By Kumar Dhanagopal
Notepad++ is a source code editor. By “code” I mean not just programming languages like Java and C, but also markup languages like HTML and XML. In this review, I focus on the value of Notepad++ as an HTML editor, particularly for users who are setting out to learn how to write HTML tags.
Notepad++ is free! You can download the installer from http://notepad-plus-plus.org/. I started using Notepad++ v5.9 a little over a year ago. Before starting to write this review, when I looked for updates, I was pleasantly surprised to find twelve updates! The software certainly seems to be maintained very actively. The latest version, as of April 2012, is v6.1.1. As far as I can tell, Notepad++ is currently available only for Windows.
Why another text editor?
Notepad++ is not just another text editor like, say, Notepad or WordPad, both of which ship free with Microsoft Windows. For example, Notepad++ supports syntax highlighting, tabbed views, and several other features as shown in the following screenshot:
The main user interface consists of a single row of icons in a toolbar at the top. Each icon has a helpful, mouse-over tool tip. If multiple files are open, you can navigate the files by using the tabs row that is located just under the toolbar.
A very useful feature of Notepad++, and one of the things that sets it apart from other text editors, is the ability to edit multiple files simultaneously in “tabs”. If you are working on a website that consists of several HTML files and CSS files, with Notepad++, you can keep all the files open and work on them side by side. This feature is handy when you want to perform tasks across several pages of a large website, such as finding and replacing text.
As I said earlier, Notepad++ supports coding of several programming and markup languages. The moment you select the language for your document, Notepad++ automatically formats the code displayed on the screen to highlight the key syntax elements of the chosen language. This helps new users understand and troubleshoot code.
Location indicators and line number display
In the status bar at the bottom of the Notepad++ window, the line and column number of the current position of the cursor are displayed. These indicators too are useful for locating and troubleshooting HTML code. They are also useful for making specific references to code segments, during code review meetings for example.
Notepad++ supports selection of one or more tags with one click. Say you want to select all the lines pertaining to a particular row in a multicolumn table. Identifying the closing tag of the required <tr> element (that is, the point where the row ends) can be tricky. Notepad++ displays a tag collapser/expander using which you can select all the lines of an element, including child elements, with one click. This feature is also useful when you want to skim all the elements in a long HTML file without having to see where each element ends.
A common chore when it comes to maintaining legacy HTML content is making updates spanning several lines of code and even across multiple files. With Notepad++, we can automate such tedious updates by recording a set of keystrokes as a macro and then running the macro repeatedly across a set of lines or even until the end of a file.
Besides the features I have reviewed so far, Notepad++ provides several other useful features like a built-in spell checker, the ability to launch the current draft of the HTML file in a browser, side-by-side synchronized vertical scrolling of two files, and column editing. Despite being free, Notepad++ comes with extensive conceptual and how-to documentation. So if you are looking for an HTML editor for Windows that provides just about all the basic features at zero cost, do not look any further. Notepad++ is the tool for you!
About the Author
Kumar Dhanagopal is a senior project lead for documentation at Oracle India. For more information about Kumar, see his LinkedIn profile: http://in.linkedin.com/in/kumardhanagopal.