Review: 5 Free HTML Editors that Get the Job Done

May 19th, 2008 in Product Reviews

by: Matthew Griffin

A couple months ago a subscriber commented on one of my articles asking me for a resource list of Free HTML editors. I had made mention of Adobe Dreamweaver in the article and he politely reminded me that not everyone has the money to drop on Adobe's products. I decided he had a good point and determined to find the best free HTML editors out there. The task turned out to be quite a wild ride but one well worth it. Here are five solid HTML editors that get the job done.


1. First Page (Windows)-

First page is touted by it creator Evrsoft as the HTML editor that won't mess with your code. FP has a solid list of predefined templates to create new HTML or CSS files. They aren't layout templates, just different doctypes but they save you a little time, at the very least. The environment of the editor itself is pretty robust. It defaults to a split screen code/wysiwyg view with a left-column panel for browsing files that can be toggled on and off. Code syntax highlighting is available for Perl, CSS, HTML, CF, ASP, and SSI. Unfortunately, as you can see, it doesn't render PHP pages very gracefully. Sorry, PHP fans.

The tool-set is impressive for a free editor. It has everything you would expect to see in a professional editor like Dreamweaver, including quick browser preview, rollover images, special character list, spellcheck and thesaurus lookup, visual color picker, and a stylesheet link-up wizard. FP also has a built-in library of JavaScript modules that's pretty extensive (450+ scripts); and its "Tidy HTML" tool actually does a decent job cleaning up HTML and converting it to XHTML.

Where FP shows its freeness is in overall site management tools, lack of auto-complete coding feature, and a mediocre FTP client. Don't expect to build complex templates like you can in Dreamweaver or fly through your code writing with the tab key. Also, the PHP issue is a little perplexing. Other than that, I have no complaints. In my opinion, First Page is the best editor on this list.


2. Kompozer (Mac, Windows, Linux)-

Komposer is a bare-bones HTML editor based on Gecko, the engine behind Mozilla. The editor window in composer has tabs for WYSIWYG-view, hierarchal HTML tag view, code-view, and live preview. There is no split-screen mode for those of you who like to see the code and the visual at once. The tools include basic text formatting, image insert, etc. It also automatically parses your CSS files and puts your class selectors in a dropdown list so you can easily apply styles to your html. Like First Page, Kompser has an HTML tidy feature that compresses your HTML files and converts HTML to XHTML, and a visual color picker.

Kompser is a good editor if you like to get straight to the code and don't care too much about automated features. The interface is pretty blah, and I found the bare-minimum CSS support a little annoying. Overall, though, it gets the job done and it works on Mac OSX.


3. Amaya (Windows, Unix, Mac OSX) -

Amaya is the open-source pet project of W3C. On the Amaya homepage, W3C explains that the main motivation behind the development of Amaya was, " provide a framework that can integrate as many W3C technologies as possible." This means that generating W3C standard compliant code is the highest priority for Amaya—all other features are secondary. It's no surprise then that Amaya is the darling of the standardistas.

The style and organization of the Amaya interface is very Windows 3.1. It takes a different approach to HTML editing by fusing the editor with a web browser similar to Adobe's CSM software Contribute. But having used Contribute in the past, I found the Amaya editor/browser horribly inadequate. First, it almost never renders pages correctly (including huge sites like Google and Yahoo!). It's difficult to switch between code and preview mode unless you know the shortcut keys. The code text defaults to a what appears to be about a 9px size—almost unreadable. And the tools are all bunched up into a right-hand expandable menu.

Sorry, W3C, the Amaya HTML editor is my least favorite editor on the list. I think, though, with a little more attention to the interface Amaya could be a decent choice.


4. CSS Toolbox (Windows) -

As the name implies, CSS Toolbox isn't exactly an HTML editor but I think it's a welcome supplement to the other editors on this list. It easily outshines the mediocre CSS editing capability included in other free all-in-one HTML/CSS editors. The interface in CSS Toolbox is extremely simple because of the narrow focus of the program, but it still manages to pack a punch. The syntax highlighting is great, and a tabbed panel in the right-hand column gives all kinds of options for managing and editing selectors and CSS properties without even touching the code. It also boasts a powerful set of CSS validators, reformatters, and syntax checkers.

Free CSS toolbox can also be upgraded to Rapid CSS Editor which includes a full HTML/XHTML editor. The upgrade price is reasonable; and if the HTML editor is anything like the CSS editor, I think Rapid CSS Editor is a good choice for an overall web design solution.


