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Terminal editors

There are text editors with a graphical user interface and text editors that allow you to edit text in the terminal. Some allow both modes of operation.

Choosing the right editor is a matter of taste and preferences. Since we often spend significant portions of our days editing text and source code, it can be valuable to invest time into learning your favourite editor really well. Below we list few common options and give some pros/cons.


Easy to start but with minimal functionality. This comes installed as default on most Linux distributions. If you do not already have a favorite editor, we recommend this to be used with this during the course. Later you can grow into a more advanced editor such as Emacs or Vim.

How to use it

The keyboard shortcuts are displayed at the bottom of the editor window. Using this shortcuts involves pressing and holding down the control key (Ctrl) on your keyboard and pressing another key. The pressing down and holding the Ctrl key is represented by a hat “^”.


To create or open a files called mytext.txt

$ nano mytext.txt

To save content

Ctrl + o (hold the Ctrl key and press the o)

To close a file

Ctrl + x (hold the Ctrl key and press the x)

To move up, down, left or right with the document

Use the arrow keys and Page-up, Page-down keys

Delete text

Navigate to where the text to be deleted located in the document using arrow keys. Use the Delete or Backspace keys to delete text.

To find

Ctrl + w then type the word to find and press enter (please note it is w not f as in most other editors)


This editor takes some effort to get started. But has more functionality than Nano, especially if you write programming code. Syntax highlighting, clever copy-paste and better refactoring are some features.

Interactive VIM tutorial:

To create or open a files called mytext.txt

$ vi mytext.txt

To close a file

Hit Escape, then type :wq and hit Enter.


Like Vim, Emacs takes some effort and learning to get started and offers almost unlimited functionality. It is possible to interact with version control, even compile and run code, send emails, etc. all from the editor itself.

Emacs guided tour:

To create or open a files called mytext.txt

$ emacs mytext.txt

To close a file

Type Ctrl-x followed by Ctrl-c.

Visual Studio Code

Visual Studio Code is a lightweight (around 200 MB) but powerful source code editor. It is free and open source and runs on your desktop and is available for Windows, macOS and Linux. It has a rich ecosystem of extensions for languages such as C++, Fortran, R, C#, Matlab, Java, Python, PHP, Go

Please visit the download page for installation instructions.

Other good alternatives, in particular for Windows

It is a matter of taste. Experiment and find the one you like best: