Vote for Your Favorite Mac Markdown Editor
We recently asked TidBITS readers to vote for their favorite word processors (see “Vote for Your Favorite Mac Word Processor,” 10 July 2017). Although the results were useful, many people made it clear that they have traded traditional word processors for apps that support the Markdown text markup language, originally designed by John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame.
Markdown, which took some of its design cues from the setext markup language that Adam Engst helped Ian Feldman develop 25 years ago (see “TidBITS in new format,” 6 January 1992), has become popular over the last decade. It’s plain text, which keeps files small, easily manipulable, and portable across multiple apps on every computing platform. Because Markdown is relatively straightforward and standardized, Markdown files can easily be converted to other formats, including HTML for posting on Web sites, RTF or Word’s .doc for importing into word processors, and even LaTeX for scientific writing.
Clever Mac developers have created numerous editors that go beyond the basics to assist in writing and editing in Markdown, and that’s where we’re going to direct our attention in this week’s survey. As always, we have to focus, so we’re considering only apps that meet these criteria:
- Must be a native Mac app with a menu bar, Dock icon, etc. We aren’t considering apps that you access only inside Terminal, but Mac adaptations of Unix apps are fine. Also, no iOS-only apps and no online-only apps.
- Must have features to help write and preview Markdown. These features can be either built-in or come via a plug-in or extension.
While Microsoft Word was unquestionably the 800-pound gorilla of word processors, we have no sense of which Markdown editors will stand out in this survey. BBEdit is likely the best-known text editor on the Mac, and it can colorize and preview Markdown-formatted text files, but it’s probably used more commonly by programmers and Web developers.
Byword and iA Writer have been darlings of the Apple community, but have recently been overshadowed by Bear and Ulysses. All four of these apps have iOS siblings, which adds to their popularity.
We also included Mac adaptations of two Unix mainstays: Emacs for Mac OS X and MacVim. We bent the rules slightly to include MacVim. While Emacs has a plug-in that adds Markdown previews, MacVim’s plug-in adds only Markdown syntax highlighting.
You may be as surprised as we were by some of the apps that made the list. Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code can apparently be transformed into a top-notch Markdown editor. Likewise, we think of Coda and Espresso primarily as Web development apps, but they turned out to be decent Markdown editors in their own right.
Now it’s time for us to turn to you, the TidBITS reader, and ask you to share your opinions about the Markdown-capable text editors you have used on the Mac. We’ll collect and summarize the results, as we’ve done for other software categories in the “Your Favorite Apps” series. The survey is embedded at the bottom of this article on our Web site or you can navigate to it directly.
Notes on Ratings — A few important notes before you start clicking your answers:
- Please rate only those apps with which you have significant personal experience. That means weeks or months of use, not something that you launched once before discovering that it lacked a feature you need. Don’t enter ratings for apps you haven’t used.
We’ve listed a lot of apps in the survey, but if we missed the one you use, let us know so we can add it. To keep this manageable, we’re focusing on Markdown-capable text editors for the Mac. Please don’t suggest Web apps, apps without notable Markdown functionality, iOS-only apps, or anything that’s not in active development. There’s nothing wrong with such apps, but we have to draw a line in the sand.
Some apps will get more votes than others, so when looking at the results, take that into account. A lot of votes may indicate popularity (or a successful attempt to game the system), but an app with just a few highly positive votes is still worth a look.
Ratings don’t give a complete picture, so feel free to say what you like or don’t like about apps you use in the comments for this article; we’ve seeded the top-level comment for each app, and please keep your thoughts within the appropriate comment thread. Searching for the app name will be the fastest way to find it.
You can see the current results below the survey, and we’ll report on them next week, calling out those apps that garner the most votes and have the highest ratings. Thanks for the help!
I use Aquamacs instead of GnuEmacs, but markdown-mode works in both.
I like Byword, but I'm not a big fan of their styling for the HTML preview and there is no way to change it.
More and more, I'm using AsciiDoc (http://asciidoc.org) because that has awesome support for tables, footnotes, and anything nested in anything. I use an Emacs mode for AsciiDoc, then a one-liner to convert to HTML and preview.
I really wish Evernote had native support for Markdown.
Please leave opinions, observations, and questions about Atom as replies to this comment.
Please leave opinions, observations, and questions about BBEdit as replies to this comment.
BBEdit is the only GUI text program I use, and I’ve tried dozens.
The thing I like most about BBEdit is that it has phenomenal cosmic powers, but all those features never get in your way.
I not only use it for editing, but also for its shell worksheet feature which makes many commandline tasks super simple.
