Miscellaneous Ramblings

Miscellaneous Ramblings Review

Free TextWranger 3.0 a Steal

Charles Moore - 2009.10.13 - Tip Jar

Rating: 4 out of 4

TextWrangler - originally introduced by Bare Bones Software as a $49 commercial application, and then re-released as freeware - is a high-performance text editor and one of the most spectacular bargains in free Mac software. The latest TextWrangler version of the application, 3.0, can be used to replace any prior version of TextWrangler

I'm a consummate text editor fan. For years I've rarely used word processors, which are designed for preparing formatted hard copy output. A text editor focuses on producing and manipulating text content.

Several years ago it occurred to me that since I do almost everything on the Internet nowadays, my printer sometimes sitting silent for months between printing text documents, I don't really need the text formatting power or cluttered feature set of a word processor any more, except for extraordinary tasks like when I actually do have to produce a hard copy letter or some such. I switched to using text editors as my main production text-crunchers and have never looked back.

TextWrangler 3.0
TextWrangler 3.0

TextWrangler is a pure text editor (as opposed to styled text editors, like Tex-Edit Plus, which support a considerable degree of text styling and formatting, straddling the category margin between text editors and word processors) that does not offer fancy formatting capabilities, headers and footers, graphics tools, a thesaurus, and other staples of feature-laden "office" software. Instead, it focuses on helping you manipulate text in ways word processors generally cannot.

In service of this goal, TextWrangler offers regular expression-based ("grep") search and replace, multi-file search, sophisticated text transformations, intelligent text coloring, and other features not usually found in word processors. You can use TextWrangler for a wide variety of tasks from cleaning up data to editing configuration files on your Mac or server to writing HTML or coding.

TextWrangler's deep feature set includes such diverse elements as multi-file search and replace with optional regular expression ("grep") pattern matching, function navigation and syntax coloring for numerous code languages, the ability to easily work with files on remote FTP and SFTP servers, and support for AppleScript and Unix scripting. This makes it an ideal tool for composition, clerical tasks, system administration, and software development.

TextWrangler 3.0 is an extensive revision. One new feature is that text previews in browsing windows are now editable - rather than having to open a file into a new window from such a browser, you can edit it right in the window.

There's a new File menu command, Reload from Disk, that will examine the file on disk and, if it's different, reload the front document's contents from the file on disk; a new option in the Insert Folder Listing dialog: Show invisible items, which, when turned on, will include invisible files/folders and the contents of packages the file listing, and Find Differences now uses the system diff tool for generating the difference ranges displayed in the application.

TextWrangler can serve as a general-purpose text editor for light-duty composition, data-file editing (where the data files consist of plain [unstyled] text), and manipulation of text-oriented data. TextWrangler supports working with both plain text and Unicode files (with the exception of files written using right-to-left writing systems, such as Hebrew and Arabic), and also features an integrated spelling checker and integration with Word Services-aware spelling and grammar checkers.

This program provides you with an impressive set of text manipulation, cleaning, and checking tools. There are several spell check options, including via the OS X spell checker interface, and TextWrangler supports spell checking as you type. Misspelled words are underlined in red once you activate the spell check function. You can use either the Mac OS X system spelling checker dictionary (the default) or an external spelling checker that supports Apple's Word Services Suite. TextWrangler also highlights the line that contains the insertion point, which is handy.

Slide-out drawer makes it easy to use multiple documentsOne feature in TextWrangler that I love is that you can access multiple open documents in a single interface window. The document titles can be selected from a popup menu in the TextWrangler toolbar or from a list in the program's Cocoa slide-out drawer.

TextWrangler also incorporates two really slick file navigation features: A disk browser lets you navigate directories without switching to the Finder, while the Find File by Name command locates all files of a specified name.

There is also a Show Clipboard window in which you can preview the contents of the clipboard and even select and drag text from the clipboard window to other TextWrangler windows. This way you don't need to paste the entire clipboard. Or actually clipboards - TextWrangler has six. Each time you use the Cut or Copy command, the text is placed on the next clipboard in sequence. This way you can always paste your choice from the last six clipboard contents you cut or copied. (By default, the Paste command pastes from the last clipboard you put something in.)

Among other things, it can open files from (and save them to) remote FTP and SFTP servers, offers a significantly more powerful grep engine, supports multi-byte and non-Roman text files, can perform Find Differences on pairs of files or folders, and can be invoked from the Unix command line.

