Switching to Atom for Web Coding

As a web developer I am in many ways a creature of habit: I started making websites back when the “blink” tag was still cool, under construction GIFs were all the rage, and every site declared with images whether it was designed to land on the Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator side of the browser wars. At the time, there weren’t many options of great tools for working with HTML and JavaScript: WYSIWYG, or “what you see is what you get” editors, produced convoluted and messy code if used for their intended purposes. Like many a young clean-code obsessive, I stuck with using Notepad, because it was free and straightforward.

A few decades later, I’ve mostly stuck with the heir to Notepad, Notepad++. There’s a lot to be said for Notepad++, including its low overhead and simplicity. In digital humanities and intro to code workshops, as well as my lower-level programming courses, I’ve always emphasized choosing a development environment that is low on distractions: the only feature most beginners notice is content-aware highlighting, which makes it easier to know when reserved words are typed correctly, and code blocking, which makes it easier to spot a missing } at the end of a function. Lincoln’s written about a similar text editor, Vim, in the past as one of the power tools for writers.

However, this year I finally converted to something (relatively) new: Atom. Atom is a free, highly customizable text editor built by Github, so it’s both well-optimized for working for projects with version control and inherently easy to expand with packages built by users. It comes with several built-in themes as well as a number of different color schemes designed by users, and runs across operating systems reliably.

Some of my favorite packages for getting started are:

  • Zentabs: closes old file tabs if the limit of five is exceeded, which is particularly useful for people like me who have a bad habit of leaving everything open. Cuts down on distractions and clutter.

  • Atom-beautify: improves readability of code with automatic spacing, saves a lot of time and works when opening files from students or examples that aren’t well-formatted.

  • Hey-pane: adds fast resizing for easily focusing in on your active editing pane, which is great both when using Atom to demo development to students

My favorite aspect of Atom is its project-driven organization model, which makes it easy to see all the files in a complex project while working, and open multiple files in a lot of different views depending on your goals. If you’re working on digital projects, or even starting to learn web development by downloading projects from Github to examine, this ease of viewing and range of tools can make the process a lot easier. There’s also packages to support development easily in a huge range of languages, so it’s great for people working across many projects.

Do you use Atom, or do you have another favorite text editor? Share your tips in the comments!

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