5. NoteTab Pro (Windows) -

NoteTab is one of the most findable HTML editors. It seemed like everywhere I search, NoteTab was popping up. Unfortunately, it's not all it's cracked up to be. It's feature set is large but the interface is lacking and there's no WYSIWYG view. It's very much like a glorified Note Pad. An awkward and unwieldy row of buttons at the bottom of the NoteTab window gives you access to a long list of features which pop up in the left-hand column. The individual features a listed in a bland bulleted list that's difficult to navigate.

NoteTab Pro does well with the essentials. Syntax highlighting is good and it even has a decent FTP program. But with the awkward UI and the absence of a WYSIWYG view, NoteTab Pro finds a place somewhere in the middle of the pile.



Posted By: Szymon Skulimowski on 05/19/08

I'm using PSPAD and I think that it is a great (and free!) editor for HTML.

Posted By: Wes P on 05/19/08

I would consider Notepad++ a great editor for those who don't need bells and whistles (i.e. integrated ftp, although I think there's a plugin in, WYSIWYG editing). However it has just about every syntax highlighting you could ever need... php, HTML, css, jsp, asp, java, javascript, ruby, SQL, tons more. On top of that it has a variety of plugins that are rather useful. I use it at home and at work for all my editing.

Posted By: Mario Arias on 05/19/08

+1 for Notepad++ Very good software; the Compare Plugin is a must have for me But if you have $ 250 to spend; IntelliJ IDEA have the most useful Html/CSS/JSP/JavaScript/ActionScript-Flex editor in the world, the only lack (but for me is a feature:)) is a WYSIWYG Editor You can see some features at:

Posted By: fatsgone on 05/19/08

Thanks for the list! It's a very good and comprehensive review but you neglected to mention the price for all these editors, and whether they're freeware, shareware or whatnot. Further clarification on that would be really helpful.

Posted By: Robin on 05/20/08

Hi Mathew, thanks for the list. I'm using Kompozer to change Ms Frontpage for a while, but it doesn't impress me. I think i will try Amaya before i have enough money to buy software like Adobe Dreamweaver. @Fatsgone: you can read the post title for price information.

Posted By: Vaudtje on 05/20/08

If you're willing to live with a bit more heavyweight IDE, I think that Eclipse with some plugins is also a good option. And if you're not willing to spend time trying and comparing plugins, just try out Aptana.

Posted By: thecancerus on 05/20/08

I can't think my programming life without Notepad++. I think from your list, css toolbox might be good addition to my toolbox.. will check it out now.

Posted By: Pedro on 05/20/08

I personally prefer Notepad++ (or Ultraedit), and Aptana for web developing (As a pluging for Eclipse).

Posted By: Rich LaMarche on 05/20/08

+1 for Aptana

Posted By: Marvin Post on 05/20/08

HTML-Kit is the way to go.

Posted By: space code on 05/21/08

I like to handcode most (if not all) of my html. So I usually use Notepad+ which is freeware and has more functionality that normal Notepad

Posted By: womens cufflinks on 05/21/08

FirstPage looks pretty solid! I might give it a go considering that I'm using this other program which isn't that good.

Posted By: Rob McAlister on 05/21/08

PSPad on Windows. skEdit for Macs. Both have excellent ftp/sftp support and good project sync features.

Posted By: Rob Alan on 05/21/08

I love Coda on the Mac ( It's not free, but it's not expensive for what you get.

Posted By: ZenBug on 05/22/08

Another vote for HTML-kit.

Posted By: me on 05/22/08

HTML-kit all the way!

Posted By: bintek on 05/22/08

Aptana IDE for me too. :)

Posted By: Fluffythebunny on 05/22/08

I have used 1st page 2000 since 1999. The best free editor out there. It works on win 95. Its all I have.

Posted By: Tony Swaine on 05/22/08

Hi! I love the CSS Toolbox, but you forgot to include the really superb FREE HTML-KIT which has a 'view code in IE explorer or gecko' WYSIWYG option. I have used it for many years, and it is faultless!

Posted By: Dylan on 05/22/08

I will have to agree that Aptana IDE is the way to go.

Posted By: Jeremiah on 05/22/08

I'll have to check out CSS Toolbox, looks like a very useful tool. I personally use Notepad++ because it's lightweight, has a few plugins I'm in love with, and (oddly important to me for some reason) remembers what I was working on last time I closed the app lol.

Posted By: Will Speak on 05/22/08

I use Smultron for my html editing, it has a preview feature built in with webkit i think...