Something TextWrangler doesn't include is the HTML markup tools found in its even more powerful sibling application, BBEdit, so any HTML tagging you do with it must be done manually.

As a Unix and server administrator's tool, TextWrangler offers the ability to open and save files in a variety of line-ending formats, open and save text files located on remote FTP and SFTP servers, authenticated saves (you can modify files not owned by you, provided that you are an administrative user), and the ability to integrate TextWrangler with Unix tools and scripts by means of the "edit" command-line tool.

TextWrangler includes fast multi-file search and replace, PCRE (Perl-Compatible Regular Expression) text pattern matching, a rich plugin architecture that supports BBEdit plugins, and an array of text transformations to make sense of even large bodies of text.

TextWrangler is a good Mac OS citizen with AppleScript support - not as slick and user friendly an implementation as in Tex-Edit Plus, but still scriptable, recordable, and attachable.

Other Text Editing and Manipulation Details:

  • Authenticated saves (you can modify files not owned by you, provided that you are an administrative user)
  • Support for Quartz text smoothing
  • Support for Mac OS X Services
  • QuickTime translation support
  • Optional automatic backup of files when saving
  • Optional Emacs keybinding support
  • Powerful single and multi-file search and replace with file filtering options. Improved!
  • Flexible 'grep' style pattern-based search and replace based on PCRE (Perl-Compatible Regular Expression)
  • Sort Lines and Process Duplicate Lines plugins offer grep pattern support for sorting, extracting, and handling text
  • Find Differences to compare two versions of a text file and merge the differences
  • New! Run Text Factories created with BBEdit, allowing you to apply multiple text processing actions to multiple files and/or folders
  • Support for a wide variety of BBEdit plugins
  • Support for rectangular text selections
  • Built-in text transformations: Zap Gremlins, Change Case, Entab/Detab, and more
  • Open and save files in a variety of character sets, including Unicode (UTF-8 and UTF-16) files
  • Supports viewing and editing of multi-byte and Unicode text
  • Use of ATSUI for text rendering greatly improves handling of Unicode files, particularly those containing glyphs from disparate languages
  • Quick Search window
  • Perform incremental searches
  • Open and save files in Mac, Unix, DOS, and Unicode line-ending formats
  • Hard or soft wrap text however you prefer
  • Quoted text rewrapper
  • Unlimited Undo/Redo
  • Multiple Clipboards
  • Splittable editing windows
  • Auto-Indent

lots of optionsAs a programmer's text editor, TextWrangler features syntax coloring and function navigation for HTML/XHTML, XML, PHP, JavaScript, Perl, Python, Java, ANSI C, C++, Objective-C, and more, Find Differences to compare two versions of a text file and merge the differences, integration with Mac OS X developer help, and the ability to function as an integrated external editor with Xcode. There is also full Unicode support.

Programming Features:

  • Syntax coloring and function navigation for ANSI C, C++, HTML/XHTML, Fortran, Java, JavaScript, Object Pascal, Objective-C, Perl, PHP, Python, Rez, Tcl, TeX, Unix shell scripts, and XML.
  • Shebang (#!) menu offers integrated access to Unix scripting environments such as Perl, Python, shell scripts, and more
  • Develop your own TextWrangler plugins or syntax coloring modules now with "Codeless Language Modules"
  • Direct Integration with native Perl environment, as well as Python and Unix shell scripts
  • Automatic language guessing and User selectable per/document language setting for supported languages
  • Built in function scanner allows easy navigation of source code
  • Integration with Mac OS X developer help
  • Ability to function as an integrated external editor with Xcode

Other Features

  • Efficient multiple-documents-per-window interaction model, accessed via the Documents Drawer or Navigation Bar
  • Extensive FTP and SFTP support
  • open and save text files located on remote FTP and SFTP servers
  • FTP/SFTP tool supports Mac OS Keychain and use of alternate ports
  • FTP/SFTP Browsers provide persistent view of remote site directories
  • Integrated support for FTP access through Interarchy and many other third-party FTP clients
  • FTP and SFTP server discovery using Rendezvous
  • Support for a wide variety of BBEdit plugins & the ability to develop your own plugins
  • Configurable key assignments - set keys for commands
  • Integration with Super Get Info
  • Disk browsers - view directory listings and open files
  • Floating window list
  • Display Tab stops, page guides, line numbers, and invisible characters (spaces, tabs, line endings, and more)

