7 open source alternatives to VS Code

Avoid Microsoft's proprietary VS Code build and opt for an open source code editor instead.
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164 readers like this
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Visual Studio Code, also known as VS Code, is a code editor for Linux, Windows, and macOS. It's the kind of editor that walks the line between editing text and managing your entire codebase, like an integrated development environment (IDE). It's extensible through plugins and has proven to be a reliable text editor that's easily beaten out formidable non-open rival editors.

Microsoft released VS Code as open source, but the version you download from Microsoft is not open source. However, you have several options for using VS Code as open source or selecting one of its open source alternatives.

Building VS Code as open source

VS Code's source code is available on GitHub. Yet when you download the VS Code application from Microsoft, you'll find that your download is licensed under the Microsoft Software License. This isn't an open source license. The difference is in the build process.

Chris Dias, a Microsoft developer on the VS Code project, makes a comparison between VS Code and, for instance, the Chrome browser and its open source "upstream" project, Chromium. VS Code is indeed built upon an open source codebase. The official Microsoft-branded release is customized with Microsoft-specific functionality, including a trademark, an extensions gallery, a proprietary C# debugger, and telemetry. But when you clone and build the code yourself, none of these targets is configured, so you generate a "clean" version, which is called Code - OSS (OSS stands for open source software).

In practice, the differences between VS Code and Code - OSS are minimal. Most notably, VS Code includes telemetry, which is tracking software. It's unlikely that Microsoft is literally tracking your every move, and there's lots of software out there these days that gathers usage data. Whether or not you care about VS Code's telemetry is up to you. If you'd rather do without the usage tracking, here are some great (and open source) alternatives to VS Code.

VSCodium

The easiest alternative to VS Code is VS Code itself, built without Microsoft's proprietary additions. The VSCodium project provides downloadable executables of Code - OSS, built from the VS Code codebase without Microsoft's product.json changes. The VSCodium developers also go to great length to deactivate all hard-to-find telemetry options, delivering the cleanest build of VS Code's source you can find without building it yourself.

VSCodium cautions that VS Code quietly includes some proprietary tools that cannot be shipped with an open source build. This includes a C# debugger and some gallery extensions. If you need them, there are documented workarounds for these issues, but if you rely on something very specific in VS Code, you should verify that it functions in VSCodium.

You should also verify that all telemetry is deactivated.

Code - OSS

If you don't want to use VSCodium's build, you can compile VS Code from source yourself and end up with the same thing. The executable is called Code - OSS rather than VSCode, and the license restrictions that apply to VSCodium also apply to your build, but so do the workarounds.

If you build the application from source, you should verify that all telemetry is deactivated when you first launch it.

Atom

Atom is an open source IDE-like text editor that Microsoft acquired when it purchased GitHub. Like VS Code, you can extend the Atom editor with plugins and customize it with themes and your unique combination of tools. It is also cross-platform and has built-in GitHub integration. In short, Atom is potentially whatever you need it to be, so long as the extensions you need already exist or you're willing to write them.

Also like VS Code, Atom includes metrics tracking by default. This can be disabled, and unlike VS Code, there are no arbitrary restrictions on extensions, so you don't have to change up your workflow in exchange for your privacy. Atom is certainly a useful tool for coders, but it's also a pretty great editor for anyone who uses a computer. If you're looking for a good general-purpose text editor, give Atom a try.

GNOME Builder

Developed as an IDE for the GNOME desktop, GNOME Builder is a code editor for Linux, specifically for building GNOME applications. If you're building applications for Linux and want an easy avenue to compatibility, Builder is the easy choice. Install Builder from Flathub.org; when you start a project, it'll even prompt you to install the GNOME SDK if you're missing it. This means you don't have to consciously track GNOME as you maintain your application because Builder does it for you.

However, you can use Builder for much more than just GNOME applications. It supports dozens of programming languages, including Python, Rust, C and C++, Java, Go, JavaScript, TypeScript, VB.NET, several markup and Markdown languages, and more. Some of these have full support with autocompletion and pop-up function definitions, while others only have simple conveniences such as syntax highlighting and auto-bracket matching. The IDE is a pleasure to work with, though, whether you consider yourself a serious programmer or you're just in need of a good HTML and CSS editor.

Geany

Geany is a powerful, stable, and lightweight editor with useful features to help you write good Bash, Python, Lua, XML, HTML, LaTeX, and more. There's plenty of support for 50 different programming and scripting languages, markup languages, and miscellaneous filetypes (such as .diff and .po). At the very least, Geany almost certainly provides bracket matching and syntax highlighting—and it usually offers quite a lot more.

Geany is a modest little editor, but through plugins, you can add features such as a panel for a project view, filesystem tree, debugging, a terminal, and so on until it looks and acts like an IDE. Or, if you prefer, you can keep it simple and understated. If you can't run VS Code on a computer due to limitations in CPU or RAM, Geany is the obvious alternative. It's quick to launch, and its memory footprint is negligible. While Geany is a little heftier than running Vim in a terminal, it's fast and snappy even on a Raspberry Pi.

Brackets

Brackets is a text editor and IDE aimed at web developers. It has strong support for HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, and even Python. However, like VS Code, it has a rich ecosystem of extensions, so you can expand it to serve as your workbench for whatever language you work in the most.

There are extensions to help parse languages, to run scripts, and even to compile and execute code. Brackets has a traditional interface anyone can understand, whether or not you're familiar with an IDE or even a text editor beyond a simple notepad. If you spend a little time adding relevant extensions and getting to know them, you'll find Brackets a useful and subtle editor that helps you, through autocompletion and linting, avoid silly mistakes in whatever you're typing. And if you're writing code, it'll probably make your testing and debugging workflow faster.