Posted By: Dana Lee Ling on 05/23/08

About a year ago I left HTML-Kit on windows for Notepad++ on windows and gEdit on gnome to build xhtml+mathml+svg and html5 pages. I haven't looked back yet. Amaya is fun for checking a page, but I wouldn't want to live there.

Posted By: Becky on 05/23/08

I love Notepad++, the only quibble I have with it is that when you save or open anything it reverts to the default folder. A minor inconvenience given how flexible it is. I must say though, First Page looks quite tempting.

Posted By: Łukasz Gręźlikowski on 05/23/08

I'm using Quanta+ in Ubuntu.

Posted By: Lukasz Grezlikowski on 05/23/08

Using iso-8859-1? :( You shoud use UTF...

Posted By: Abhisek on 05/30/08

Nice post. But everything is free if you know where to get it

Posted By: Bernhard Schulte on 05/30/08

I use Vim and a growing collection of code-snippets and macros. None of the WYSIWYGs have decent previews for cross-browser testing, hence you need to fire up at least three browsers anyway. May as well stick with a fast app that gives you great syntax coloring, indentation and the search-replace power of a real editor.

Posted By: Mini0n on 06/02/08

Notepad++ is what I'm currently using. I also use, sometimes, Eclipse with the PDT (PHP Development Tools) plugin.

Posted By: Martin Jamieson on 06/02/08

I'm a big fan of SciTE it's not WYSIWYG, but is a nice light-weight, syntax highlighted editor that I use for just about everything (from html/css/php to outlining blog posts etc.)

Posted By: Rob O. on 06/02/08

Add another vote for Notepad++. I use it almost daily. It does a nice job of highlighting my code without interfering - and it has a fairly powerful macro function.

Posted By: Artyom Shalkhakov on 06/02/08

I'm using Emacs and various minor modes (mumamo, nxhtml-mode, js-mode, etc.). It works fine for me.

Posted By: noyb on 06/03/08

HTML-Kit by far. Tried Notepad++, was not impressed by it's UI. HTML-Kit's UI isn't the greatest but the level of control over every aspect of the program makes up for it.

Posted By: Kenny on 06/12/08

Haven't seen anyone mention SciTE yet. Great text editor and my coder of choice.

Posted By: nxhtml on 06/28/08

If anyone is interested then please drop a line on the web page above and tell what you would like to see in nXhtml for Emacs. Features like completion, instantaneous validation (that you can use when editing XHTML in Emacs with nXhtml) are they not useful?

Posted By: Marcus on 08/13/08

Another one to check out might be Bluefish

Posted By: Nathan on 08/13/08

Notepad++ all the way for me. Light-weight and powerful. There's only two complaints I can think of: 1. It's find dialog box is annoying. I would much prefer it used a Firefox-style toolbar. 2. As mentioned earlier, it doesn't remember the last folder you opened something from.

Posted By: blueman on 10/19/08

Bluefish is superb

Posted By: ander on 06/05/09

NoteTab Pro isn't free. It's $29.95. Perhaps you're thinking of NoteTab Light, which becomes crippleware after its trial period.

Posted By: Mike on 06/09/09

CoffeeCup is also pretty good. It even has a built in FTP which is very nice.

Posted By: Mike's Recording Studio on 09/14/09

Html Kit is another good freebie. I am starting to wonder what the benefit of a program such as Front Page or Dreamweaver is?

Posted By: Teen Pregnant on 09/22/09

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Posted By: Breast Cancer Awareness on 09/22/09

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Posted By: Allan Goodall on 10/11/09

I'm currently using HTML-Kit, but looking for a replacement. It is full featured and has some wonderful tools. However, there are bugs in the freeware build 292 that were never fixed. And the search and replace is loathsome. How it can be so good elsewhere but muck up search and replace is beyond me. I'm currently using Notepad Light only for search and replace across multiple documents.

Posted By: Stas on 02/16/10

I highly recommend <a href="">Codelobster PHP Edition</a>. It's the best free IDE if taken all round. Besides of standard highlighting and autocomplete for Р�Р, HTML, CSS and JavaScript it has pair tag highlighting, easy navigation through tags, preview in all browsers, hot keys for marking tags' content, attributes and its value. Tolltips for images in code should be also noted, as the ability of navigation through the links with Ctrl-key holding. It also includes special HTML code inspector, that allows to compare visible element with the lines of code, that are in charge of it (as in FireBug). There also are plug-ins for Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, Smarty and JQuery.

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