I love BBEdit. I have even forgiven BareBones for removing some of their HTML Palettes (it wasn't easy). I use it every day. It is my single most used, most useful, app. It does boring stuff, and lets me concentrate on content.
I use TextWrangler (now BBEdit light) to navigate within long Markdown documents, even though its styling of plain text is poor. It is still a solid text editor, especially when you need diff, search, and regular expressions.
BBEDIT - It Still Doesn't Suck!!!
Cant live without it
I've used BBedit on and off since it was a free app in the early 90s. I'm really used to it for basic text writing (not a programmer), and it's superior to anything else I've used when setting up text/background colors and other custom settings. Its GREP search/replace is awesome too, and I often use it to clean up news articles from LexisNexis. Some of its features make separate apps like TextSoap unneeded.
Markdown is there, but it's not integrated like some apps. If I were looking just for a Markdown app this wouldn't be my first choice.
I love BBedit, but not as much as I used to, as IA Writer has seduced me with features like Focus Mode, Typewriter Mode, easier-to-find blue-colored blinking cursor, and image-embedding (not to mention the excellent embedded Nitti Light font, and better Markdown with preview and trackpad support).
I have BBedit, I use and love it still for some things, but for longer writing - especially for Markdown - there are better options.
Best thing about BBEdit to me on this is flexibility - I have it set up to use Pandoc as a Markdown previewer, and have multiple templates and preview filters, as well as straight text filters that I can apply from the menus.
This means I can write as I want using my preferred Markdown syntax, and then filter it into GitHub or my work's Wiki, or some other variant. (Or into HTML or something else, if needed.) On the fly and by either sections or the whole file. Every other Markdown editor I've tried has made it hard to switch backends, especially on the fly. Add in that I can also switch what the preview looks like on the fly, and nothing else I've seen even attempts the same.
And of course it's extremely useful for things other than Markdown.
BBEdit is the one Markdown-capable text editor that I actually use for Markdown. I use another couple of the editors on the list, but not for Markdown.
Please leave opinions, observations, and questions about Bear as replies to this comment.
I started using Bear in early 2017 because I had terrible 'net access, and needed to be able to use iOs and macOS to write. It produces clean export in HTML, RTF and Markdown (I moved to the in app Pro version in less than a month). Movement from macOS to iOS and back is seamless. No footnotes, so not great for scholarly stuff, but still really well done.
Please leave opinions, observations, and questions about Byword as replies to this comment.
I use Byword to draft new short articles, where the editor styling gets out of the way.
However, it lacks any ability to browse a folder of Markdown documents, or even to navigate within a longer document.
Please leave opinions, observations, and questions about Caret as replies to this comment.
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Although, as the name suggests, FoldingText is really an outliner, it's a perfectly usable Markdown editor to boot. The simple approach taken is to make headers of various levels collapsable, works very well I have to say.
A unique tool in many ways, it has become a key component in my approach to GTD with its handy .todo and .schedule options for setting up lists and ploughing through them.
You can install Writeroom themes, as well as it's own plugins and Apple scripts, it has an active community of people working to expand it's set of features. Still presents a fresh and simple open document upon launch. A tool that feels open and hackable, very simple and engaging.
Please leave opinions, observations, and questions about Gaia as replies to this comment.
Please leave opinions, observations, and questions about GNU Emacs for Mac OS X as replies to this comment.
Please leave opinions, observations, and questions about iA Writer as replies to this comment.
iA Writer is my default markdown editor on both iOS and MacOS. A simple swipe takes you from list of documents to the editor, another swipe takes you to a preview mode. Clean design, nice typography. Does one thing, does it well.
IA Writer is what I use for most of my writing, on both Mac and iOS, where you can currently live sync with either iCloud or Dropbox. (I also use BBedit, which I commented on as well above.)
Markdown is well-supported and integrated, but some of the extra features are what keeps me excited to use it: Focus Mode, Typewriter Mode, easier-to-find blue-colored blinking cursor, image/table-embedding, the excellent embedded Nitti Light font, trackpad support for swiping between library, writing and preview panes (or hiding preview and/or library panes). You can also create or download custom templates for previewing, export and printing.
IA Writer also has an interesting, unique feature that seems a little complicated at first glance but is extremely appealing when writing long-form: you can structure documents with content blocks based on local file references, and therefore include images, tables and even CSVs They offer this transclusion as a Markdown expansion, and is explained here:
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Please leave opinions, observations, and questions about MacVim as replies to this comment.
I want to like MacVim, I really do. I use vim from the commandline all the time, both on my Mac and on remote machines, but I can’t.
