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Smultron - A nicely-done text editor Pick of the Week
The macosxhints Rating:

[Score: 8 out of 10]
  • Developer: Peter Borg / Product page
  • Price: Free (open source)
I'm always on the lookout for nice text editors. For many years, jEdit has been my editor of choice -- not necessarily because I find its interface the prettiest, nor its features the easiest to use and figure out, but simply because it has the right combination of features I'm looking for (more on that in a bit). However, the main downside of jEdit is that it's written in Java, and Textpander (now TextExpander shortcuts just don't work right in jEdit (it's got something to do with the pasteboard). This impacts my workflow (I have to toggle out/in of jEdit to make a new shortcut work), but the feature set in jEdit keeps me coming back. There's also no on-the-fly spellchecking, which I find nicer than running my completed text through a spell checker.

Smultron was first released a couple years back, and showed promise but was missing some features, at least based on my needs. The recent release of version 2, however, has addressed those missing features, with just a couple of exceptions. And just what are these features that I find so compelling in jEdit? There are really just three things that jEdit does that seem to be somewhat unique:
  • Split a window and show a different file in each split. jEdit can actually do this vertically and horizontally, as many times as you have the screen real estate to handle. But just one simple horizontal split is really enough for me. I use split view all the time with a CSS file open in one split, and an HTML file in another, so I can easily see the class assignments. Smultron 2.0 now allows a single horizontal split, with a different file open in the split area.
  • Easily close open HTML tags. In jEdit, typing </ will close the presently-opened HTML tag. In Smultron, Command-T will close the open tag.
  • Work with files directly on servers, via FTP or SFTP. jEdit has a very nice File System Browser that shows the directory structure and file for the currently-active directory, be it local or remote. Smultron, unfortunately, lacks this feature, but it does allow itself to be registered as the external editor for FTP/SFTP apps, such as Transmit, which is at least a halfway solution.
Some are probably saying 'BBEdit is it, why muck with anything else?' Well, BBEdit doesn't support split windows with different files in each split, and that's probably the most important item on my list. It also has a number of other little things that seem to annoy me, so I don't use it much. The other upsides of Smultron over jEdit are also quite nice -- my Textpander shortcuts work perfectly, and there's on-the-fly spell checking. You can also run Unix commands, and the Services menu is fully functional, unlike in jEdit, so I can use the HumaneText.service to format my text into XHTML.

Overall, I'm very impressed with Smultron 2.0, especially given that it's open source and free (donations are accepted). As of version 2.0, it's got a very polished feel, and has very nearly every feature I find important in a text editor. It's now been put into the macosxhints production cycle, as I'm using it for the daily hint publication (including this one) -- though I'm still falling back on jEdit for working on the site's PHP and HTML files, as the in-program SFTP support is just so convenient. But for most everything else I do, Smultron has earned a spot on my very short list of preferred text editors.
  • Currently 1.78 / 5
  You rated: 2 / 5 (9 votes cast)

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Something to try
Authored by: simbalala on Jul 03, '06 07:48:17AM

Install WebDAV support on your web servers and you won't care about SFPT support in your editor, just save from any editor direct to the server.

The 10.4.6 update of the O/S improved WebDAV support to the extent it's as fast as transfers via FTP/SFTP via any client, built in or external.

With WebDAV your server just looks like any other disk on your desktop. Very nice.

For those who hadn't realized it iDisk is WebDAV.

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Smultron - A nicely-done text editor
Authored by: bigkm on Jul 03, '06 07:48:50AM
I haven't used this before but anyone how hasn't seen TextMate then they should !

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Smultron - A nicely-done text editor
Authored by: koncept on Jul 03, '06 07:55:25AM

Completely agreed. I haven't touched my copy of BBEdit for almost a year since I bought TextMate. I have neve been so happy with an editor, or with the control an app gives me to extend functionality! Good job Alan!

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Smultron - A nicely-done text editor
Authored by: jacobolus on Jul 03, '06 08:17:39AM

If you really care about free, then TextWrangler and Smultron are very nice (and Smultron has the bonus of being open source), but as far as I'm concerned it's TextMate FTW–OS X's best Editor already outstrips the competition, and is improving as fast as any software product you've ever used.

