Choosing a (Mac) text editor with Stata

April 15, 2009 at 6:30 am 2 comments

| Gabriel |

I love TextWrangler (free) but I was a little frustrated that it doesn’t allow code folding. (I should note that it does support everything else on my text editor wish list, most notably regular expressions, syntax highlighting, and pushing). I’d seen code folding in action with html editors like Bluefish and this struck me as a great feature. If you’re not familiar with it, code folding is when you hide some block of code, usually a subroutine or loop. TextWrangler’s big brother, BBEdit ($49 educational, $125 commercial) does offer code folding but it’s only really useful if the syntax files are written to make it work because the program has to be able to recognize what a loop looks like. Unfortunately BBEdit doesn’t come with Stata syntax files and the excellent TextWrangler Stata language file written by dataninja doesn’t support BBEdit only features like code folding. I looked to see if I could figure out how to write code folding syntax into dataninja’s language module but I couldn’t find any documentation about code folding in the developer kit and in any case I’m not that talented. Aaargh!

In desperation I’ve considered using another text editor, even though I really like TextWrangler. Apparently Kate (free) works pretty well with Stata but there’s no mac version available. (In theory I could recompile it using Fink but that never works for me). Likewise Notepad++ (free) has an excellent Stata syntax file and I highly recommend it to people who use Windows, but there’s no Mac version so I’d have to run it through Crossover/Wine and again that’s a hassle (the key bindings are different and you lose access to the native file browser and applescript integration). UltraEdit ($49) also has good Stata support and apparently it will be ported to Mac/Linux, but it’s not going to be out for a few months.

Editra (free) is a very well-featured and cross-platform editor, but there’s no Stata syntax file yet, nor can I figure out how to write one. One minor limitation I’ve noticed is that Editra can’t handle extremely long rows, but I only ever used extremely long rows for file list globals and there’s a better way to do that. A nice feature is that the language support is in the app package (as compared to “~/Library/Application Support”) which makes it easier to run off a key. Likewise Smultron keeps the syntax in the app package and is well-suited to run off a key. It has excellent Stata highlighting but no code folding. Smultron is the only editor I’ve seen that comes with the Stata syntax file included so it might be a good choice for beginners who don’t want to fiddle with the language preferences, libraries, and that sort of thing to install a user-written file.

Currently the best option is looking like TextMate ($45 educational, $53 commercial). Timothy Beatty at York University has put together a bundle that integrates it beautifully with Stata (note that the bundle assumes you have MP and requires some light editing for some of the features to work with other versions). Something I didn’t expect to like as much as I did is that every open file has its own window (rather than a tab drawer like TW) and this makes it much easier to compare two similar files, though it would get unwieldy with dozens of open files. On the other hand I still prefer certain features of TextWrangler. For instance, it’s much easy to execute a multi-file find/replace in TextWrangler than it is in TextMate (which requires you to first set up a “project” then apply the batch to the project). Both the tab thing and the batch thing have something in common which is that TextWrangler is better suited for cleaning multiple data files, something I do a lot of. However for coding it’s looking like TextMate. I’ve been using it for about a week while working with a very complex file and so far I’ve been very happy with its code folding, (limited) syntax completion, (excellent) syntax highlighting, etc. Some of the other editors I’ve mentioned could be this good in principle (and already are for some languages), but they would need the as-of-yet unwritten syntax files to do so for Stata.

(btw, here are the definitive thoughts on using text editors with Stata for various platforms).


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  • 1. Jean Eid  |  September 28, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    Hi Gabriel,

    I just looked at Editra and came up with a file for syntax highlighting for stata. If you are still interested I can send it to you via email or posted somewhere.

  • 2. Editra « Code and Culture  |  March 3, 2010 at 4:56 am

    […] hadn’t been paying much attention to Editra since my last comparison shopping of text editors, but recently the project has made some really big strides and is shaping up to be a great […]

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