Pros and Cons of HTML Text Editors

Text editors focus on content, whereas WYSIWYG editors emphasize appearance

Illustration of website and HTML or WYSIWYG editor side by side

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There are many benefits to text or HTML code editors. But there are also some drawbacks. Before you join the debate, learn all the facts. An editor is defined as a text editor if it's primary editing mode is text or HTML code, even if it includes a WYSIWYG editing option.

Most advanced web development tools these days offer the ability to edit your web pages in both HTML/code view and in WYSIWYG, so the distinction is not as strict as it once was.

What's All the Fuss About?

This argument really stems from the way web page development started. When it first began in the early- to mid-1990s, building a web page required that write HTML code natively. As editors got more and more sophisticated, they allowed people who didn't know HTML to build web pages through a visual designer that translated the final product into the underlying HTML. The problem was (and often, still is) that WYSIWYG editors can generate HTML that is hard to read, not standards-compliant, and only really editable in that editor. Some HTML code purists believe that this is a corruption of the intent of web pages, while most designers feel that whatever makes it easy for them to build their pages is acceptable and even valuable.

Pros

  • Faster to Edit: For simple edits, it is often faster to make changes to a page using a text editor.
  • Helps You Learn HTML: Text editors teach you to read HTML. They often have wizards and functions to do the more common tasks (like the basic page tags), but you'll learn HTML and basic coding if you use a text editor.
  • More Marketable: A web developer who can write HTML using a text editor will be more marketable than one who can only use a WYSIWYG editor. The former is more flexible and can get up to speed on any HTML editing tool, while the latter has to start all over with each new editing tool.
  • No "Funky" HTML: The only HTML that will be in the document will be tags that you placed there deliberately. This will help your pages download faster, as well as look leaner.
  • Human Readable HTML: This is especially important if you work on a team of web developers. The HTML can be spaced as your team likes it, and include comments or other notes to allow more efficient editing by other team members.

Cons

  • Must Know HTML: While most HTML text editors can help with tags and suggest attributes and so on, these helpers are no substitute for knowing HTML. Most modern text editors offer drag-and-drop styles such as bold and italic, but if you can't remember the code for "non-breaking space" your editor might not be able to help.
  • Steeper Learning Curve: Because you have to learn both HTML and the editor functions itself, a beginner will find a text editor more difficult to use.
  • Harder to "Design" With: Some people find text editors more difficult to design pages in because they can't visualize how the page will look from just the HTML.

Make Your Choice

If you want to make Web Development your profession and you don't plan on opening your own web-design studio, then learn HTML and use a text editor. Text editors will get you farther in the long term because they reinforce your knowledge of HTML.

If you want to do web development as a hobby, there is no reason not to use a WYSIWYG editor. But remember, to get a job as a web developer, you really do need to know HTML, and a WYSIWYG editor will not help you there.