Review: TextWrangler

Create any kind of text easily and quickly. (September 23rd, 2009)

The latest update to TextWrangler, Bare Bones Software‘s plain text editing application includes compatibility with Mac OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard, plus adds a number of enhancements to its search functions, and FTP support.

MacNN Rating:


Product Manufacturer: Bare Bones Software

Price: Free

The Good

  • Modal Find.
    Clipboard source language awareness.
    Editable text views.
    Help files include a tutorial.

The Bad

  • FTP browser needs File Type in addition to Name and Date columns.

Who Needs It

TextWrangler, designed for people who want to edit plain text, offers a quick way to create any written word document without the added bloat of formatted text. It lets you open and edit text clippings, spell checks as you type, or you can use it to create code, such as HTML, CSS, PHP, Python, Ruby, and C++. It features many tools for the coder including Find and Replace, Multi-File Find and Replace, Find Differences in files or folders, FTP/SFTP support, syntax color-coding, and garbage text removal. Each document window sports it's own Toolbar and Navigation bar, to make specific kinds of editing easier. You can hide either bar from the View menu. This Universal application runs on PowerPC and Intel-based Macs running Mac OS X 10.4 and it's free!

I use TextWrangler to maintain my websites, which consist mostly of HTML, CSS, and a little bit of PHP for the email contact and the newsletter subscription pages. The Preferences let you set custom colors for your HTML tags, which make hand-coding a breeze.

 textwrangler preferences

HTML Preferences

TextWrangler does not have the HTML Tools palette, ACSCII table, nor the Markup menu included in it's big brother BBEdit, but the cost differential, free vs. $125, makes the program worth checking out. The press release states, "The Objective-C and Objective-C++ modules have been updated with additional language keywords; the Java and Python modules have also been significantly enhanced." As I'm not a programmer, I cannot test those new features, but as you can see below, there are plenty of language options from which you can choose.

xtand heights

Language Edit Options

Find It Fast

The revised Find command caught my eye first. It is now non-modal, which means that it doesn't block access to your open documents when you use it.

When I do a Find and Replace I like to copy my old code, paste it into the Find window, then copy the new code and paste it into the Replace With window. Until now I couldn't do that easily because once I opened the Find window I couldn't go back to any other open documents without first closing the Find window. So, I had to copy the old code, paste it into a TextEdit document, copy the new code, paste it into the Replace With window, then go copy the old code from the TextEdit document and paste it into the Find window. TextWrangler 3 changes all that.

Find dialog

Find Dialog

Now with the Find window open, you can go to any other open document or even open additional documents. It makes using TextWrangler much easier.

The Multi-File Search command used to appear on the bottom left of the Find window, but is now a separate window. You can even open a Find dialog and a Multi-File search dialog at the same time, which is handy to prepare serious search operations.

Multifile search

Multi-File Search Dialog

TextWrangler 3 also attaches a source language hint to anything that you copy into the Clipboard. Therefore, if you copy a bit of PHP and paste it into a document that has no source language set, the document inherits the PHP settings of the Clipboard contents or whatever type of text you copied.

Similarly, New (with selection) and New (with Clipboard) commands create your new document using the language of the selection or Clipboard.

xtand heights

New Document Menu

The text views in browsing windows, such as disk browsers or search results, are now editable; rather than having to open a file in a new window from such a browser, you can just edit it right in the window. This welcome addition works very well.

TextWrangler includes built-in file transfer protocols (FTP). The FTP browser, with its basic capabilities, connected faster than CyberDuck on both my home and office Macs.

TextWrangler 3 may be a free application but don't let that fool you, this is a serious text editing tool. It's earned its place in my toolbox and should be in yours too.

by Patrick Clark & ilene hoffman


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