A Review of the Brackets Editor

This article is going to take a look at Brackets, an open-sourced editor originally developed by Adobe. It may not have had quite the same level of publicity and hype as Atom, GitHub’s new lightweight editor, but it’s a promising option for the front end developer.

Target Audience

It’s worth pointing out that Brackets is primarily aimed at front end developers and web designers. Although it’s essentially a text editor and therefore suitable for coding pretty much anything, it’s optimized for HTML, CSS, and JS (as well as derivatives such as SASS, Less, CoffeeScript, and so on). Ruby, Python, PHP developers, and the like might be better served looking elsewhere, whether that be for a fully-fledged IDE or something more lightweight such as Sublime or, indeed, Atom.

What Makes Brackets Different?

Brackets makes a big deal of the fact that it’s written using a combination of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. While this may mean little for the casual user, those who wish to extend – or even hack it – have the opportunity to do so using technologies they’re probably already familiar with. The fact that it’s open-sourced also makes it stand out from the crowd. Sublime, for example, is a commercial product, while Atom is closed-source and won’t be free forever.

Getting Brackets

Brackets can be downloaded from the website, and is available for Mac OSX, Windows, and Linux (32 or 64-bit). For the purposes of this review, I’m running the 37th “sprint”, on Mac OSX.

First Steps

When you open Brackets for the first time, you’re thrown straight into an HTML-based tutorial file with accompanying CSS, which is a great way to start exploring.

The Brackets editor

The left-hand column lists the working files, and beneath that is a folder view. It’s like Sublime in that you can view a file with one click without actually opening it. A double-click opens the file for editing, adding it to the working files list.

The right-hand column contains icons for opening Live Preview (which we’ll look at shortly) and for the Extension Manager. Many third-party extensions create their own icons and place them in this bar, so it can quickly become an invaluable launchpad.

A Quick Feature Tour

Let’s look at some of the key features of Brackets.

Live Preview

The Live Preview feature launches a new Chrome window showing the current page that not only doesn’t require a manual refresh when you change a file, but also as you type. It’s essentially Chrome’s Web Inspector, but with all the benefits of a self-contained editor. It’s a truly great feature, particularly if you have a splt-screen setup. It doesn’t just work with HTML files, either. If you make a change to a linked CSS file which impacts the current page, that too gets reflected immediately in the browser. If you’re editing a CSS file used by the currently visible page, highlighting rules causes the preview to highlight elements which are affected by them.

Quick Edit

The Quick Edit feature is context-specific. Let’s look at a few of its uses.

CSS

When you’re editing HTML, if you click a tag with a corresponding CSS declaration situated in a linked file and hit Ctrl / Command + E, an inline editor appears allowing you to quickly edit that rule. This is probably best illustrated with the following screenshot.

Inline CSS editing

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