in a terminal.

I use VIM text editor & it has features like syntax coloring, tag system, tab expansion, split screen etc

That should not happen and may have a different cause. (Neo)Vim is by far the snappiest editor I've ever used, with few feeling as fast. The only exception I know are huge files with only one really long line, but those are going to be bad in pretty much any editor.

In reply to by Michael Moore

What's the name of the font that have used in leafpad?

I guess its because I started with Fedora and Gnome, that I love and use gEdit?...for all my text manipulation needs? That isn't to say I don't use other editors, but whenever possible? I remove the text editor that comes with some distros, and install gEdit. It just does everything I need it to do, without being over-the-top. And this is one of the reasons why I love Linux and the Open Source community so much!, the fact that anyone can install / remove whatever they want in order to make their environment more comfortable for themselves without worrying about "breaking" something is the best!!

I love gEdit, too. My editor of choice for several years. However, I started looking into alternatives after they 've removed the "save session" build-in feature and redone the UI. I am now giving pluma (gEdit fork) editor a try.

In reply to by Eddie G. O'Connor Jr (not verified)

Nice article, Scott. One of the things I don't often see mentioned in text editor discussions is the kind of editor that 1) views the screen as a canvas full of blanks, 2) tends to run in replacement mode rather than insert mode and 3) is really only useful with monospace fonts. This was the first kind of text editor I encountered and it was really useful for programming in FORTRAN where columns 1-5, 6 and 7 had real meaning and for editing files of data where fields were fixed width. Having long since moved on from FORTRAN, once in awhile when I have a bunch of data to deal with, I miss this ability, even after 36 years of using vi(m)...

Yeah, Ed is light. In the Ed/ex/edit/vi extended family, a vi alternative that has a really small footprint is levee. It'll be familiar to vi users.

As long as we're discussing editors that work without a GUI the GNU nano editor is pretty simple too. It has enough features to do the same kind of simple things that leafpad, mousepad, featherpad do minus any GUI copy/paste, but I believe it does offer a few ways to copy and modify text without having to memorize any keystroke accelerators or commands. They are readily available, either displayed or accessible from help. Most of the time you don't need anything special at all.

In reply to by Robert Solomon

wow, looks really interesting

Incredible. Very interesting information.

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