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SkEdit is a great alternative!
Authored by: bcamp1973 on Jul 03, '06 08:14:37AM
I was a BBedit user for years however, about two years ago I picked up SkEdit and i haven't looked back. This is an excellent tool (for my purposes - SQL, PHP, HTML, CSS) and it seems to be a more mature (better interface) tool than those mentioned above...

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Smultron - A nicely-done text editor
Authored by: kirkmc on Jul 03, '06 08:47:54AM

I've been using Smultron as my text-editor-of-choice for quite some time, with the exception of when I need to do a lot of HTML, at which point I go back to BBEdit. In fact, I've been nudging Rob to try it out, and it was the split window thing that finally swayed him.

I find that Smultron offers a great environment for writing; not for coding. As a writer, I want a sleek, simple tool that lets me work with several files at a time (Smultron has both a left-hand document list and a tab bar), handles in-line spell-check, has good find/replace functions, and gets out of my way. Interestingly, Rob didn't mention one great new feature in the latest Smultron: full screen view. Several text editors and "writer's" word processors offer this; it is a way of showing nothing at all on your screen but your text and the background. (Not even window widgets or a menu bar.) This is a truly powerful feature for when you want to write and not be distracted by other programs. Unfortunately, this full screen view spans your text across the entire screen (for now, at least; I wrote the developer and I think he'll be fixing it). Ideally, this should work as it does in, say, Ulysses, where you define the width of the text. Lines twenty inches long are quite difficult to deal with.

All in all, Smultron is the best text editor I've found for working with words - maybe coders would want something different, such as BBEdit, with all its tools for writing HTML or other types of codes. But anyone who writes, and who doesn't want a feature-laden word processor, should have a look.

Read my blog: Kirkville --
Musings, Opinion and Miscellanea, on Macs, iPods and more

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Smultron - A nicely-done text editor
Authored by: danielsbrewer on Jul 03, '06 09:01:02AM
I do not know if it has just been added, but from the website it does appear to be able to do split views:

"Split window:
You can choose to work with two different documents or two parts of the same document by splitting the window. You can only split the window so that you see one document over the other. You choose the document that should appear in the lower part by dragging it to the lower part of the documents list."

And a screenshot:

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Authored by: pub3abn on Jul 03, '06 09:52:41AM

In BBEdit's defense, it does have a versatile "Arrange..." command, which lets you size and position windows in various ways. This may take slightly more screen real estate than Smultron's method, but not much. And essentially it accomplishes the same thing, especially in conjunction with the Documents Drawer.

Still, I could see value in BBEdit adding a split pane feature.

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Smultron - A nicely-done text editor
Authored by: jaysoffian on Jul 03, '06 11:01:27AM


I assume you've looked at TextMate, but you failed to mention it. :-(

Now I understand it doesn't have split-view. Believe me, coming from Emacs I'm a split-view addict. That being said, I find the rest of TextMate so sexy that I'm willing to give up split-view for now.

Also, given how you use split-view I have to wonder if you couldn't customize TextMate's HTML bundle slightly to give you the CSS browsing you desire. You might consider hopping on #textmate (freenode) and describing how you currently use split-view and see if anyone has suggestions ... the folks who hang out on that channel are very helpful

TextMate also has snippets built-in. TM's snippets have some pros/cons compare to TextExpander snippets. The advantages I see to TE snippets are: 1) system-wide; 2) you can nest snippets; 3) sexy snippet editor UI; The advantages to TM snippets are: 1) you can embed fields inside the snippets that you can tab-between; 2) the snippets can include output from arbitrary programs. Note that TextMate's "Edit in TextMate..." plug-in allows you to edit arbitrary text fields from within TM so that might be good enough.


