As a long-time user of both Emacs and Vim, I’ve often been asked which is the better text editor. It’s a tough question to answer, as both have unique strengths and weaknesses, and the right choice ultimately depends on your preferences and workflow.
In this article, I’ll be doing a deep dive into both Emacs and Vim, comparing their features and functionality to help you decide which one might be the right fit for you.
Introduction to Emacs and Vim
Before we dive into the comparison, it’s essential to understand a little bit about what Emacs and Vim are and how they differ from other text editors.
What is Emacs?
Emacs is a free, open-source text editor developed in the 1970s by Richard Stallman as part of the GNU project. It’s known for its extensibility, meaning that it can be customized and extended with a wide range of plugins and packages to suit the needs of individual users.
Emacs is a powerful text editor that can be used for everything from simple text editing to programming and web development. It includes features like syntax highlighting, code completion, and a built-in debugger, making it an excellent choice for developers.
One of the unique features of Emacs is that it’s written in a programming language called Lisp, which allows users to customize and extend the editor in ways that are not possible with other text editors. This makes it popular with power users who want to tailor their workflow to their specific needs.
What is Vim?
Vim is another popular text editor that was created in the late 1970s. Like Emacs, vim is known for its extensibility and customizability, and developers often use it for programming and web development.
Vim is a modal text editor, meaning it has different “modes” for editing, inserting text, and performing other tasks.
This can be a little confusing for new users, but it allows for very fast and efficient text editing once you get the hang of it.
One of the unique features of Vim is that it can be used entirely from the command line, making it a popular choice for users who prefer to work from the terminal. It’s also highly portable, meaning it can be used on many systems without needing installation.
Now that we have a basic understanding of what Emacs and Vim are, let’s look at some of their specific features and functionality.
Syntax Highlighting and Code Completion
Emacs and Vim include syntax highlighting and code completion to help developers write code more efficiently. In Emacs, syntax highlighting is provided by the built-in font-lock mode, which can be customized to highlight specific languages or syntax elements.
Vim also includes syntax highlighting, which can be customized through the
syntax setting in the configuration file. In addition to syntax highlighting, Vim includes several code completion options, including omni-completion and keyword completion, which can help you write code more quickly and accurately.
Customization and Extensibility
As mentioned earlier, both Emacs and Vim are known for their customizability and extensibility. In Emacs, users can customize the editor using a configuration file written in Lisp, which allows for a wide range of customization options.
Vim can also be customized using a configuration file written in a simple scripting language called Vimscript. Vim includes several built-in options for customization, as well as support for third-party plugins and scripts.
Keyboard Shortcuts and Commands
Emacs and Vim include a wide range of keyboard shortcuts and commands that allow users to perform various tasks quickly and efficiently.
In Emacs, users can use a combination of keystrokes to perform tasks like moving the cursor, deleting text, and switching between buffers. Emacs also includes a command line interface, which allows users to type commands to perform tasks such as searching for text or opening a new file.
Vim is known for its extensive use of keyboard shortcuts, as it is a modal editor and relies on different modes for different tasks. In normal mode, users can use a combination of keystrokes to move the cursor, delete text, and perform other tasks.
Users can type text just like a regular text editor in insert mode. Vim also includes a command line interface, which allows users to type commands to perform tasks such as searching for text or opening a new file.
Built-in Tools and Features
Emacs and Vim include several built-in tools and features that can be useful for developers and other users.
In Emacs, users can access several built-in tools, such as a debugger, a version control system, and a terminal emulator. Emacs also includes a built-in package manager, which allows users to install and manage third-party packages and plugins easily.
Vim includes several built-in features, such as support for multiple buffers, a search and replace tool, and a spell checker. Vim also supports third-party plugins and scripts, which can be installed and managed through a plugin manager like Vundle.
Pros and Cons of Emacs and Vim
Now that we’ve looked at some of the specific features and functionality of Emacs and Vim let’s consider some of the pros and cons of each editor.
Pros of Emacs
- Extensive customization options using Lisp
- Wide range of built-in tools and features
- Active and supportive community
Cons of Emacs
- It can be overwhelming for new users due to the large number of options and features
- Lisp configuration can be intimidating for users unfamiliar with the language
- Performance can be slower compared to other editors
Pros of Vim
- Highly efficient and fast for text editing
- It can be used entirely from the command line
- Highly portable and lightweight
Cons of Vim
- The modal interface can be confusing for new users
- Limited customization options compared to other editors
- Smaller community compared to other editors
Who Should Use Emacs?
Given its extensive customization options and wide range of built-in tools and features, Emacs is an excellent choice for users looking for a highly customizable and powerful text editor. It’s particularly well-suited for developers who want to tailor their workflow to their specific needs.
However, it’s important to remember that Emacs can overwhelm new users due to its many options and features. If you’re starting with text editors, consider using a more lightweight editor like Vim before trying out Emacs.
Who Should Use Vim?
Vim is a great choice for users looking for a fast and efficient text editor that can be used entirely from the command line. It’s particularly well-suited for users who prefer to work from the terminal and developers who want a lightweight and portable text editor.
However, Vim’s modal interface can confuse new users and may not have as many customization options as other editors like Emacs. If you’re new to text editors and want something easier to learn, you may want to consider using a different editor like Sublime Text or Atom before trying out Vim.
Related: Show Line Numbers in Vim
Emacs and Vim are powerful and customizable text editors that are well-suited for many tasks. While they have unique strengths and weaknesses, the right choice ultimately depends on your preferences and workflow.
If you’re a developer looking for a highly customizable and powerful text editor, you may want to consider using Emacs. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a fast and efficient text editor that can be used entirely from the command line, Vim may be the right choice for you.
Ultimately, the best text editor is the one that works best for you, and the only way to find out which one that is is to try them out for yourself. So if you’re still unsure which editor is right for you, don’t be afraid to try Emacs and Vim and see which one works best for your needs.