It still feels like a weird and awkward GUI wrapper on a CLI tool, and that leaves me thinking, why? Might as well just use vim, right?
I like MacVIM. It's the fastest and easiest way to edit almost any text file -- especially a program file.
Why MacVIM over regular VIM in a terminal shell? Because VIM in the terminal can't access the Mac's clipboard. In MacVIM, I can access the clipboard with the "*" buffer. For example, "*yG will yank all the lines from here my cursor is to the end of the file and put it in the clipboard.
Plus, you can open up multiple files in tabs, and using the "diff" mode is much easier in MacVIM than the command line.
Please leave opinions, observations, and questions about Markdown Plus as replies to this comment.
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Please leave opinions, observations, and questions about MultiMarkdown Composer as replies to this comment.
The perpetual beta of MultiMarkdown Composer 3 is getting in my nerves. But I use it for longer documents with internal structure (sub-headings) and to cleanup text into Markdown. Also, to finish articles when the instant preview becomes useful.
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Please leave opinions, observations, and questions about Scrivener as replies to this comment.
Scrivener is supposed to support Markdown, but it' heart is elsewhere. I can't force myself to take it seriously for longer writing in Markdown.
Personnally, I wouldn't consider *Scrivener* as a Markdown editor. If you ignore it’s RTF capabilities, you can edit “plain text”, that’s absolutely true. And it can interpret the markdown syntax on export. But that’s all. As an editor, it has nothing of what you expect of a dedicated markdown editor : syntax coloring, shortcuts, lists alignements, etc. For all this, you’ve better ressort to a true Markdown editor. My personal choice is *Ulysses*, because both *Scrivener* and *Ulysses* know how to work with an external folder. Thus, with careful synchronization, you get the best of both worlds.
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Please leave opinions, observations, and questions about Ulysses as replies to this comment.
*Ulysses* has, IMHO, the best balance between power and lightness. This means elegance. *Ulysses* is an application with the utmost elegance. It can edit files in its own, iCloud synchronized, library as well as external folders. I’m using it as an external editor for all the texts and notes I’m curating inside *DEVONthink* databases.
I’m also using *Ulysses* to edit *Scrivener* text files, taking advantage of Scrivener’s ability to synchronize with an external folder. Thus, I have the best of both worlds : the elegance and power of *Ulysses* as an editor, and the robustness of *Scrivener* as a library manager with powerful metadata capabilities.
I had a 250+ page document in Pages that I converted into Markdown within Ulysses, splitting up each section to be its own "sheet" and each chapter in its own group. Makes maintaining a large body of work very simple as you can quickly find, edit, organize, preview and export changes. It's export capabilities make it stand out from the rest. Ulysses makes writing an enjoyable activity. Hopefully, they add built-in support for MultiMarkdown syntax in its live previewer in an upcoming release.
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Please leave opinions, observations, and questions about Write for Mac as replies to this comment.
For me, it's MacVIM. VIM is a very old keystroke based editor. It even is multmode where you have a separate Input vs. Edit mode. However, once you learn VIM (and it can take months and maybe years before you really, really get it), there's nothing faster. People are amazed how quickly I can go through and write or edit a file.
My thoughts exactly! Vim was the first editor to come to mind. Though it was an effort for me to learn it, once learned - it is still one of my all time favorites.
I don't know if you want to talk about Marked. It's Brad Terpestra's perview app for editors using Marked. I used it a lot a few years ago, in tandem with BBEdit. I should probably confess that more often than not, I start out in BBEdit meaning to use Markdown (to conserve keystorkes because Carpal tunnel hurts) but end up using html. I kinda think html tags, the way I used to think SGML or HyperTalk; just as well that apps like Bear exist. Anyway, for Marked2 see http://brettterpstra.com/2015/10/07/marked-2-dot-5-is-official/ and also http://marked2app.com/.
It's a great app that I've covered before, but it's not an editor.
+1 for Marked. A great addition.
My partner (in another city) and I wrote and published a book on LeanPub. https://leanpub.com. LeanPub has said they've staked their future on authors writing with Markdown. We used a text editor — it could have been anything, but I used the free program, TextWrangler. The files are kept in Dropbox where both my co-author and I could edit them, and where Leanpub accesses them to make up the book for us to preview, and eventually for the clients to access. To visualize the book we used Marked by Brett Terpstra. For some time Leanpub has been promising a version of a Markdown editor called Markua. http://markua.com/. I guess it will be wonderful when it ships. BTW, I loved setext. My first contact with Adam was when I was hoping to use setext to publish a national newsletter (back in the mid-90s). BTW2 why was my name changed to robert958, I entered it as Robert J Ballantyne.