What Is The Difference Between A Text Editor And An IDE?

What Is The Difference Between A Text Editor And An IDE?

Without text editors and IDEs, a programmer’s life would be incomplete. In such a way, it seems as if they spend half their lives writing programs and codes and designing user interfaces for websites in text editors and IDEs. Without these essential tools, we would be stuck in the stone age, writing code out with pen and paper.

It is worth noting that a text editor and an IDE (short for “integrated development environment”) are different, and most people usually prefer one over the other. You’ll find diehards who insist that you need an IDE to be the most productive, while others say that a text editor is good enough. But let’s be honest, it’s simply a matter of preference at the end of the day. 

If you are wondering about the differences between the two, then you are in the right place. In today’s article, we’ll explore the actual differences between text editors and IDEs and figure out which one is really better for your situation. Let’s go!

Text Editor Vs. IDE: What’s the Difference?

Now before we get into any further discussion, it is crucial to know the fundamental difference between the two. IDEs can be used as text editors, and text editors can be used as IDEs. Whether you are working in JavaScript, styling with CSS, or just crafting some basic HTML, both text editors and IDEs will be up to the task.

That said, when we talk about an IDE, we’re talking about a full-fledged software environment that provides developers with essential tools to help them build and test software. A text editor is a simple program. The purpose of a text editor is to edit plain text and not much else. 

With more functions, it’s evident that IDE requires more memory and disk space and probably a more robust computer, whereas a text editor is quite the opposite. A text editor doesn’t require a fancy computer; the hardware resources it consumes are low and take less disk space. 

That said, certain features are exclusively for an IDE and can’t be found in a text editor. You can think of an IDE as a full-featured text editor. With an IDE, you can run, debug and make amends within a program. 

An IDE offers functions auto-completion of code, which suggests the end of a code according to the code you are writing. You can use IDE as a file manager and keep track of all your files.

An IDE is a complete package with everything from a compiler to a linker. You can even use an integrated development environment as a performance profiler to help you analyze the performance of the code you are working at. 

In contrast, if we talk about text editors, their primary function is relatively simple: they edit text. With this simple power, you can still craft entire websites and programs. However, without the added features of an IDE, you’re in for a challenging ride. Text editors work great for writing simple HTML or CSS, but they run into limitations for building more extensive applications. Let’s talk about some of the pros and cons.

Pros and Cons of using a Text Editor

Now undoubtedly, a text editor is simply faster than an IDE. They are easier to learn as they have fewer functions and are perfect for learning the syntax of a specific language you are working at. This will also help master a programming language as there will be no auto-completion feature. If you are learning JavaScript, for example, the text editor won’t hold your hand and autocomplete your classes and functions–you’ll have to do it all manually.

In a text editor, you get fewer distractions as there is only one toolbar and some text editing options you might need while coding. In a text editor, after writing your program, you can compile and run it using a command prompt; this gives you a true sense of execution flow and programming. 

Lastly, you will undoubtedly be better at debugging the code than an average programmer who uses an IDE to code. Whereas, there are cons to using a text editor as well. Firstly, working on a text editor is hard, especially if you are a beginner. You will find more errors, and debugging will be more challenging than it would be on an IDE. 

With text editors, you will not have access to pre-installed libraries for a specific program. Though this might not sound much of a con at first, it gets worse as codes get more complex for more significant projects. Users can’t even install advanced packets with some text editors, and the primary user interface can get tedious while coding.

Of course, you can still work on JavaScript, HTML, and CSS!

Pros and Cons of using an IDE

Now, when it comes to IDEs, there are just as many pros and cons. For starters, IDEs are simply more powerful, and you only need one tool to compile, debug and run a program. They offer a smoother coding environment, and an IDE theme can be customized according to the user’s preference. 

Most IDEs are developed for a specific language, making it easy for the developers to make their choice. For instance, PyCharm is known as the best IDE for Python development. Netbeans is the IDE of choice if you want to program in Java since it is this language’s official development environment. Though there might be a difference in opinion in some cases, in general, IDEs can work well for any programming language. 

IDEs support external plug-ins. For example, if you require an interface for external tools like a debugging tool, you can use their plugin. Furthermore, the syntax highlight features make the development process fast and easy. 

Lastly, an IDE also offers a console that displays the results after executing the code. Developers can instantly change the code if they find any unwanted error, making debugging much more accessible. At the same time, there are a few cons for IDEs. Firstly, you will be distracted by all the unwanted icons and options in an IDE toolbar. 

You will not have a deep understanding of compiling and executing a program as in IDEs. All you have to do is click the “Execute” button, and the rest is done. 

Lastly, IDEs aren’t the best for learning, as the auto-completion feature will do much of the thinking for you. For example, in VS Code, the “Intellisense” feature provides you with suggestions as you type. Instead of searching for the name of the class or function you were going to use, you’re able to select it from the list.

Text Editor Vs. IDE: Which is Best? 

At the end of the day, IDEs and text editors are two different tools to accomplish the same task. Before you get too hung up on choosing one over the other, you should focus on the language and the concepts you are trying to learn rather than the development environment.

In other words, if you are just starting your development journey, it doesn’t matter if you have the fanciest IDE with all the plugins and custom themes. In fact, you could even argue that a basic text editor is better since it offers less guidance and hand-holding. What matters is that you focus on learning the language, and you will naturally develop a preference for an IDE or text editor over time.

Tyler Von Harz

I am a computer and software nerd. I love working on new projects that involve taking something apart, troubleshooting, coding, writing, or developing. I started my journey down this path as a kid and opened my first computer repair shop at 18. I also own and operate a web development agency and a Youtube channel for coding.

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