Che

If you enjoy living on the cutting edge, Che is an editor you need to try. It's a cloud-based IDE, so it runs by default as a Software as a Service (SaaS), but it's entirely open source, so it can be run as your own SaaS, provided you have a Kubernetes instance.

More than just being an online IDE, though, Che is an IDE built for cloud development. It makes no assumptions that you expect or want a view of your local filesystem. It lives and works in the cloud, so you can too. In fact, if you have a Git server, you can treat it as your filesystem and work on a project directly from its repository. Of course, you can also download any work you do, if you like to have a local backup copy.

But its main feature, and the one cloud developers are excited about, is that Che is a full-featured, Kubernetes-aware, open source IDE. If you're building apps, sites, or containers (or a combination of the three) for the cloud, then Che is an editor you need to try.

What's your choice?

Are you using one of these alternatives to VS Code? Is there one you would like to try? Please share your feedback in the comments.

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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.

33 Comments

GNU Emacs, of course. But it's not an alternative, it's one of a kind.

I agree. Emacs is the best.
I use spacemacs to avoid configuration headaches. And it works like a charm.

In reply to by dogsleg

Don't hate me for this as I'm an XEmacs user but this applies here. Seen on slashdot years ago: "Emacs is a fine OS but what it's missing is a good editor"

In reply to by dogsleg

I thought about including Eclipse, but went with Che instead because Che is pretty progressive and feels a little more like VSCode than plain old Eclipse. I think the real difference is in the configuration workflow, but that's just my opinion.

Eclipse is definitely a great option. Heck, there's an argument that any IDE at all makes for a better IDE than VSCode, which doesn't really claim to be an IDE, but a text editor.

In reply to by Girish Managoli

Vim of course

right? as i was going through the list i was thinking - they'll save the best for last.
but no, no mention of vim, common!

In reply to by Linux user (not verified)

I didn't include Vim as an alternative because I cover it extensively elsewhere, such as:

https://opensource.com/resources/what-vim

https://opensource.com/article/20/2/how-install-vim-plugins

I based the definition of "alternative" in this context to configuration and to plugin workflow. While Vim is really easy to extend (what's simpler than an .rc file?), I don't feel it's necessarily familiar to someone looking for alternatives to VSCode. That's not *bad*, but I was trying to work within some constraints as a way to focus the article and keep it from being a "laundry list" of literally every other text editor in existence.

In reply to by dirk dierickx (not verified)

And theia? I think is very similar to VSC

Theia is a platform for building an IDE.
Che, which is included in this article, is an IDE.
Both are Eclipse projects, but I felt Che was better suited as an alternative, because it's an IDE ready for use.

In reply to by Fabián (not verified)

www.theia-ide.org should be mentioned here. It's open source and runs in the browser or locally.

Also, www.gitpod.io offers a hosted version or you can host it yourself.

Acknowledged.

Theia is a platform for building an IDE.
Che, which is included in this article, is an IDE.
Both are Eclipse projects, but I felt Che was better suited as an alternative, because it's an IDE ready for use.

In reply to by Mike Nikles (not verified)

NeoVim with CoC nvim. It's the best tools that I can think about. It saves my battery life on Thinkpad X240 but with intelisense that come with VS Code and it's amazing to be honest. Haha.

I already use Atom for some basic stuff! Good to know there are so many options available. I am struggling with Android Studio already, looking for some options/plugins to "draw" Android XML but didn't find it. If you have any suggestions, let me know =)

What about Comodo edit?

So, let me get this clear: it's not enough for you that MS published the source of VS Code, but you also want to deter people from using the packaged, telemetry-included version, because... Reasons? I myself am thankful for MS for making it open-source and having a healthy ecosystem around their editor. Telemetry? Be my guest, I hope it helps the editor even better. This zealotism reminds me of someone... Oh, say hi to RMS for me.

Part of the strength of open source is that there are gratuitous alternatives. The point of this article isn't to deter anyone from using Microsoft's build, it's only to clarify that VSCode, as released by Microsoft, does not carry an OSI-approved license, and does have telemetry and some proprietary bits of extensions. If you're looking for an alternative, this article (and many of the comments) list several. If not, you're free to use whatever you please. I'd be disappointed in open source if there wasn't that flexibility.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

In reply to by impaque (not verified)

Bluefish

What about sublime text?

This article doesn't makes sense vscode still open source

You're partly correct: the source code for VSCode is available. You can build an application called "Code -OSS" from the source, or you can download someone else's build (called VSCodium). Microsoft's build contains telemetry and some extensions that are not open source, and so it is licensed under a non-OSI license.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

In reply to by Vinicios de Li… (not verified)

Apache NetBeans. It is a great IDE completly open source.

It was on my list of possible inclusions, but I eventually decided against it because its workflow felt so different from VSCode. As I say in a previous comment, though, I think there's an argument that VSCode doesn't see itself as an IDE (even though there are extensions that help it act like one), and so Netbeans is sort of a separate class entirely.

In reply to by Laszlo Kishalmi (not verified)

Tried almost all of them and brackets is a small app that's just enough for me. Great for web development from scratch.
I use proprietary software for app development.

I like Apache Netbeans. Speed is better after Apache released it though not fast like vsc.For php and js I've found it easier to use with necessary features available easily

I'm a fan of Netbeans as well. I've been using it lately for Java development and have no complaints.

In reply to by Vinu Felix (not verified)

I'm missing Kate (KDE Advanced Text Editor), it's a good one

Great observation. Kate is a great editor, I'm sorry I didn't think to include it.

In reply to by almaember (not verified)

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.