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Aptana logo So far I have been using one of the simpler tools for writing code, Notepad++. Due to some recent FTP problems however, I set out on a search for an alternative tool. I eventually came up with Aptana, a free code editing tool which is so bustling with features, it’s amazing.

When I first fired it up it was a bit slow, but after that I was quite impressed. Presentation-wise it looks more like Dreamweaver than Notepad++ or HTML-kit, and this is true features-wise as well.

It has a tabbed interface, so you can work on multiple files at a time, and since it supports a lot of languages, you can use it for multi-language development too. HTML, CSS and Javascript are its main strong points, but with plugins you can enable php, AJAX, iPhone development, and more. One of the drawbacks I found is that it won’t open a file it doesn’t recognize. It would be nice to open any file like Notepad++ can, since many times you don’t need advanced features for a quick edit.

The selling point of Aptana for me was the FTP integration. I don’t actually use advanced features too much.

Aptana -  HTML, CSS and Javascript editor

I like writing my HTML and CSS totally by hand, so those are just convenient extras for me. FTP support is built in very well and effectively. You can add FTP directories directly to your file list and download files from there, syncing them with every save. Downloading was a bit slow for me occasionally, usually just after establishing the connection, but not so much that I would call it a drawback.


Once you have a file loaded, you can get to editing. You get a sort of rich text editor, but instead of being able to bold text, change font and so on, you get tag-wraps, like “wrap with <h1>” and “wrap with <li>”. This is actually the one part I use, when creating lists there is no end to the encasings that I need to do, since usually my list items are links as well. Now I can blow through list creation in seconds. You can also switch between languages which will give you different options, like inserting CSS comments and wrapping in a loop.

Code collapsing is also available in the editor, and is done automatically. Start and end tags are paired automatically, so if you press the minus icon left of a tag, it will collapse it until the matching end tag. You can then expand again by pressing the plus icon, or just view the code by hovering over it. I use this feature a lot when developing a website, I collapse the parts of code I want to put in separate php files, and css that I will be placing in an external file later on for example.

Another feature I love, although haven’t learned to make use of yet is the outline feature. By default you will find this in the top-right corner, and it shows the tag structure of your code. Tags contained within tags can be expanded and collapsed and you can get a great overview of your code. One useful way to use this is for navigation, since you can quickly jump anywhere, but I’m sure I’ll find other uses later on.

Snippets in Aptana

Since I could go on and on about the features in Aptana, let me choose a few more quickly from my favorites. Validation works extremely well in Aptana, it’s built in underneath the editor in a minimizable box. It refreshes automatically when correcting and gives you very good explanations of the errors, right down to what you should change exactly. It’s very unobtrusive, which is something I rarely see in html/css related applications. The other feature I loved was one-click formatting, which changes your code from a mess to a beautifully formated code with tabs and line breaks in the right place. If you’re a messy coder, this one will come in handy, since you can forget about code presentation until the very end.

Beginners will love Aptana because once you familiarize yourself with the interface, you’ll realize that there is a lot of help there for beginners. From the one click formatting to the expressive contextual tag help to examples and validation help you could probably start learning HTML and CSS in Aptana itself. On the other hand, these features won’t get in the way of serious coders who don’t need in-your-face help. You can work normally without even noticing these.

Overall I am very impressed with Aptana. I have been looking for a tool like this for ages, but everything I found was not up to the job, so I just used a notepad replacement. While Aptana has shortcomings from the text-editor side, it’s obvious that it is not meant for that purpose. As a code editor it works extremely well, serving novice users and pros alike.

The size of around 100Mb may be a bit scary, but you get a lot of examples, code snippets and other extras, so it’s well worth the download. There is a paid version available as well with advanced features, but for JS, HTML, CSS and PHP you will be fine. You can take a look at the difference between editions and decide if you need to go pro.

Considering that it costs a fourth of what Dreamweaver costs and has about 9/10th of the features, I think you’re getting quite a bargain.

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