Set line endingsThis is already a pretty long review and features list inventory, and the amazing thing is I've really only scratched the surface of what this program can do. A few more TextWrangler features I found particularly notable include:

Find Differences

If you have ever had to reconcile changes between two different versions of a file, or even larger numbers of documents, you know how laborious this task can be. TextWrangler's Find Differences command is a powerful tool for doing such comparisons faster and more effectively. Using Find Differences, you can compare any two files, or the contents of two folders. You can specify options to eliminate minor variations in document content, such as different amounts of white space, from being considered. If you have two or more text documents open, choose the Compare Two Front Documents command on the Search menu to quickly compare the topmost two documents. (TextWrangler will automatically determine which document is newer and which older based on their modification dates.)

Strip Quotes

This command removes all Internet-style quoting from the selected hard-wrapped text - or from the current line if there is no selection.

Zap Gremlins

I love Zap Gremlins, which has saved my bacon many times when some pesky stray invisible character in text originating in press releases, PDFs, or downloaded from the Web causes, for example, the very picky Applelinks news posting engine to choke. Use this command when you have a file that may contain extraneous control characters (or any non-ASCII characters) that you wish to identify or remove.

Text Wrap Options

TextWrangler wraps text in one of two ways: soft wrapping or hard wrapping. Soft wrapping is like the word wrapping found in most word processors. When the insertion point reaches a right margin as you type, the word processor automatically moves the insertion point to the beginning of the next line. You never need to type a carriage return (that is, press the Return key) at the end of a line, but only to start a new paragraph. If you place the insertion point in the middle of a paragraph and start typing, the text reflows so that words that are pushed out beyond the right margin end up on the next line.

Usually, you use soft wrapping when you are editing memos, mail messages, and other prose. It is also useful for HTML documents. With soft wrapping, you generally do not have to scroll the window horizontally to see all the text in the file.

Unlike soft wrapping, hard wrapping requires a carriage return at the end of every line.

When soft wrapping is turned off, TextWrangler lets you type as far as you like on a line and never automatically moves the insertion point to the beginning of the next line. You have to manually type a carriage return to start a new line. You usually use hard wrapping to write programs, tabular data, resource descriptions, and so on. With hard wrapping, each line of source code or data appears on its own line in the window, although you may have to scroll the window horizontally to see the entire line if it is long.

Note: When you use the Hard Wrap command on a rectangular selection, lines will be padded with spaces as necessary. If you open a file in TextWrangler that appears to consist of a few very long lines, just select the soft wrapping option for that file. I wish there was a way to make soft wrap the default, but if there is I haven't found it.

Don't let TextWrangler's simple appearance and status as freeware fool you. This is a very powerful program that comes with a 258 page PDF manual that you really need to read in order to get the best from this application - and comprehensive online Help as well.

TextWrangler is considerably more modern and powerful than Bare Bones' still available, but no longer actively developed, freeware text editor BBEdit Lite.

A Few Gripes

I do have some gripes. For example, it drag-scrolls through long selections excruciatingly slowly, and after one becomes accustomed to the superb, convenient, and user-friendly AppleScript implementation in Tex-Edit Plus, nothing else quite measures up in that department.

For my purposes, TextWrangler won't displace Tex-Edit Plus, not just because of the latter's ultra-slick AppleScript support, but also its styled text support and inventory of tools that suit my needs to a T. Tex-Edit Plus is more versatile for nonprogrammers like me who use it as a word processor substitute, and with AppleScript tweaking I find it an excellent HTML markup application as well.

However, TextWrangler is more powerful in a purely text-manipulation sense and has one of the best search and replace engines in any Mac word-crunching application. I'm exceedingly glad to have it around.

TextWrangler was arguably overpriced at $49, and I expect that it didn't sell very well at that price point, but as freeware, it's a steal.

All TextWrangler users may download the update free of charge from the Bare Bones Software website.

System Requirements

TextWrangler 3.0 requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later (10.4.11, 10.5.8, 10.6 or later recommended) and will not run on Mac OS 9 or any previous versions of Mac OS X. This version is a Universal application for both Intel- and PowerPC-based Macs.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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