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Authored by: mike3k on Jul 03, '06 02:57:52PM

I'm a long-time BBEdit user, but I'm now hooked on TextMate. The only thing TextMate doesn't do is open files directly from an FTP server. TextMate has the most extensive macro facility of any text editor - you can create bundles containing macros, commands, syntax hilighting rules, etc. for any language and there's an extensive collection of bundles available. There's even a blogging facility implemented as a bundle. TextMate also lets you run shell, perl, python, tcl, etc. scripts on the file or selection.

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Working with files directly on servers
Authored by: ipearx on Jul 03, '06 09:09:48PM

Isn't working directly on the server pretty dangerous? Assuming you have a development server (my local machine in my case) and a live server, if you edit files directly on the live server, you're very likely to override them when you do updates from the development server.

Here's how I work:
1) Every website I develop is working on my local laptop (the development server)
2) I only ever edit the files on the laptop
3) When done I upload the files to the web server via Transmit

It's definitely a one way thing. I never transfer website files from the server to my laptop.

I can see the editing remotely would be very handy if your development machines wasn't your local machine, but then I would probably mount the remote server properly rather than use FTP.

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Smultron - A nicely-done text editor
Authored by: billclinton on Jul 03, '06 10:28:04PM
I haven't tried every Mac or Unix text editors but I have used quite a few, and compared to TextMate, everything else looks like a toy. Go to and watch some of the screen videos and see if your eyes don't pop out.

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Smultron - A nicely-done text editor
Authored by: paperwings on Jul 05, '06 12:27:54PM

Too bad there's no vim equivalent to textmate. I can't leave vim. It does everything without having my fingers leave the keyboard. If there was a better gui version, I'd take it. Vim does split view simply and elegantly, and even diffs in split view.

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Smultron - A nicely-done text editor
Authored by: Grommet on Jul 03, '06 11:51:47PM

Requires 10.4.5.

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Smultron - A nicely-done text editor
Authored by: DylanMuir on Jul 04, '06 12:32:32AM

What about SubEthaEdit? Has anyone used Smultron and SEE? How do they compare? I find SubEthaEdit great for coding -- it doesn't do a split view with <i>separate</i> files, but I can't see myself using that feature much anyway. It has good support for syntax highlighting, text encodings, different new-line formats, block edit mode...


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Smultron - A nicely-done text editor
Authored by: wgscott on Jul 04, '06 03:05:34PM

I like(d) SubEthaEdit better, although I really want to like Smultron better. The interface of SEE is much cleaner somehow, and there are many nice features. Originally it was to be open-source. Then it became free to non-commercial users, then non-commercial users had to put up with an ugly watermark that periodically would proclaim to the world (or at least the viewing audience) that you were a potential thief, and now it is payware. Meanwhile it became bloated and sluggish. I never used its collaborative editing feature, so I don't see much point in buying it. (The old one is still free to noncommercial users). If I buy one it is going to be TextMate. Based on the above comments I am trying it out. If at the end of the month I am an addict, I will pay for the fix.

vim, meanwhile, is a wonderful editor.

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Smultron - A nicely-done text editor
Authored by: paperwings on Jul 06, '06 06:38:17AM

Here, here.

Now what we need is a better, more mac native gui for vim. If I had that, my greatest dream for the mac would be realized. I know that official vim website has a mac vim gui, but it just doesn't feel mac-ish enough, if you know what I mean.

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Smultron - A nicely-done text editor
Authored by: Shiver758 on Jul 05, '06 06:16:25AM
Dude. One word: Cyberduck.

You mentioned that you can register smultron as default app for ftp apps, but don't appear to have really checked it out.

Cyberduck + Smultron = death to jEdit. It totally, totally works. I use it to edit my admin scripts at work on Solaris boxes using sftp, and to edit my personal site using FTP. It's just fantastic. You really should try it.

And, as for those wondering about Hy^h^hSubEthaEdit.. It's not free, so I tend to prefer the other alternatives. Smultron works. Cyberduck works. I get work done when I use them.. Why spend money? ;)

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Authored by: allenwatson on Jul 25, '06 07:52:00AM

Here's another vote for TextMate. I still use BBEdit a lot, but for my website editing I'm coming to prefer TextMate.

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